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BRIGHTON PARK — Police had to whisk an alderperson to safety Thursday and one of her staffers was hospitalized after the two were attacked at a protest about the city’s plan to build a tent encampment for migrants at a Southwest Side lot.
Police are investigating the “violent act” against Ald. Julia Ramirez (12th), Mayor Brandon Johnson said afterward.
Nearly 100 protesters gathered Thursday morning to voice opposition to the city’s plans for the site near 38th Street and California Avenue, saying officials haven’t notified them properly about the proposed camp or taken their input into consideration.
Ramirez, whose ward includes the site, was swarmed by protesters when she arrived. People threw signs in her face, screamed, grabbed her and shoved themselves against her as police officers worked to break up the crowd.
Eventually, officers escorted the alderwoman away as a staffer for Ramirez shielded her, helping her get into a car so she could leave.
A mayoral spokesperson said one of Ramirez’s ward staffers was hospitalized. The person was taken to St. Anthony Hospital in fair condition, police said.
Ramirez could not immediately be reached for comment afterward, but in a statement she said she’d been invited to Thursday’s event so she could hear people’s concerns.
Ramirez tried to talk to protesters, but most did not want to have a “peaceful dialogue,” she said. As she left, a group of people “surrounded” and “began assaulting” her and her staffer, she said.
“I hear my residents and want them to know I will always advocate for their safety and ensure our communities have the resources they deserve,” Ramirez said in the statement. “I also respect everyone’s right to peacefully protest however violence and hate is not the answer.
“I hope to continue to build bridges across the different communities in the 12th Ward as we address this crisis in a humane and compassionate way. Brighton Park should be a welcoming community to both existing residents and new arrivals.”
Ramirez said she is calling on Johnson’s office for “more transparency, accountability and more local involvement” in making decisions around shelters for migrants and determining if the tent camp is appropriate for the lot.
Johnson said what happened was unacceptable.
“I learned today that an alderwoman and an aide, while attempting to meet with constituents, were victims of a physical attack by area residents,” Johnson said in an emailed statement. “My administration supports the right to peaceful protest and free speech, but this type of action against a public servant is unconscionable.
“Any violent act against an elected official in our city is unacceptable and must be condemned in the strongest terms. My office and the Chicago Police Department are currently investigating this incident, and we will provide updates as they become available.”
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One protester’s sign read, “We don’t want your migrants in Brighton park nor McKinley Park.”
Others chanted, “No los queremos aquí, de ningún lado,” meaning, “We don’t want them here, anywhere,” in Spanish.
Neighbor Jacquelyn Zuniga said she and others feel “stabbed in the back” by the city’s lack of notice about the tent plan.
“There were no notices. There was nothing in the mail,” she said. “Chicago wants to help, but we don’t have the resources to help. Our vets and our homeless in America need to be prioritized over those of another country.”
Aaron Fan, who lives near the site, said he’s frustrated the city is concentrating “unvetted migrants” in the area.
“We are not racist,” he said. “Almost everyone in this neighborhood is an immigrant.”
Some protesters blocked trucks from accessing the site as city workers surveyed and worked on the land.
The “winterized base camps” were suggested by Mayor Brandon Johnson last month as a way to get thousands of migrants out of police stations and provide them a form of shelter as colder temperatures arrive.
Critics have been vocal in their opposition of the plan and of GardaWorld Federal Services, the company that received a $29 million city contract to build the camps. But city leaders have defended the decision as necessary since more than 18,500 migrants have arrived to the city since August 2022.
The influx of asylum seekers has overloaded the city’s shelter system, leaving local leaders scrambling for more temporary housing for large numbers of people as the weather cools.
About 3,600 people are sleeping in police station lobbies and at O’Hare Airport, according to the Office of Emergency Management and Communications. About 11,200 people are living in city-run shelters as of Tuesday — up from 6,600 on Aug. 31.
Ramirez previously said the Brighton Park lot is privately owned by the Sanchez Group.
“The site is currently being evaluated by city departments,” the alderwoman said in a statement Sunday.
Ramirez and city leaders are hosting a community meeting to share more details with the public 6 p.m. Oct. 24 at Thomas Kelly High School, 4136 S. California Ave.
A proposal to build a tent camp on the Far South Side at Halsted and 115th streets received similar backlash from neighbors. It’s unclear if that plan is moving forward.
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