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Sixteen Bodies, Sixteen Shots: Blockade Honors Laquan McDonald & Others Killed By Chicago Police

Sixteen Chicago activists engaged in a “memorial blockade” to honor those who “fell to violence” in the city this year, and to call for the resignation of Mayor Rahm Emanuel and State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez.

Around 7 pm, the activists from the direct action collective known as Lifted Voices sat down in the intersection of Congress Avenue and Clark St. The intersection was chosen because it is nearby the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) building, the Metropolitan Correctional Center (MCC), which is a federal prison, and the Chicago Board of Trade.

Each of the activists represented one of the 16 shots Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke unloaded into Laquan McDonald’s body on October 20, 2014.

The activists locked their arms together. Wrapped around their arms were lights and flowers. Each light represented someone who died as a result of violence in 2015. Collectively, the action was a symbol of “love for justice.”

“At this intersection of ICE, the MCC prison, and the Chicago Stock Exchange, we bring flowers in memory of all those taken from us,” one organizer acknowledged, as she read from a statement.

The same organizer indicated the action was also for Naomi Freeman, a 23-year-old pregnant black woman in Cook County jail who defended herself against an abusive partner and has been charged with first-degree murder. Like the cases of Marissa Alexander or Paris Knox, she is seen as someone who chose to survive rather than die from assault.

“This year, organizing and action has shown the city that its people are and will continue to liberate ourselves because it is our duty to fight for our freedom,” the organizer declared.

There was no notice of the direct action, and Chicago police surrounded the activists about ten to fifteen minutes after they started the blockade.

Officers waited about fifteen to twenty minutes before pulling apart activists. In multiple instances, the activists, who had their arms locked together, were roughly yanked by officers as they went to pull their arms out so they could be placed in handcuffs.

The action, including the arrests, took over the intersection for more than an hour and sent a message to Emanuel and other officials that this could happen any day at any time until Emanuel and Alvarez resign.

“Black and indigenous people are the most likely groups to fall to police violence nationwide, and we are taking a stand, here and now, in a city that has been devastated by state violence,” Lifted Voices organizer Kelly Hayes said in a released statement. “No one is free so long as they live in fear of armed agents of the state, who are allowed to harm them with impunity. Chicago deserves better, and it’s time to demand better. This is how we pay our debt to the dead and fight for a better future.”

The activists called out Emanuel for the “culture of violence” and the failure of the city to keep Chicagoans safe from crime. They condemned Emanuel “going so far as to blame activists for the ineffectiveness of Chicago’s police force.”

All of the arrested activists were released early in the morning. Hayes, who was one of the organizers arrested, later described the action as a “love letter to our communities and a raised first towards our enemies.”

In addition to Lifted Voices, Project NIA and the Chicago Light Brigade were also involved in organizing the action.

Ever since the release of video showing McDonald being executed by Van Dyke, who was charged with first-degree murder, calls for Emanuel and Alvarez to resign have steadily grown. More and more details about how Emanuel and other officials attempted to coverup what happened have surfaced.

Chicago police chief Garry McCarthy resigned about a week after release of the McDonald video and was replaced by John Escalante.

Most recently, NBC Chicago reported on City Hall emails, which prove that back in January the mayor’s top aides were involved in email chains about the McDonald video. Emanuel has given different answers about when he first learned about the shooting.

Emanuel approved a $5 million settlement with McDonald’s family for the murder of their son in March of this year. The settlement was finalized with the understanding that the family would no longer push for the release of video of McDonald being killed by Van Dyke.

In other words, the city hoped pressure for justice would go away, however, journalist Brandon Smith filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit and successfully convinced a judge to order the release of video.

Emanuel addressed the Chicago City Council last week and delivered a speech that was widely regarded as an apology for how he handled the McDonald shooting. It happened the same week that video of Ronald Johnson, who was killed by Chicago police officer George Hernandez, was released. It also happened the same week that the Justice Department opened an investigation into the Chicago Police Department.

The “code of silence” in the Chicago Police Department, which enables the coverup of police brutality and other misconduct, was mentioned by Emanuel. However, Emanuel said nothing about how his administration has specifically contributed to the culture of silence around police crimes.

As the Chicago Reader highlighted, Emanuel is fighting the release of videos of 17-year-old Cedrick Chatman, who was shot and killed by police nearly three years ago.

Apparently, Emanuel’s statement about how holding on to the McDonald video “contributed to the public’s distrust and that needs to change” applies only to the case of McDonald and not other cases. Or, the lesson applies when Emanuel says it can be applied to other videos, and he will decide when to make exceptions in this nonchalant stroll toward possible change.


Below is video from Project NIA of the direct action by Lifted Voices:

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."