This past weekend, protesters gathered in Chicago to decry systemic racism and police violence, sparked by the death of George Floyd. A medical examiner ruled Floyd’s death a homicide on Monday, and the Minneapolis police officer who knelt on his neck has been charged with third-degree murder. Aislinn Pulley, who helped found the Chicago chapter of Black Lives Matter and also serves as co-executive director of the Chicago Torture Justice Center, participated in the demonstrations.
“We were already in a tinderbox of injustice and inequality,” Pulley said. Recent protests, she suggests, are merely a response to a crisis long “denied and ignored.” On Sunday, she spoke with WBEZ’s Melba Lara about why people are hurting.
Here are excerpts from their conversation.
On some of the reasons behind the protests in Chicago
Pulley: What’s been happening is really a consequence of a number of things. It’s a consequence of the fact that Chicago has extraordinarily divested from the public commons, including the closing of 50 public schools, the eradication of affordable housing, the closing of public mental health centers. And in turn, the extreme militarization and expansion of policing in Chicago.
On the narrative surrounding the protests
Pulley: Instead of talking about the preponderance of police violence and militarization that happened [Saturday], there’s a concentration on vandalism, which we never see replicated in other instances of social unrest. We never see that done when predominantly white people have rioted when sports teams have won. We don’t see the pathology, we don’t see the criminalization of that. We do see that when it comes to protests that are around the murders of black and brown people.
On the curfew instated by Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot
Pulley: What the curfew did [Saturday] night was give legal cover to Mayor Lightfoot to conduct mass arrests while trapping people downtown. CTA was shut off, bridges were lifted, protesters could not get home. And when you implement a curfew without allowing people to leave, it’s clear entrapment.
On Gov. JB Pritzker’s activation of the Illinois National Guard
Pulley: What we should have had is at the beginning of March, we should have had the National Guard deployed to massively test people for COVID[-19]. That’s what we should have had. We don’t need [a National Guard deployment] now. What that is is a further escalation of state violence.
On the federal government’s role, and President Trump’s tweet that “when the looting starts, the shooting starts”
Pulley: What the federal government does has incredible consequence and incredible impact. What [President] Trump did was use dog-whistle language to give permission to white supremacists, who have already been showing up throughout this pandemic, to come and deliver vigilante violence to people. It’s further throwing fuel on a raging fire.
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity. Click the “play” button to hear the entire conversation.