“I’ve seen a lot of things,” said Ashton Valentine.
The Austin resident was standing near a stop sign in front of the mansion owned by the Chicago Archdiocese, the point where a roughly five-hour Dec. 9 protest march ended.
The demonstration had started in front of the Daley Plaza before growing into a few thousand people and coursing through the Loop — stopping traffic, nearly spilling into the Federal Reserve and CME Group buildings, softly traumatizing Christmas shoppers on Macy’s perfumed first floor — before upsetting the calmness of mansion-flanked streets in the city’s tony Gold Coast neighborhood.
It wasn’t a period, but more of an ellipsis on a chapter in the city’s history that has yet to reach its conclusion (hours later, some of the same protesters would reemerge at the Chicago Police Department’s Michigan Ave. headquarters to demand the firing of Officer Dante Servin, the off-duty officer who in 2012 shot into a group of teenagers, fatally wounding 22-year-old Rekia Boyd).
Many people within and outside of Chicago have taken to the streets and sidewalks to demand that Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez resign.
And that’s just for starters. Protesters have made a litany of other, more specific demands over the last several weeks.
They include disbandment of the Independent Police Review Authority and the establishment of a civilian police review board; a federal investigation into Homan Square, the controversial police detention center in North Lawndale; and the immediate release of all dashboard-cam video of officer-involved shootings; among others.
There have been demonstrations of some sort hosted by varying groups of people seemingly every day since the Nov. 24 release of dashboard-cam footage that shows Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke shooting 17-year-old Laquan McDonald 16 times last October.
Despite having the video evidence for several hundred days, Alvarez only moved to charge Van Dyke with murder the day before the video was to be released by the city, which only released the footage upon court order.
The video’s public release and the recent revelations about the city’s and police department’s conduct in the run-up, and in the wake, of the release have catalyzed an explosion of anger and outrage among many residents of the city — particularly those most affected by police violence.
The testimonies of people like Valentine have now spilled into the manicured, lake front side streets of the city’s rich and powerful and — until now — relatively unfazed.
“We’re saying to all religious and business leaders, all of those in power, that until we get justice, we will continue to come where they don’t want us to come,” said West Side activist Mark Carter, reviving a message he had played at a protest earlier in the month. “We will disrupt their tranquility!”
Valentine said he’s seen pregnant women tazed, and his friends robbed, by the police. One of his most vivid memories of Barack Obama’s election night celebration in Grant Park is of police officers allegedly telling him and some friends to “go back to the zoo” or “wherever you come from.”
And then there’s Mike Mike — Valentine’s former Orr High School classmate, the late Michael Spann. Earlier this year, a Polaroid photo of Spann as a dead deer with antlers on his head as two white Chicago police officers, Jerome Finnigan and Timothy McDermott, pose beside him triumphantly with hunting guns, went viral.
The image of his old classmate shocked Valentine into a deeper awareness of the possibilities of police malignancy. Valentine said he often hears people counter criticism of police abuse by bringing up black-on-black violence. But the two issues don’t deserve equal standing, he said.
“We’re being hunted by the people who are supposed to serve and protect us. There’s no comparing black-on-black crime with police crimes. Police aren’t supposed to engage in the same activities we expect to be protected from.”
Valentine’s testimony was reinforced countless times in interviews with at least a dozen other people who have marched in one protest or another last week.
Kevin Booker, 21, took to State Street on Dec. 10 with several hundred other protesters, in part because of what he experienced the previous Saturday on the city’s South Side.
“Me and four friends were walking down the street and the police stopped us because we were wearing all black,” he recalled angrily.
“They pulled up with their guns drawn and searched us, asked us, ‘Where the weapons at?’ We like, ‘What weapons? We out here trying to have a good time. Why do you want to stop that? Why you gotta mess with us?'”
Susan House, 68, said she’s still scarred from a police encounter she had in the 1970s, while she was new to the city.
“I came here from Delaware. It was my first year in Chicago. I was in my early twenties. I was walking home from work in Uptown and a police car pulled up. They said it was too dangerous to be out walking and asked why I was out. I told them out I was walking home from work and they offered to give me a ride. I was too dumb to know any better and they had reefer, which they said they’d plant on me if I didn’t cooperate.”
What happened next, House said, has haunted her for decades. She claims the two officers, who she said didn’t have identifying badges on, forced her to perform oral sex.
“I was so scared. I didn’t know what to do and didn’t know anyone here. They made jokes about how scared I looked. A couple weeks after the incident, they came back to my place. I had to move out to Logan Square to get away from them.”