On July 25 in Austin, activists, elected officials and the relatives of gun violence victims gathered during what they billed as a Love March. But the event also provided a space for people to vocalize competing visions of what they believe are the best responses to the violence in their communities.
The demonstration was organized by Oak Park activist and former congressional candidate Anthony Clark, along with young activists with Revolutionary Oak Park Youth League (ROYAL), Root2Fruit Youth Foundation and GoodKids MadCity.
Some people called for the city to shift 2 percent of the police budget toward addressing the root causes of the violence. Others, particularly mothers of gun violence victims, insisted that, while the police were hardly blameless, there was a place for them and argued that the marchers weren’t doing enough to speak out against gun violence.
The march began outside of the shuttered Corcoran Grocery, 5601 W. Corcoran Place, with demonstrators following the Green Line all the way to the western edge of Garfield Park.
Nita Tannyson, of GoodKids MadCity, said that she was tired of burying friends and family members.
“We need to let everybody know that love everybody, because everybody in Chicago are family, and we got to love each other,” she said.
Kenyata Williams, the mother of 15-year-old Michael Ike, who was killed on July 20 in Austin, became emotional as she called for peace.
“There’s no reason why I should be burying my 15-year-old son, because your son killed him,” she told those in the crowd.
Bennie Lee, a Northeaster University of Illinois professor and cofounder of the National Alliance for the Empowerment of the Formerly Incarcerated, said that his family was one of the first Black families to move to Austin.
Miracle Boyd, an activist with GoodKids MadCity who was punched in the face by a police officer during a July 17 protest in front of the Christopher Columbus statue in downtown Chicago that has since been removed, decried the police department’s approach to handling demonstrations.
“We come to protests and we show up with banners and songs and dance and prayers, and police show up with batons and tear gas and mace,” she said. “That ain’t right.”
As they marched toward Garfield Park, the youth activists walked in front of the crowd, frequently chanting, “Defund the police!” and “F— 12.”
Jay Cobe was one of the several activists who called for more funding in the neighborhoods instead of in the police department’s budget, saying that at least 75 percent of the city budget needs to be invested in the community.
“I want to see performing art centers, I want to see sports centers that are up to date,” he said.
“It’s just a good day to be Black,” said Ray Longstreet, one of ROYAL’s youth leaders. “I like the diversity here; that we can come together and make it beautiful, even with the fucking police following us.”
Keanna Lee Tywone, whose son was killed four years ago, said that although she appreciated the diverse crowd that came out to march, she took issue with some of the chants, which she feared would paint all officers with the same broad brush.
“I’m not saying they’re all bad, because it’s like saying that all black people are criminals,” she said, adding that she would like to see more rallies after shootings between community members.
“How we’re standing right now, that’s how it should have been when 15 people got shot,” she said, referencing the mass shooting outside of a South Side funeral home on July 21.
At the end of the march, Tywone’s sister, Tywane Watts, of Austin, who said she also lost her son to gun violence, insisted that any solution requires the community to take responsibility.
“We got to stop putting all the blame on 12,” she said. “Killings are happening in our basements, in our living rooms. Now, y’all quiet. Now, everybody looking at me like I’m crazy. If we want those cycles to break, we gotta tell our kids, ‘You shot that innocent kid, turn yourself in.'”