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Austin, Garfield Park, North Lawndale

West Side Neighbors Clean Up After Looting, Then Spruce Up Long-Neglected Lots: ‘We Should Be Doing This Anyway’

Even though some of the group's work is to address the damage caused by rioting on the West Side, the youth organizers empathize with the rage and frustration felt by those participating in violent forms of protest.

Hundreds of volunteers kneel in honor of George Floyd at the West Side clean up.
Provided, Facebook Page of Alderman Michael Scott Jr.
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NORTH LAWNDALE — Hundreds came out to help clean up the West Side on Saturday. Volunteers helped clean up areas impacted by rioting and vandalism sparked by the outrage of the police killing of George Floyd.

But the project also helped to spruce up littered streets and empty lots long overdue for beautification, organizers said.

Saturday’s clean up was organized by young community organizers Kaleb Autman from North Lawndale and Destiny Harris from Austin. Their West Side Cleanup Crew partnered with Alderman Michael Scott Jr. (24th) and local organizations including UCAN, North Lawndale College Prep and the Safer Foundation to provide supplies and encourage Chicagoans to show up for the West Side.

“Today is the best day I’ve had in the last, I’d say, two weeks,” Scott said. “To see all of these people out here supporting the 24th ward and supporting our community is nothing short of amazing.”

The cleanup started with a rally joined by Chicago’s first lady Amy Eshleman. Volunteers at the rally also knelt in silence for nine minutes in honor of George Floyd, who died in handcuffs after a white police officer knelt on his neck for the same amount of time as he cried, “I can’t breathe.”

Volunteers then helped clean the areas between Kostner Avenue and Independence Boulevard, and from Harrison Street to 14th Street.

The groups went beyond cleaning up the fallout from the protests and riots that impacted the area. Organizer Destiny Harris said they were also able to improve the vacant lots and poorly maintained streets that the city should have cleaned up years ago.

“We know that historically the city has abandoned predominantly Black communities on the South and West Sides. So if we aren’t going to do the work to rebuild and beautify our communities then it won’t get done,” Harris said.

Cleaning up the many vacant lots around Lawndale was an opportunity to reflect on how the lots could become assets to the community rather than eyesores.

“We should be doing this anyway, whether looting occurred in our communities or not,” Harris said.

The West Side Cleanup Crew is an extension of the movement against police brutality, Harris said. Even though some of the group’s work is to address the damage caused by rioting on the West Side, Harris said the youth organizers empathize with the rage and frustration felt by those participating in violent forms of protest.

“A lot of folks are so quick to denounce looting and rioting … without asking why people feel the need to do these things,” Harris said. “No one asking why? When circumstances? What systematic oppression occurred for us to get to this point?”

“The fact that they have to take advantage of the situation means there is a problem.”

Pascal Sabino is a Report for America corps member covering Austin, North Lawndale and Garfield Park for Block Club Chicago.

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