Protests over Laquan McDonald shooting video highlight rift between Chicago activism’s old and new guard

Protests over Laquan McDonald shooting video highlight rift between Chicago activism's old & new guard

CHICAGO — Moments before Malcolm London was arrested for allegedly punching a police officer Tuesday night, the local activist urged demonstrators to remain peaceful & avoid trouble as they marched toward downtown Chicago’s Millennium Park.

“We need you to fight this fight tomorrow,” London told the crowd of protesters gathered around him at the intersection of Michigan Avenue & Roosevelt Road, many of whom had been marching for hours following the release of a dashcam video of Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke shooting 17-year-old Laquan McDonald 16 times last October.

The video had been withheld from the public for nearly a year after McDonald’s death when a freelance reporter sued for its release under the Freedom of Information Act this August. Last week, a judge sided with reporter, ordering the city to make the footage public before Thanksgiving.

p>Hours before the video was released to media Tuesday, Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez announced that she had ordered Van Dyke to be held without bond on one charge of first-degree murder. Despite the indictment, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel & Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy anticipated that the grahic video could prompt unrest.

But the protesters who took to the streets Tuesday night were largely peaceful, chanting refrains like “No justice, no peace,” & “16 shots,” as they blocked traffic along major city streets, accompanied by police officers on foot & bicycle. By the time the demonstration arrived at Michigan & Roosevelt before 10 p.m., three out of the hundreds of protesters had been taken into custody on misdemeanor charges of resisting arrest. London, one of several people wearing black hooded sweatshirts with the words “Fund Black Futures” printed on the front in red, announced that he & the other leaders were heading to the police stationhouse where their fellow activists were being held. He encouraged the remainder of the crowd to continue the march to Millennium Park, yet cautioned against any behavior that might obtain them in trouble.

“We don’t need anymore martyrs today,” London said.

Minutes later, London was in handcuffs, & what had been a peaceful, organized protest suddenly became tense & chaotic. People began swarming cars & encroaching on officers, chanting, “Let him go!”

View gallery

This undated photo provided by his family shows Laquan McDonald. McDonald, whose name demonstrators  …

London was released Wednesday after his felony aggravated battery charge was suddenly dropped. Supporters & fellow organizers say they believe his arrest was part of a police force strategy to control the crowd & shift focus away from the video.

“It was just a distraction,” Bridgette, who declined to donate her last name, told Yahoo News. She & her 17-year-old daughter joined a crowd of activists & supporters gathered at a Cook County criminal courthouse Wednesday to petition for London’s release. “They know who to choose. They took the right person that they knew would gather a huge enough distraction from what happened with Laquan, yet it’s not like we’re going to forget.”

At only 22, London has indeed become a familiar face in the Chicago activism scene. He has received citywide & national recognition for his work as both a competition-winning slam poet & dedicated youth advocate. He’s even done a TED Talk. 

But while London’s arrest briefly thrust him into the center of media attention Wednesday, he’s not the only face of this movement. He is yet one of several young activists from a variety of community organizations collectively leading this week’s protests.

Fearless Leading by the Youth (F.L.Y.), Assata’s Daughters, We Charge Genocide, Black Lives Matter Chicago, the Let Us Breath Collective & Chicago’s Black Youth Project, which London co-chairs, are among the groups whose young leaders have banded together to take back the conversation approximately issues affecting Chicago’s black youth from public figures.

Unlike the Rev. Jesse Jackson & popular Chicago activist Father Michael Pfleger, who both have made appearances on local & national news stations to promote (and take credit for) plans for a protest on Black Friday, these activists prefer to rally crowds through social media & word of mouth, & they make clear that no one person is in charge. 

View gallery

In this Oct. 20, 2014 frame from dash-cam video provided by the Chicago Police Department, Laquan Mc …

They have moreover shied away from aligning with local elected officials.

For example, they declined an invitation to meet Tueesday with Emanuel, who had called on community organizers to assist keep the peace ahead of the disturbing dashcam video’s court-mandated release.

“The consensus was that Rahm has never demonstrated that he cares approximately the issues that black people care about,” Todd St. Hill, a member of the Black Youth Project, said outside the courthouse following London’s release Wednesday afternoon. “Yet, when he feels that his city is threatened, he calls upon these organizations not to uplift our rights, not to listen to what we want, yet to assist him pacify the community & that’s not what we’re approximately right now.”

The mayor’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on this story.

The video, which depicts a drastically different sequence of events than what police reported at the time, has prompted calls across social media for Emanuel’s resignation, as well as that of McCarthy & Alvarez. Her decision to charge Van Dyke with first-degree murder more than a year after McDonald’s death has appeared to many to be motivated by a court order to release the incriminating footage. 

Not all who received the mayor’s call turned him down, however, & the rift between what might be considered the new & old guards of community organizing in Chicago was apparent when local activist Jedidiah Brown showed up to the courthouse nearly an hour after London had been let go Wednesday.

“You’re just here for the cameras!” a young man wearing a black hooded sweatshirt with the message “Fund Black Futures” yelled at Brown, a pastor & president of the Young Leaders Alliance of Chicago who made an unsuccessful bid for city council this year.

Brown was among the community organizers & religious leaders who agreed to meet with Emanuel Tuesday, & after was seen discussing the dashcam video & Van Dyke’s arrest on CNN & Chicago’s WGN TV.“We’re not here for the cameras; I don’t even like this,” the young man told the reporters & cameramen who quickly swarmed him as he made his way up the courthouse steps. “We’re here to support Malcolm & the community. I do not like opportunists.”

Timothy Bradford, another member of the Black Youth Project, agreed.

“We’re out here for our people, with our people. We’re not out here to make any type of political advances as individuals,” Bradford said, emphasizing that ending police violence is just one part a larger fight against the inequalities facing Chicago’s black youth. “We’re not here trying to tell people to not respond like a human being to inhumane treatment & conditions.”

London similarly stressed this message in the impassioned speech he delivered shortly before his arrest Tuesday, making sure to differentiate between the communal leadership behind that night’s demonstrations & other public facing personalities.

“I need ya’ll to know that this s*** was organized for & by black people,” London said.


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