Beth Valukas (far right) stands with family members in front of Gardiner’s office Friday evening Credit: Bob Chiarito/Block Club Chicago

JEFFERSON PARK — Several hundred protesters marched through Jefferson Park on Chicago’s Northwest Side Friday evening, calling for an end to police brutality and in support of Black Lives Matter.

The crowd was also hoping to convince Ald. Jim Gardiner (45th) to support a Civilian Police Accountability Council, a proposal to give a civilian panel oversight of police misconduct cases, the hiring and firing of the police superintendent and more.

Gardiner, after agreeing to speak with protest organizers, wouldn’t say if he supports the new oversight council for the police department, referred to as CPAC. In a video posted of his conversation, he also wouldn’t answer repeated questions of “Do you support Black Lives Matter” and “Do you believe Black lives matter?”

“If you want to sit down and talk with me, I’d be happy to sit down and talk with you,” Gardiner told one organizer.

The event began around 5 p.m. in front of Gardiner’s office at 5425 W. Lawrence Ave. and proceeded east to Milwaukee and then northwest to the 16th District police station before going back to Jefferson Park.

It was put together by a few neighbors, among them Ryan O’Donnell and Brian Solem, who said it was important to raise awareness in a neighborhood that is mostly white and conservative. Both men expressed disappointment that Gardiner did not show up, noting that his office was closed about an hour before the event started.

“We reached out to him but received no response,” O’Donnell said.

Solem said it was a missed opportunity for the alderman.

“He needs to represent us all,” Solem said.

Gardiner did not respond to multiple calls and emails from Block Club Chicago. Earlier in the day, in a video posted to his Facebook account, he urged residents driving home from work to expect delays because of the protest and said he would be out canvassing his ward during the protest to ensure the safety of residents and businesses, along with protesters. He also urged residents to refrain from staging a counter protest.

Before the diverse group of protesters began marching, they stood in from of Gardiner’s office and chanted “Where’s Jim Gardiner?” Sean Heaney, who carried a sign that read “Gardiner get behind CPAC or GTFO” feels the alderman is ignoring his constituents by not even discussing the possibility of police oversight with residents.

“This ward has a heavy firefighter and police population and he serves them, but he’s not listening to his constituents who by and large want to have a CPAC,” Heaney said.

Beth Valukas, who lives in Old Irving Park, attended with her family and held a sign in front of Gardiner’s office that read “Jim Gardiner Your Silence is Violence.” Valukas said Gardiner needs to make a statement.

“Alderman Gardiner has yet to make a direct statement about the murder of George Floyd. His constituents have been begging him and he’s been completely silent,” Valukas said.

Although there were no counter protests, Diane Schuyler, who lives a few blocks away from Gardiner’s office,  stood among the protesters and gave the middle finger to cars that honked in support of protesters. 

“I think 80 percent of these people are naive and stupid,” Schuyler said. “They are degrading the police.”

Solem said he was glad Schuyler was the exception on Friday and that most seemed to support the protesters, adding that he heard rumors beforehand that there might be trouble.

“I’m shocked no one showed up against us. We heard a lot of things but thankfully that didn’t come to fruition,” Solem said.

Diane Schuyler, who did not support the protest, gave the finger to cars that drove by honking in support of the protesters Credit: Bob Chiarito/Block Club Chicago

Dawn Lynch Nettnin of the Northwest Side Coalition against Racism and Hate and a 20-year-resident of Jefferson Park, said many neighbors have a sense of entitlement that must be addressed.

“People want to keep this neighborhood subjugated as if it’s part of the suburbs, but this is Chicago,” Nettnin said.

Also speaking at the march was Rebecca Raines, from the Chicago West Side Branch of the NAACP, who urged public participation in police contract negotiations and denounced the police union. 

“We are not anti-police. All we’re saying is that we want police who want justice,” Raines said. 

Watching the march from outside the Jefferson Park CTA station, Jermaine Wallace said he was at Navy Pier earlier in the day and got off the “L” to see the marchers walking along Milwaukee Avenue. Wallace, who lives nearby, was not aware of the event beforehand but while standing on the sidewalk and watching the marchers, he said “I think it’s beautiful.” 

Solem said there would be another march Saturday at 2 p.m. starting from in front of Gardiner’s office and heading north to 41st Ward Alderman Anthony Napolitano’s office march at 7442 N. Harlem Avenue.

Napolitano has blasted calls to reduce Chicago Police Department funding, and proposed taking police out of the wards of aldermen who want to cut police funding.

“We can’t only focus on Gardiner. We need to focus on all the conservative alderman. … Hopefully this is a turning point for the neighborhood, the city and the country,” Solem said.

After the march, Gardiner agreed to meet privately with one of the march organizers, according to a video shared on social media Friday night after the protest. The alderman is known for favoring of one-on-one conversations — away from the media and sometimes in the homes of constituents.

Gardiner was asked if he supports Black Lives Matter and he refused to respond, the video shows. He told organizers he’s willing to sit down and talk about it with them later:

“This video which clearly demonstrates WHY we have to march,” Indivisible Chicago activists posted on Facebook Friday night. “He absolutely REFUSED to acknowledge that Black lives matter when asked repeatedly, by a Black man. He wasn’t asked if he supported the movement or BLM Chicago’s demands. He was asked if Black lives have value and he couldn’t say it.”

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