On July 24, hundreds of Chicagoans gathered on the city’s West Side to protest the nearby Chicago police detention facility, call for the defunding of the Chicago Police Department (CPD) and demand the city invest in Black communities. The protest began in a vacant lot, renamed Freedom Square by activists, across the street from the Homan Square detention facility operated by CPD.
Community groups set up booths to connect with the community and a cookout provided free food. A stage was set up and throughout the afternoon local activists and artists addressed the gathering. In the evening, the crowd took to the streets and marched through the surrounding Lawndale community, a predominantly Black neighborhood on Chicago’s West Side. Although the action was peaceful and even resembled a festival at points, it was continuously surrounded by dozens of police in riot gear.
The action occurred on the four-year anniversary of the original occupation of Freedom Square in 2016. The occupation began after a “Blue Lives Matter” ordinance was submitted to the Chicago City Council. Activists continually occupied the square for 41 days, and organized with the local community.
The site of the occupation was chosen because it was next to Homan Square. Homan Square is home to a CPD black site, where police disappear and torture people while denying them access to an attorney.
Damon Williams, co-founder of the Let Us Breathe Collective, said that during the occupation he repeatedly heard community members talk about their interactions with Homan Square, saying, “my uncle was in there, my brother was in there, I was in there.”
Lawndale is one of the poorest and most heavily policed neighborhoods in Chicago. For decades the community there has been subject to racist exploitation and disinvestment. Policies like school closures have heavily impacted the neighborhood.
The night before the recent Freedom Square action took place, Chicago Mayor Lightfoot had ordered the takedown of the statue of Christopher Columbus in Grant Park. On July 17, police had violently attacked a Black and Indigeous solidarity protest against the statue. Lightfoot has stated the take down is only temporary, but the removal of the statue has been celebrated as a victory against racism.
While activists were happy the statue was taken down, they were adamant that symbolic actions were not enough. They demanded that CPD be defunded and money be invested back into communities. Mark Clements, a survivor of police torture, said, “Lori Lightfoot, you can have your damn statue, we need investment in our community.”
The deployment of federal forces to the city was also on the mind of speakers and attendees. Speaker Trina Reynolds-Tyler connected the disappearance of protesters by federal agents in Portland with the normal activities of Chicago police. “It’s the same thing. Snatching people up, taking them away,” she said.
One attendee at Freedom Square, BeeBee, was excited to be in a “space of joy, liberation, and image of a world without police.” She was critical of state intimidation of the event, stating, “There is a helicopter overhead and a line of police, it shows how even a crowd of people who love each other is a threat.”
The day ended with a march through the Lawndale neighborhood. Residents came out onto their porches and honked their horns in support of the march. The march paused in Douglas Park to honor the memory of Rekia Boyd, who was murdered there by an off-duty police officer in 2012.