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Leader of protest among 12 arrested trying to march onto Kennedy near O’Hare

Rev. Gregory Livingston (center) is arrested

The Rev. Gregory Livingston (center) is arrested while protesting along a ramp leading onto the Kennedy expressway on Monday. | Tim Boyle/For the Sun-Times

Rev. Gregory Livingston, the leader of a protest march onto the Kennedy Expressway, was arrested Monday, just as he expected, as he tried to march onto the highway — and a line of protesters behind him also was handcuffed.

Those protesters held a group prayer Monday before heading down Cumberland Avenue to the Kennedy on-ramp — a march their leader had acknowledged likely would end well short of the highway.

Livingston told reporters that considering how officers far outnumbered the 100 or so protesters, he didn’t expect the protest to last long, and he figured he would be arrested immediately. He had his bail money ready.

“We’re going to walk down there. We’ll see what happens,” Livingston had said — and what happened was, he was arrested at about 12:30 p.m.

The arrests occurred without much drama. Surrounded by reporters, Livingston and a few supporters were greeted by Illinois State Police at the top of the ramp, and were informed that they could not proceed — and of the consequences if they did. Livingston said he understood, and he kept walking as another officer, on a bullhorn, announced repeatedly that it was a violation of the law to be walking on a state highway.

“I never felt we had a conflict,” said Major David Byrd of the Illinois State Police. “We had a mutual understanding it was very respectful.”

Added CPD First Deputy Supt. Anthony Riccio: “It was respectful on both sides. And professional on both sides.”

Protest march near Cumberland Avenue and the Kenned Expressway

When protesters couldn’t get onto the highway, they moved to a path leading to a pedestrian overpass to a CTA Blue Line station. | Tim Boyle/For the Sun-Times

Many protesters avoided arrest, opting instead to march on a nearby path to a pedestrian bridge spanning the highway and connecting to a CTA Blue Line station. From there, they could look down on the Kennedy, where traffic continued unblocked.

By 1:30, about two-thirds of the protesters had left, as well as many of the police officers. A downpour that started about 1:45 p.m. chased away many stragglers, and the on-ramps to the Kennedy reopened by about 2 p.m.

Chicago Police said they made no arrests, while Illinois State Police said they arrested 12 people — eight men, four women. They received $120 citations (for being “pedestrians on the highway,” Byrd said) and all were processed and released Monday.

Police guarding on-ramp to Kennedy expressway

Police protest presence is seen along a ramp leading onto the Kennedy expressway on Monday. The white sign spells out that pedestrians are prohibited. | Tim Boyle/For the Sun-Times

“It is important to stress that we are going to continue to protect the First Amendment right of those people who want to protest,” Riccio said. “But we have to balance that against the rights of those who want to get to the airport or who use the expressway to get down these streets.”

Not getting onto the highway did not mean the protest had failed, Livingston insisted.

“We are affecting commerce. A lot of the gains of today, someone had to make a sacrifice. This violence is like a fire. We can either fight it together, or we can let it burn and eventually burn us all. We don’t have to wait on leadership. We are the leadership,” Livingston said.

O'Hare protesters

Some of the protesters who joined Rev. Gregory Livingston on Monday morning near the Kennedy Expressway at Cumberland Avenue. | Manny Ramos/Sun-Times

Illinois State Police vehicles blocked the ramps at Cumberland to both the westbound and eastbound Kennedy on Monday morning. Dozens of other Chicago Police officers also were present, as well as several suburban police agencies, including Park Ridge, which abuts the protest site.

Livingston had arrived earlier to speak to reporters about his goals and his demands.

“What we’re trying to do is end the tale of two cities in Chicago,” Livingston said. “We think that so much of this violence is generated by Chicago’s legacy of segregation.”

Kennedy Expressway protest march

Protesters gather for a planned march onto the Kennedy Expressway on Monday. | Manny Ramos/Sun-Times

That segregation “creates areas where one area is resourced, and another area isn’t,” he added. That creates what he called “illegitimate economies” in which “people want the same things” but in which “the currency is violence.”

He added: “I know about racism. I’ve already been called every name. When Pastor [Michael] Pfleger marched on the South Side, I didn’t hear anybody calling him out of his name.”

But that protest had drawn thousands. Monday’s protest drew perhaps 100.

“We have enough people here to achieve our objectives. We’ll see what happens,” said Livingston, who earlier had said that if enough people showed up, he wouldn’t just march onto the westbound Kennedy, but would jump the median and block the eastbound lanes, too.

That, in the end, didn’t happen. Livingston’s group was surrounded by several hundred Chicago Police, about 250 state troopers and those suburban officers.

Chicago police near Kennedy Expressway at Cumberland Avenue

Police officers start to assemble near the on-ramp from Cumberland Avenue to the eastbound Kennedy Expressway toward O’Hare International Airport. Police have said they will ensure protesters have a safe place to — but that can’t include marching onto the highway. | Maudlyne Ihejirika/Sun-Times

Livingston had said disrupting businesses and travelers on a busy holiday “will force them to pressure the mayor to listen to our demands.”

Those demands include: the resignations of Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Police Supt. Eddie Johnson; resources for “black-led anti-violence initiatives” and the “re-opening and re-purposing” of all of the record 50 Chicago Public Schools closed by Emanuel.

Kennedy Expressway west of Cumberland entrance ramp

After heading down the Kennedy to River Road, the Labor Day protesters may try to cross the median and block both eastbound and westbound lanes of the expressway near O’Hare International Airport. | Google Streetview

They also include economic investment on the South and West Sides “commensurate” with the dollars devoted to “planning, funding and partnerships downtown and on the North Side and “community-led re-negotiation” of a Fraternal Order of Police contract that, Livingston claims, protects police officers.

“We want some real investment and some common sense solutions to this violence, because we believe we all are great, even if we don’t realize it yet. We want justice for all people, not segregated lack of justice for one group, and justice for another group. We understand it’s a sacrifice to stand for change. Every birth is messy.”

A previous march he led that started on Lake Shore Drive and ended at Wrigley Field attracted a few hundred protesters.

Cumberland Avenue entrance ramp to the Kennedy Expressway

Protesters plan to gather at the Cumberland Avenue entrance ramp to the Kennedy Expressway at 11:30 a.m. on Labor Day, then march down the expressway toward O’Hare International Airport. | Google Streetview


Aug. 2 protest on Lake Shore Drive

Protesters write in sidewalk chalk in the southbound lanes of Lake Shore Drive near Belmont on Aug. 2, before heading to Wrigley Field. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times