About 200 men and boys were silent Thursday as they stopped traffic and formed three lines in the intersection of 79th Street and Racine Avenue on the South Side.
Soon, they all took a knee, raised fists into the air and reverberated their message through the Gresham neighborhood: “Stop killing us.”
The demonstration organized by St. Sabina church comes 10 days after George Floyd was killed after a white officer pressed a knee into his neck while taking him into custody in Minnesota. Floyd’s death was captured on video, sparking protests in Chicago and other cities across the nation.
The Rev. Michael Pfleger, of the Faith Community of Saint Sabina, said the crowd of African American men and boys wanted to refocus the protests after attention has turned to those who have used the unrest to break into businesses and vandalize property. Pfleger said it was time for the country to listen to the men, warning that what is happening now is only a glimpse of what could happen.
“What started this was decades of black men being killed like animals in America, and nobody did a damn thing about it,” Pfleger said.
The demonstration in the Auburn Gresham neighborhood started at St. Sabina, where William Hall led the group in prayer before they walked to the intersection, reminding them that the same God watching over them also watched over people such as Harriet Tubman.
“We thank you for the future to come, because what’s to come is better than what’s been,” Hall said.
Some of the men wore T-shirts from historically black college fraternities while others wore T-shirts stating, “I can’t breathe” — Floyd’s repeated plea during the eight minutes the Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck.
James Ramos, of Humboldt Park, was among those in the crowd. He works for the 21st Ward, but he’s also a member of Alpha Phi Alpha, a black fraternity, and joined as part of a call for older members to show support during Thursday’s demonstration.
“I wanted to make sure that this was a call for peace and a demonstration that men of color are not out here looting, committing violent acts, but are unified and are not condoning the fact that there’s violence and destroying of our communities,” Ramos said. “So I’m in support of that.”
Pedestrians on the street cheered on the men. Lisa Shaw, 56, traveled from her home in the south suburbs and raised her fist in the air in support of the group.
“This for my sons and my grandsons,” Shaw said, as she started to tear up.
Trevon Bosley, 21, of the Roseland neighborhood on the Far South Side, was one of three men who during the demonstration read off different types of occupations that African American men hold. Bosley, an anti-violence activist and a Southern Illinois University student studying electrical engineering, said it was meant to point out what role they should have in the country.
“If we continue to be killed and locked up and different things like that, we will not be able to contribute to American society, we won’t be able to better America,” Bosley said.
Prosecutors in Minnesota have upgraded charges against former Officer Derek Chauvin to second-degree murder and filed charges against three other former officers on the scene when Floyd died. But Bosley, who is part of the Sabina’s B.R.A.V.E. Youth Leaders, said there are other police-involved deaths that need to be addressed in Chicago. Beyond police reform, he said Chicago officials should also address issues such as education.
“We also don’t want the mayor just protecting downtown from looters, we want her to protect the city as a whole especially the south and west sides,” Bosley said.
Elvia Malagón’s reporting on social justice and income inequality is made possible by a grant from the Chicago Community Trust.