Braving below-freezing temperatures, over 100 people gathered Monday night at Federal Plaza in the Loop to protest police killings after a video was released of the traffic stop in which Memphis police brutally beat Tyre Nichols, a 29-year-old Black man.
Calls for protesters to vote — particularly in the upcoming police district council elections — and for the Chicago City Council to pass the “Peace Book” ordinance — to reallocate part of the police budget to peace initiatives in the city — remained a main focus of the night.
For the first time, Chicago voters will see police district council elections on their ballots. Representatives in those districts will be responsible for collaborating with department officials on community policing issues.
[ Gatherings remain calm in Chicago after release of Memphis police video ]
The Loop protest, organized by Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression, Innocent Demand Justice and SOUL (Southsiders Organized for Unity and Liberation), came after small groups gathered across the city over the weekend. Mayor Lori Lightfoot had called on protesters to remain peaceful when the video of Nichols’ beating was released.
Kobi Guillory, co-chair of the alliance, began by asking protesters to “Say his name,” prompting the crowd to yell “Tyre Nichols” repeatedly. Acting as emcee for the protest, Guillory introduced Frank Chapman, educational director and field organizer for the alliance.
“We see the same thing, year after year, year after year, the same thing,” Chapman said. “That’s because the system is not changing. It’s the same system. And it’s going to continue to murder us and kill us until we unite and get together and fight.”
Chapman urged attendees to vote but not only in the mayoral and aldermanic elections.
“I want you to grit your teeth, do whatever you got to do, but get out there on voting day,” he said. “And vote. And vote. And I ain’t talking about the mayor. I ain’t talking about the aldermen. I’m talking about: Vote for the district council … The solution ain’t in the White House,” he said.
“Hell no,” a protester responded.
“The solution ain’t in the State House,” Chapman continued. “The solution ain’t in the Mayor’s Office. They had their chance of doing it … and what have they done with it? The solution is us.”
Organizers invited police district council candidates to speak, including Arewa Karen Winters, who is a candidate to be a councilwoman for the 15th Police District.
”No matter how much we think we have achieved the American Dream, we must continually confront systemic and institutional constructs of racism in all forms,” said Karen Winters.
Winters, who said her great nephew Pierre Loury, 16, was shot and killed by Chicago police, added that police officers must possess “certain characteristics” like compassion, emotional intelligence, critical thinking, tolerance and truthfulness.
“They must have the spirit of discernment, respect for human life, common sense and the spirit of stability,” she said. “In this current climate, it has to be more than a job or career — it has to be a way of life.”
William “The Kid” Guerrero, a 21-year-old from Pilsen who is running for district council in the 12th Police District, also spoke to protesters about Nichols’ beating and killing.
“Where’s the justice? And I don’t care that it wasn’t in Chicago — the same thing happens here in the city of Chicago as well,” Guerrero said.
Bishop Tavis Grant, acting national executive director of the Chicago-based nonprofit Rainbow/PUSH Coalition, called the beating “one of America’s most brutal acts of institutionalized racism on a 140-pound body that bore the spirit of Tyre Nichols.”
Cassandra Greer-Lee, widow of former Cook County Jail inmate Nickolas Lee, who died of COVID-19 in April 2020, held a sign with her husband’s picture on it. Her activism has been fueled by what she said was the belief that jail officials did not act swiftly enough to curb COVID-19 during the early days of the pandemic.
Greer-Lee held back tears as she spoke. “I’m just a little shattered and broken,” she said, referring to Tyre Nichols. “Because, like I said, I’m a mother, and watching that baby cry and scream for his mother — I wish I could have helped him.”
After extending condolences to Nichols’ family, she also asked attendees to vote in the upcoming election, pointing out what she said was Lightfoot’s hypocritical $16.4 billion spending plan, which calls for an overall Chicago Police Department budget of $1.94 billion next year.
After the speeches, the group of protesters walked down West Adams Street, then turned onto North State Street and finally reached the Atrium Mall at the Thompson Center by way of West Randolph Street.
They yelled the names of people of color who have allegedly been killed by police over the last few years, including Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, Manuel “Tortuguita” Teran and Laquan McDonald.
The protest scattered after organizers thanked attendees and made sure everyone knew to leave with a companion and stay warm.