Activists held hands and blocked traffic near the headquarters of Chicago’s Fraternal Order of Police on Monday evening. The group sang “We Shall Not Be Moved,” an oft-used protest song during the civil rights movement, as officers arrested them one by one. Brianna Tong, 24, with the group The People's Lobby, was the last of 12 activists to be taken into the police wagon.
“I’m here because the FOP defends white supremacy. Because the police have hurt me and the people I care about,” said Tong, just before she was arrested.
The arrests seemed to be planned as part of the demonstration against the police union. Activists' demands included that the FOP “abandon [its] racist agenda of opposing all reforms to the legal system, including opposition to police oversight.”
The police union is currently in contract negotiations, and those negotiations could shape how police reform does or doesn’t happen in Chicago. For example, the police union has said it does not want citizens to be able to submit anonymous complaints against officers. But the Police Accountability Task Force, which was formed in the wake of the Laquan McDonald shooting and was headed by now Mayor-elect Lori Lightfoot, recommended that the police contract be changed to allow for anonymous complaints. The ban on most anonymous complaints “may discourage some people from bringing perfectly legitimate complaints,” the task force wrote in its 2016 report.
During Monday’s demonstration, protesters said overall the police contract makes it easier for officers to cover up misconduct and called for a contract that does not allow police to “get away with excessive force, misconduct or murder.”
In April, the police union held its own protest and called for Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx to step down after her handling of the Jussie Smollett case. Foxx’s office dropped charges against Smollett, who was accused of faking a hate crime against himself.
Police union officials have said that their frustration with Foxx is about more than Smollett — it is also about criminal justice reforms.
“What we’ve asked from Kim Foxx and her office is to prosecute people, not to be the defense attorney,” Police Union President Kevin Graham said last week at a City Club speaking event. “She’s not here to make social change.”
Addressing the crowd at the protest on Monday, activist Frank Chapman called the FOP’s critiques against Foxx, “a racist attack on an elected black official who was not dancing according to their music.”
All of the arrested activists were released and cited for obstruction of traffic, according to Chicago police.
Shannon Heffernan is a criminal justice reporter for WBEZ. Follow her at @shannon_h.