‘This Moment Has Been Co-opted’: Chicago Activist Xavier Ramey Says Outside Groups Cause Disruption

Black Lives Matter signs on a strip mall near 55th and the Dan Ryan
"Black Lives Matter" and "Black Owned" is written on a strip mall near 55th and the Dan Ryan. Some activists question who is really tagging buildings around the city. Natalie Moore / WBEZ
Black Lives Matter signs on a strip mall near 55th and the Dan Ryan
"Black Lives Matter" and "Black Owned" is written on a strip mall near 55th and the Dan Ryan. Some activists question who is really tagging buildings around the city. Natalie Moore / WBEZ

‘This Moment Has Been Co-opted’: Chicago Activist Xavier Ramey Says Outside Groups Cause Disruption

Xavier Ramey, a Chicago activist who leads Justice Informed, wrote a stirring Facebook post Sunday as the city raged with unrest.

“This moment has been coopted to a degree, and now it's being USED by people who are NOT out here protesting against police brutality, they are taking advantage of a situation and though I understand it, it's not in the name or methods of protest, so it just breaks my heart. We know these white groups are in Chicago, looting and breaking and distracting from the work to elevate black lives. We know some of the youth in black and brown communities are looting as well. Until that is stabilized, if you aren't in this for real and know what you're doing, please just find ways to check in on the mental health and safety and food and all that of the people who are.”

Ramey said there are coordinated attacks on the Black Lives Matter movement, and he urged folks to stay at home if they’re not part of a planned response against police brutality.

WBEZ’s Natalie Moore spoke to Ramey about stopping the marches, Black Lives Matter and the long-term impact of the unrest on the South and West sides.

With all of the unrest over the past few days, you’ve said this moment in Chicago has been co-opted and that the marching and protesting should stop now. Why?

Ramey: Not that the marching and protesting should stop completely. I think we should get back to marching and protesting. When I say that it’s been co-opted, I meant that there are outside groups and there are inside groups, I believe, that have taken the narrative of what we were marching for, which is to make Black Lives Matter, to push not only for police reform but revolutions and how we think about safety, security as well as the development of black and brown communities.

That message has been lost in many ways. It was so odd to see so many white faces in this march, which was good and a lot of us were really really happy and excited about that. But there was also a contingent of that where we saw them specifically agitating police more. We saw them specifically being the ones who threw the bottles at cops — agitating and moving things toward violence and destruction when people were trying to peacefully march. That is not to say people of color were not also doing that, but that’s to say there’s a new element and a different element of increased white participation. I don’t know whether it was privilege or ignorance that led to the way in which they engaged.

I’ve never seen “BLM” or “Black Lives Matter” spray painted before in Chicago, or around the country. What kind of tags were you seeing and what alarmed you about those tags?

Ramey: A lot of organized protesters aren’t spray painting. They’re also not marching for the purpose of looting. They’re marching for the purpose of protesting. Those are very different things. Protesters are not the same as people who are looting. Looting is not the same as people who are rioting. Those are different types of actions. I would love for folks to get that nuance. And I know it’s a nuance, but I would love for them to walk away with this knowing that there’s a difference between those three types of actions.

Do you think most Chicagoans will be able to tell the difference?

Ramey: No, you would have to be a student of social change work. It was the same elements when Dr. Martin Luther King was marching.

Speaking of Dr. King, we know the West Side didn’t recover from the riots following his assassination in 1968. What long-term impact do you see for the South and West sides in the aftermath of the unrest we’ve seen the past few days?

Ramey: I’ve been on the phone with community leaders around the city — folks who’ve worked long and hard like myself, who’s a native of North Lawndale and has done community development projects. I spent years and years raising millions of dollars. It’s such a difficult moment because I and a lot of other people understand the angst. I support the angst. I support the outpouring. I support the evidence of righteous anger that has been suppressed.

At the same time I’ve had my hands in the plough and it’s hard to see the land ripped up. That’s the rock and the hard place that so many of us are in between now. And there’s no easy answer and there’s no easy feelings either. But I think it’s going to take a generation to repair what we’ve lost right now. All of Chicago needs to be rebuilt. The question is will there be any urgency around organizing those resources set aside for the rebuilding to prioritize black and brown communities. Or are we once again going to rebuild State Street? Are we once again going to flood money and capital onto Michigan Avenue or the Roosevelt corridor in the South Loop? Are we going to be funneling money into those directions or are we going to take these funds and have a neighborhood-based strategy. Mayor Lightfoot - it’s your call.

This interview has been lightly edited for brevity and clarity.

Natalie Moore is a reporter on WBEZ’s Race, Class and Communities desk. You can follow her on Twitter at @natalieymoore.