JEFFERSON PARK — Hundreds of Chicago Police supporters took over Milwaukee Avenue in front of the 16th District Police Department on Wednesday for a pro-police rally.
They were met by a smaller group of counter-protesters. While verbal confrontations between the groups were at times heated, vulgar and racially charged, the demonstrations remained largely physically peaceful and ended by 8 p.m.
The Support the Police Rally was organized by Northwest Side Alds. Jim Gardiner (45th), Anthony Napolitano (41st) and Nicholas Sposato (38th) to show support for police in a neighborhood heavily populated by families of police.
“Thank you, Chicago. This is amazing. This is America,” Napolitano, a former policeman, told attendees. “Respect that flag. I love you.”
The rally was organized amid months of protests against police brutality that have called for the defunding of police departments.
Rally supporters, many of whom were unmasked, wore pro-police shirts and carried pro-police signs. Many waved police flags, Trump flags and American flags, chanting “Back the blue” and “All lives matter” to passersby.
Counter-protesters, who stood on the sidewalk separated by a line of police officers and squad cars, chanted, “Black lives matter” and “16 shots and a coverup” referring to the killing of Black teen Laquan McDonald by former Chicago cop Jason Van Dyke. Some held signs that read “Cops out of CPS” and “Housing for all.”
One woman who passed by said, “Housing for all, really? That just means they don’t want to work.”
Some officers talked to their supporters and asked them not to speak to the counter-protesters, while others kept the two sides apart and spoke to a few counter-protesters on the sidewalk.
Djuan Wash, an activist with Black Lives Activists of Kenosha, was one of the counter-protesters who came to Chicago to “have a conversation with those who don’t believe that Black lives matter.” He said most people screamed at him and told him to go home, but a few listened.
“A few did engage, and we began to find out that there were a lot of things we agreed on in terms of how things are run in the country,” Wash said.
Wash is a former Chicago resident and a national community organizer currently focused on Kenosha after police shot Jacob Blake. Starting a conversation about systematic racial injustice and the history of police and slavery in the United States is the first step to moving forward, he said.
But Wash said police sympathizers need to realize Black people don’t feel safe around police and officers need to be held accountable. That starts with talking about race and changing the system, he said.
“A lot of people don’t want to talk about race. It’s the elephant in the room. But the elephant is so damn big there’s no more room to breathe,” he said. “So if you can’t talk about where race began, how can you say that you don’t have white privilege?”
Anthony Beckman, an 18-year Norridge Police officer running for Illinois’ 10th district state senator, attended the rally to show support for officers, whom he called his friends and family. He said he would march in support of Black Lives Matter if the movement was more focused on ending crime and walking for children killed by gun violence rather than the “false narrative of systemic racism and defunding the police.”
Notably, supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement do protest violent crime and have held marches throughout the summer for children who were killed in Chicago.
Beckman said conversations across the aisle need to happen to find common ground, and he wants people to think not all officers are bad.
“People are coming to the realization that law and order and civility [and] the protection of capitalism is the way to go, not domestic terrorism or dismantling the police,” Beckman said. “I don’t care if you are a Republican, Democrat or Independent, people want civility in their life.”
Jessica, a Jefferson Park resident who attended the rally and who did not want to give her last name, said police officers deserve more respect. She said that while she understands why people are mad at law enforcement, she thinks not all officers should be condemned for mistakes others have made.
“People have had enough with our law enforcement being abused the way they have been and a lot of people have a problem with authority,” Jessica said. “Personally, when I was younger, I had a problem with authority, but as I got older I understood what they are here for: to protect us.”
But many activists and protesters who have organized efforts against police brutality said that’s not the case for Black, Brown and queer communities. Counter-protester Carlos Montgomery, a lifelong Chicagoan, said he attended to speak out against the pro-police supporters and highlight the injustices brought to marginalized groups by law enforcement.
“I came out here for the Black, Brown and LGBTQ community that have been unjustly oppressed, killed, murdered, tortured and incarcerated for unjust reasons of an outdated white supremacist ideology mindset,” Montgomery said.
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