Grief and despair converged on a corner of East 71st Street in Chicago’s South Shore neighborhood on Monday.
Looting took place along the commercial corridor the night before in response to the death of George Floyd while in police custody in Minneapolis. But for residents in the black neighborhood and grieving black mothers, interactions with Chicago police had already left them raw and angry.
They called out “Justice for Nunu” for Alfontish “Nunu” Cockerham, the 23-year-old man shot and killed by Chicago police two blocks away in 2015. They yelled “Say Her Name” in memory of black women killed by the police. They taunted the news media, business owners who don’t live in the community — and the police. They cried out: “We mad!” and “Don’t put racist cops in our community!” Officers stood quietly in riot gear, lined up near the Metra train tracks. Eventually, police blocked off a portion of 71st Street from cars.
It was a picture of power and powerlessness, the tension thick yet the situation feeling as thin as a tavern-style slice of Italian Fiesta pizza from down the street.
Across the street from the impromptu gathering is Jeffrey Plaza, a shopping mall with Local Market, a grocery store that opened in December. Until then, the area had been without a grocery store for five years when a Dominick’s closed at the same location. Yet another symbol of longtime disinvestment in the community.
“Black Lives Matter” chants bounced off the broken glass of City Sports, an athletic apparel storefront that’s a casualty of the looting. Local activist William Calloway called for a press conference to ask that the looting stop. The demands were for a comprehensive economic development plan for the neighborhood and for the Chicago Police Department to meet its deadlines under a federal consent decree.
From Minneapolis to New York to Los Angeles, Calloway said black people don’t feel heard. He validated their anger while asking for the looting to stop.
“Our communities already been blighted,” Calloway bellowed. “This is years of frustration. We are tired. We are frustrated. We don’t want our community to be destroyed. Why we gotta be destructive to be heard?”
“Like MLK said, the riots are the voice of the unheard,” Calloway added referring to a quote from Martin Luther King Jr., which he delivered in a 1967 speech “The Other America.”
In the crowd were loved ones of people who died at the hands of police or while in police custody. They wore T-shirts with the faces of their family members and carried photos. And spoke passionately.
“I understand your frustration. I understand it more than you’ll ever understand. Everyday I wake up and my sister’s not here,” said Shavone Bland, the sister of Sandra Bland, the black woman from the Chicago area who died in a Texas jail after a routine traffic stop in 2015.
“If you’re rioting and f**king shit up, that’s not for my sister,” Bland said in tears.
In 2012, police fatally shot Dakota Bright, 15. The white officer was cleared, but the family received a settlement.
“I don’t even come out here and march no more, because after a couple of days, they forget about your family and they move on to the next one making the noise, so my son is forgot about,” said Bright’s mother, Panzy Edwards. She said if police officers have to pay for settlements out of their own pockets, they won’t keep killing people.
“It’s backed-up frustration. I’m hurt for my son,” Edwards said.
Chantell Brooks is the mother of Michael Westley, the 15-year-old fatally shot by police in 2013.
“I came out today to represent my son. We’re tired about what’s going on. We marched ‘we shall overcome.’ We begged, cried. … No change has been made, so we’re supposed to sit up and accept our black men being killed? No. We’re fed up and this is the cause of us being fed up. Period,” Brooks said.