More than 770 people in Chicago have been killed by violence in 2016, and on December 21, community organizations, faith leaders, and families of those who died gathered for a vigil outside Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s house.
Chicago residents walked with flowers and candle lights. A few people carried cardboard coffins with the words “police accountability” and “rebuilding public housing” to represent the inaction and indifference of Emanuel and city officials toward the pain and suffering predominately low income black and Latino communities endure.
The coffins were left on the lawn in front of Emanuel’s house. Police ordered the vigil to move the coffins away from the house. When the vigil outside concluded, the coffins, with lights and flowers on them, were left. Officers effectively confiscated the coffins so Emanuel would not have to see them in front of his property.
A program was held inside the American Indian Center less than half of a mile away from Emanuel’s home. There representatives from groups like Black Lives Matter Chicago, the Chicago Housing Initiative, the Civilian Police Accountability Council, the Mental Health Movement, and teachers from Chicago Public Schools spoke out.
H. Demetrius Bonner of the Chicago Housing Initiative declared, “These deaths are more than just tragic events. These deaths are more than just headlines.” He described them as a result of an economic and political process in Chicago that has made a growing number of residents, especially black residents, disposable.
Pointing to a screen behind him, Bonner acknowledged the sampling of names of the dead, who were “judged and rendered disposable people by the powers that be in the city of Chicago.” He proclaimed that people were gathered today to say “none of us are disposable.”
Camiela Williams, who has lost 28 loved ones in Chicago to gun violence in the past two decades (five this year), said the mayor blames residents. “They say we need to vote. We vote. A lot of us do vote. They say we need to give to campaigns, but they give us the runaround.”
She spoke about the emotional impact of a reality where 771 homicides took place, and the vast majority of city officials say nothing each day. It is normalized, a fact of life.
Each of those 771 people had “aspirations. They matter. Their lives matter. And the city is silent,” Williams added. City officials “want to party. They want to celebrate the Cubs, but you mean to tell me that we have 771 homicides and then they expect us to give [Emanuel] a pass.”
“What is a human life worth?” asked Jawanza Malone, executive director of the Kenwood-Oakland Community Organization. Over 770 people died because of the “backward wayward policy coming out of City Hall, the state of Illinois, and in some cases, Washington, D.C.”
“We have a mayor of the city, who does not care about the average everyday person, who lives here, and the evidence is right here,” Malone said. “Why is it in an American city we’ve got to have people shooting at each other at a rate of 4000-plus [shootings per year]?”
Malone continued, “We have people shooting against other people because we don’t have housing, because we don’t have jobs, because we don’t have schools, because we don’t have a place that any of us feel safe in any day of this year.”
In 2013, Emanuel closed around 50 schools. It mostly impacted black and Latino neighborhoods. Children were moved to other schools and the city mixed gangs, intensifying conflict with no apparent plan for diffusing a situation that would fuel violence.
As Malone described, children struggle to get home safe from school. Parents go to board meetings with Chicago Public Schools officials and pour their heart out. The city presses on with its neoliberal agenda.
Just this week, the Chicago Sun-Times reported the city plans to close at least four schools in Englewood, an area the city is gentrifying. One school will be built to replace the schools shut down.
Emanuel shuttered mental health clinics and affected tens of thousands of people, who relied on the clinics for treatment.
A homeless shelter on the north side of Chicago is slated to shut down on December 23 because the city will not spend money to save it. There are people sleeping in the viaducts in subzero weather, who constantly are pushed around by police because upper class residents and developers complain about their presence. A man even froze to death this month.
Loydell and Carol, two homeless people who live in the Lawrence viaduct encampment, spoke about the mayor dismissing their pleas to do something so the homeless would have warm places to stay in the winter.
There is an intersectionality between housing rights, social justice, education, and issues around access to mental health care, Kofi Ademola Xola of Black Lives Matter said. “It boils down to profit over people in all of these situations, whether we’re talking about the Dakota Access Pipeline or whether we’re talking about TIF money here in Chicago going to build a Hyatt Regency hotel in Hyde Park” or a DePaul University sports arena.
Money from the city is “going into corporate crony pockets versus our communities and our schools. That’s capitalism at its finest.”
Personal emails from Emanuel that he was forced to release affirm Xola’s statement. The mayor is focused on serving his high-profile donors, eliminating social programs, creating opportunities for developers, and satisfying the concerns of wealthy Chicagoans, who do not want to be taxed and contribute too much to the social welfare of residents in the city.
But Frank Chapman, who addressed the need for a Civilian Police Accountability Council, declared, “The solution is here.”
“I don’t have no leader in the White House. I don’t have no leader in the state government. I don’t have no leader in the City Council. I don’t have a leader in the Mayor’s Office. You are my leaders.”
Later, Chapman added, “We’ve got to be disobedient. No more business as usual.”
“We’ve got to fight. We’ve got to protest. We’ve got to be in the streets. We’ve got to make noise. Otherwise, nothing is going to happen. We wouldn’t have gotten as far as we got. We’d still be enslaved if we didn’t protest. So, we’ve got to protest. We’ve got to fight.”
Below is the 7-minute speech by KOCO executive director Jawanza Malone: