Around 300 protesters, most of them from Oak Park and a decent portion of them white, marched down Madison Street from the Oak Park/Chicago border all the way down to Garfield Park on June 13.
They demanded justice for African-American men and women who died at the hands of the police, defunding the police, accountability reforms and an end to racism.
The march was organized by a group of Oak Park residents. As noted on the event’s fundraising page, the idea was to connect Oak Parkers with their West Side neighbors and show that white residents were willing to literally talk the walk “through the disenfranchised and oppressed communities that have been plagued by police brutality,” the organizers explained.
Originally, the marchers were supposed to stick to the sidewalk, but that was quickly abandoned as they spread out across all eastbound lanes. At every block, cars honked in support of the march.
“I think I’m going to cry,” said a woman who was waiting for the bus near the corner of Madison Street and Pulaski, as she saw the approaching marchers. “Black lives matter!”
The march stopped for about 10 minutes at the Chicago Police Department’s 15th District police station, 5701 W. Madison St. As the marchers prepared to have 8 minutes and 46 seconds of silence, some kneeling, some lying prone, Omar Yamini, an Oak Park activist, encouraged everyone to think about what it’s like to have a knee on their neck for that long as they’re begging for their lives.
“Today, we put the end to the tyranny, harassment and oppression,” he said. “You get no more chances. This relationship is toxic. This relationship is over; beat it, I can do better!”
Yamani added that now more than ever, black people need to hold black elected officials accountable and urge them to pass legislative reforms.
Laurie Freivogal, of Oak Park, said she was no stranger to protests and believes that it’s important to keep a spotlight on injustice.
“We need to stay active until there’s change,” she said. “There needs to be accountability and the change to make it happen. And the police need to be accountable to the fullest extent of the law.”
Chantell Lewis said she grew up in Austin and moved to Oak Park to keep her kids safe — a move that, retrospect, may not have been the right one, she said.
“As an African-American, as a mother of an African-American daughter, a mother of an African-American son and a wife of an African-American husband, I say we need to stop the abuse,” she said. “We need to stop abusing ourselves. Everybody has a voice and your voice needs to be heard.”
“I haven’t done much for the movement other than writing checks, said Marva Boyd, who has lived in Oak Park for 40 years. “To be honest, I started feeling guilty. I just decided that my daughter and I needed to attend this march.”
Susan Mitchell currently lives in Naperville, but she grew up in East Garfield Park before moving to Oak Park, where some of her relatives live.
“I went to a protest we had in Naperville and felt that this protest was very important,” she said. “And my grandbabies are in the march. In 1968, I thought naively that we’d be much further along by now.”