City Drops Cease-And-Desist Order Against Chicago Freedom School For Feeding Protesters

Chicago Freedom School
A sign at the Chicago Freedom School welcomes protesters on May 30. Provided Photo
Chicago Freedom School
A sign at the Chicago Freedom School welcomes protesters on May 30. Provided Photo

City Drops Cease-And-Desist Order Against Chicago Freedom School For Feeding Protesters

The city of Chicago has rescinded a cease-and-desist order it issued May 30 against the Chicago Freedom School.

School officials had claimed the order was retaliation for feeding protesters during the civil unrest in late May after the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

The downtown school opened its doors to protesters after the city issued a last-minute curfew and raised most of the bridges leading in and out of downtown.

School officials said that “hundreds” of protesters sought refuge inside after Mayor Lori Lightfoot gave protesters less than 30 minutes to clear out. The school provided pizza, water and other snacks to protesters. Black Lives Matter Chicago were among those who told protesters to go to the school.

City officials descended on the school that night and accused the nonprofit of “preparing and serving food on the premises not described in the license,” according to a lawsuit the Chicago Freedom School filed against the city on June 25.

The suit accused the city of unfairly targeting the school for feeding protesters.

“I think that they know their claims were bogus,” said Jacqulyn Hamilton, wellness director at the school. “I think that they know it wouldn’t hold up in court.”

Hamilton said police and city officials saw the empty pizza boxes and issued the cease-and-desist order. She said they also threatened the school with fines between $500 and $1,000 every day the school continued the alleged violation.

“They know that this is an abuse of a city office,” Hamilton said. “They were weaponizing a city office in order to try and intimidate Black and brown people who were organizing.”

The lawsuit was seeking relief so that school employees could continue “their vitally important work supporting the development of Chicago’s young people without the threat of arrest and further retaliatory action.”

Kathy Fieweger, director of public affairs with the city’s law department, said the order was rescinded based on information provided in the court filings that indicated the school did not prepare or sell food on May 30.

Fieweger said in a statement that the city had reached out to the school “multiple times to schedule a meeting to discuss the events of May 30,” but the city never heard back from the school.

“The city is disappointed that the school chose to file a lawsuit,” she said.

Chicago Freedom School Executive Director Tony Alvarado-Rivera disputed Fieweger’s claim that the city contacted the school the way she described.

“This was traumatizing,” Alvarado-Rivera said. “This is a continued attack on us instead of creating a space to heal.”

Alvarado-Rivera added that if the city wants to work with the school, “they need to defund the police and they need to start caring for Black and Brown people instead of putting them in cages.”

María Inés Zamudio is a reporter for WBEZ’s Race, Class and Communities desk. Follow her @mizamudio.