To Baltimore with Love: Chicago’s Freedom Dreams

Black Youth Project 100 organizer Breanna Champion leads a moment of silence as hundreds of protestors shut down 55th Street on Chicago’s South Side Tuesday night. (Photo: Kelly Hayes)

As protests continued in Baltimore on Tuesday, hundreds of Chicagoans rallied and marched in solidarity with those who’ve taken to the streets in the wake of Freddie Gray’s death at the hands of Baltimore police. Local organizers passionately defended Baltimore’s protestors, who have repeatedly been characterized as “thugs and criminals” by both politicians and media figures. Speakers also drew connections between the death of Freddie Gray and a number of community traumas in their own city, including the death of Rekia Boyd, and the recent acquittal of her killer, Chicago police detective Dante Servin. I was able to speak to two of the event’s organizers about their intentions in planning the event, and the larger struggle their groups are currently engaged in. Page May is a prison abolitionist and an organizer with We Charge Genocide. Aislinn Sol is an organizer with both We Charge Genocide and Black Lives Matter Chicago. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

What was the intended message of Tuesday night’s event in Chicago?

Aislinn Sol:
The message was to send a physical and visible show of support to the protesters of Baltimore and reiterate that this fight to hold police accountable, to end police killings of our people, is a national fight.

A child sits beside 111 black pinwheels, planted in the ground outside Chicago police headquarters. Activists arranged the display to show solidarity with protestors in Baltimore, where police have killed 111 people since 2010. (Photo: Kelly Hayes)

With all the media coverage and social media attention the protests have gotten, what do you, as Black organizers resisting police violence, feel is being lost in the shuffle?

Aislinn Sol: The most important factor continually lost in the mainstream reporting is that the lives of Black people have been destroyed, battered and taken as a result of rampant police violence. It’s now being estimated that Black people are being killed by police every 8 hours. That proves that justice is not found in the police system in this country and that if we want justice, if we want to end police violence and end a system which protects police violence with impunity, then we must seize the opportunity by grabbing justice at its helms, and creating that justice ourselves.

Page May: Within the media, and even within some social media circles, I’ve noticed an emphasis being placed on the question of, “what are we going to do to restore trust between communities and police?” When in reality, there has never been a moment when Black people and police have had any kind of harmony or peace. Police are, in fact, an example of anti-Blackness manifested. I am part of a movement that I think is actually about building up and affirming a collective distrust of police, in order to question the nature and inevitability of policing, and to begin to imagine an alternative to policing.

Police fail to contain the crowd as the march spills out into the street Tuesday night on Chicago's South Side. (Photo: Kelly Hayes)
Police fail to contain the crowd as the march spills out into the street Tuesday night on Chicago’s South Side. (Photo: Kelly Hayes)

How do these events fall into the larger historical moment we are living in? How do you see these events effecting the Black Lives Matter movement?

Aislinn Sol: Mike Siviwe Elliot of Alliance Against Racist & Political Repression made the connection at the rally that slave patrols and the current police both operate similarly in that their role is to occupy and suppress our communities. There is a direct link between the establishment of professional police systems in the United States with the patrolling systems that maintained the business of human bondage in chattel slavery. That direct link reveals the historic relationship of the state to Black people as one of containment by force and oppression, from enforcing forced labor through legislated state terror that included marching over millions of people by foot in coffles and chains from the northeast to the western parts of this country, to the school to prison pipeline today, and the current epidemic of mass incarceration and systemic police terror and killings now.

Palestinian Activist Rasmea Odeh holds a sign outside police headquarters on Tuesday. (Photo: Kelly Hayes)
Palestinian Activist Rasmea Odeh holds a sign outside police headquarters on Tuesday. (Photo: Kelly Hayes)

Page May: I think it’s important to understand what brings us here, and to understand that people have always been pushing back against these oppressions. And if we understand that the past is never closed, that allows us to, first of all, have a deeper and more complicated analysis of what is wrong, and also  inherit all the momentum of our past ancestor’s struggles. It allows us to understand that we are fighting the same fight – the abolition of social death – that Martin Luther King was fighting for, that Ella Baker was fighting for, that enslaved Black people were fighting for. When we start to recognize the continuity of our struggles, I think what we do means more. Because we’re not just fighting for Dante Servin to get fired. This is one of many, many days of struggle that Black people have been engaging with for centuries that are about a much larger fight for the complete transformation of society.  It’s a fight for a society that recognizes Black humanity, that actually re-imagines humanity, in a lot of ways.

Organizer Page May reminds the crowd to honor Black women killed by police, as well as Black men. (Photo: Kelly Hayes)
Organizer Page May reminds the crowd to honor Black women killed by police, as well as Black men. (Photo: Kelly Hayes)

What should non Black allies be doing right now to get on the right side of this moment in history?

Page May: Stop trusting the police. Show up for Black led events and actions and use non Black institutional power to challenge the police. Recognize that police do serve white people in real ways, and decline those services.

If you could write out next steps, here in Chicago, what would they look like?

Page May: One of the things I am most excited about right now is the Radical Ed Project. I think this is so essential because people are outraged, and they’re ready, but we need the skills. If we don’t do this work with the knowledge, that is out there and exists, we can wind up making vulnerable people even more vulnerable. I think we have a responsibility as organizers to be sharing this knowledge, and building up the knowledge of others in our communities, so they feel equipped to be the leaders of their own events, and the sharers of their own skills. To build a network of people who can share these skills – I think that’s so critical.

A 14 year old poet name Jalen performs outside police headquarters before a crowd of hundreds. (Photo: Kelly Hayes)
A 14 year old poet named Jalen performs outside police headquarters before a crowd of hundreds. (Photo: Kelly Hayes)

Another thing I am really excited about in the coming months is working around stop and frisk here in Chicago. Because I see it, time and time again, the way we abandon our young people in our fights against police violence. We’re talking about twelve year olds getting stopped by police, and most of the people who are killed by police are young. We need to make sure we’re centering around young people, so in working on this campaign for an ordinance addressing stop and frisk, some of us are focusing in on bringing in high school students. Making sure they know this is happening, making sure they know what it might mean for them. We want them to have a chance to give feedback, and to know about how to have a role in the movement, if that’s something they want.

In this struggle against Black death and the police state, what does winning look like?

Page May: Some days, I think it’s the complete abolition of carceral systems and social death, but that’s huge, and that takes generations, right? Other days, I think winning just looks like Black, Brown, and Indigenous people having hope, and having a love for themselves and their people that’s strong enough that they’re willing to fight for their people. On the hard days, that’s the most I can hope for – that we can keep creating spaces where people feel hopeful, where people feel like they matter, even if the world isn’t ready to live up to that. We need to inhabit our history, but we also need to inhabit our dreams.

(Photo: Kelly Hayes)
(Photo: Kelly Hayes)

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