A rally held Aug. 15 in Homan Square in support of police and the Republican Party prompted a brief scuffle between police and counter-protestors who attempted to burn a Black the Blue flag that organizers were waving. Eleventh District Commander Darrell Spencer eventually intervened to de-escalate the conflict.

The rally, attended by roughly two dozen Republican Party political candidates and residents from other parts of the city and suburbs, was held in a vacant lot that Black and Brown community leaders and activists from the South and West Sides transformed in 2016 into a space to protest police abuse.

The 11 counter-protestors who attended the rally said that they felt insulted that the Back the Blue organizers would pick the site for a pro-police political rally. As the rally happened, roughly 100 uniformed police officers wearing vests and helmets looked on.

The site is across the street from the Chicago Police Department’s Homan Square facility, which police say houses evidence the department seizes during investigations. Police say the facility also houses the department’s ballistics lab and is a base of operations for officers working undercover, among other personnel.

In 2015, the Guardian newspaper reported that the facility was also used as an off-the-books interrogation site where detainees are abused. At the time, the department denied the claims made in the Guardian report.

In July 2016, activists with the Let Us Breathe Collective turned the vacant lot cross the street from the facility into “Freedom Square” for 41 days, providing free food and resources for the community while protesting the alleged torture.

On Saturday, Ashley Ramos, one of the rally organizes, said that she and her colleagues chose Homan Square, because it’s where Deputy Police Chief Dion Boyd died by suicide on July 28.

“We’re here today to pay our respects to Chief Dion Boyd,” Ramos said. “We support the police’s positive impact on the community and reestablishing bonds with the community.”

But most of the speakers at Saturday’s rally were Republican Party politicians running for elected offices in the suburbs. They denounced Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx and other Democrats as dangers to the city.

Yesoe Yoon, a Skokie Republican running for a seat in the Illinois House of Representatives, said that she was against defunding the police, but added that preventing the kind of police misconduct that led to George Floyd’s death should be a priority.

Yoon said that Black communities should receive financial assistance and “a little education,” adding that “we have to give them a better value system, so they aren’t influenced by Marxist ideas.”

During the rally, Ramos presented Spencer with a large plaque honoring Boyd and several speakers mentioned the stress that police officers have to deal with.

Jeffrey Muehlfelder — a 42-year-old police detective who lives in Jefferson Park and is running for state rep in the northwest side’s 19th District — was the only candidate at the rally with a West Side connection.

According to the Invisible Institute’s database of complaints against police officers, Muehlfelder works in the 25th District, which includes Galewood and other portions of Austin. Muehlfelder confirmed his employment in a follow-up interview.

In his remarks, Muehlfelder spoke out against Black Lives Matter and the protests that have taken place since the death of George Floyd.

“Black Lives Matter — it was a lie from the very beginning,” Muehlfelder said, adding that disparities in arrests were only natural, when most of the crimes were committed in majority-black neighborhoods.

“This neighborhood we’re standing in right now leads the city in homicides,” Muehlfelder said. “In my neighborhood, we have five [homicides]. It’s absurd, and I’m here to say we need to put an end to this.”

The Invisible Institute’s data shows 26 use of force reports for Muehlfelder, eight civilian complaints, four “civilian compliments” and 60 “honorable mentions.” None of the complaints were sustained and no action was taken as a result of them. Most of the complaints state that no affidavit was presented.

Other Republican Party candidates who spoke include Mark Curran, who is running for U.S. Senate against Sen. Dick Durban; Theresa Raborn, who is running for the 2nd Congressional District, which includes parts of the South Side and much of the south suburbs; and Sargis Sangari, who is running for the 9th congressional district in the north and northwest suburbs.

“We need to back the police,” Raborn said. “They are the thin blue line between the civilized society and total anarchy.”

The counter-demonstrators arrived about 40 minutes after the rally began. The police quickly formed a barrier between the Freedom Square lot and the street.

During the course of the rally, several local residents stopped by. A middle-aged man who declined to give his name accepted one of the free Back the Blue t-shirts that the rally organizers were giving out.

He said he took the shirt, but said it represents “everything [the police] are not.”

“They need to get rid of every police officer,” he said. “They don’t protect the community. They protect things. If you call, they don’t help.”‘

The man’s companion, who also declined to give her name, said that, in her experience, police officers don’t see people who live in North Lawndale as human beings.

“In this neighborhood, everyone is not a gangbanger or a drug dealer, but they treat us like that because we live in a low-class area,” she said.

A North Lawndale resident who lives near Douglass Park, who identified herself as Rachel A., said she was astonished by how many police officers there were compared to the number of counter-demonstrators.

“I live in the neighborhood and I believe in Black Lives Matter, and I believe in defunding CPD,” said Rachel A., who is white. She added that she believed the funding should instead go to community resources, especially schools.

When asked about the accusations that defunding police would lead to anarchy, she said that, since she was an anarchist, she didn’t see that as a problem. She said that anarchy doesn’t mean complete chaos.

B. Travin, of Little Village, said that he supports abolishing policing, because “it’s getting increasingly obvious that the police are the force that’s keeping us from actualizing the new world order, a new way of living,”

While he said he wasn’t entirely sure what it would look like, he believed that, when people need help, they need “someone with interpersonal skills and compassion” — not guns. He said that he wasn’t impressed by the Back the Blue rally.

“It was pathetic, really,” he said. “Everybody hates the police and it was evident by the fact that they only had 15 people there and that event was planned for weeks.”

Igor Studenkov is a winner of multiple Illinois Press Association awards for local government and business reporting. He has been contributing to Austin Weekly News since 2015. His work has also appeared...