Protesters marched through the Loop, up the Magnificent Mile and down the Gold Coast Wednesday as they called for the resignation of Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez in wake of the fallout surrounding the release of the video showing 17-year old Laquan McDonald being shot 16 times by white Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke.
Around noon, hundreds gathered at Daley Plaza before marching for more than three hours down several streets in the Loop and eventually the lakefront neighborhoods immediately north of downtown before finishing near North Avenue and State Street.
After marching around city hall and the county building, protesters moved towards the financial district where they unsuccessfully attempted to enter the Chicago Board of Trade Building. The group then moved further south, where they sat in the middle of Congress Parkway and Wells Street, creating headaches for motorists on the inbound Eisenhower Expressway.
After marching north again, the protesters were first rebuffed by police when trying to get to Michigan Avenue and then when trying to cross the river to the Magnificent Mile, but police eventually stood down in both cases. Once passed Chicago’s famous shopping strip and the throngs of curious shoppers snapping pictures from the sidewalk, the group ended in the Gold Coast, the city’s wealthiest neighborhood.
Popular chants included “16 shots and a cover up!” “Rahm, resign!” and “16 shots, 16 shots!” While asking for the resignations of both Emanuel and Alvarez, the mayor drew the most ire of the two. Many recycled their “Fire Rahm” signs from the mayoral campaign.
The rally was peaceful, though tensions rose after 16-year-old Lamon Reccord was briefly detained by police shortly after it began. Most other skirmishes were small, mainly involving a few frustrated demonstrators trying to get through police lines.
For 74-year old Audrey Davis, a retired teacher, it was important to come up at support the movement. With a grandson in college, Davis is terrified for him to come visit because of the violence.
“(The Declaration of Independence) guarantees us the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. And African-American males in this city and elsewhere don’t have that right,” Davis said. “They can be killed with impunity by racist cops. Not all policemen are racists and not of them are corrupt, but one of them is too many.”
Davis added that the officers whose accounts at the scene of the McDonald shooting that support Van Dyke and contradict the video evidence are just as complicit.
“They are just as guilty as the guy who pulled the trigger,” Davis said. “They only way for evil to exist and to thrive is for good men to do nothing.”
Emanuel apologized for the police shooting of McDonald and vowed to be a champion of systemic reform in a 40-minute long special speech given to alderman earlier Wednesday morning before the regularly scheduled city council meeting.
Dash cam footage of Van Dyke shooting McDonald was released Nov. 24 after a ruling from a Cook County judge, more than a year after the shooting took place. Alvarez is under scrutiny for waiting until the day before the video’s release to charge Van Dyke with first-degree murder.
Emanuel has faced questions over whether political motivations played a role in keeping the video under wraps. The incident occurred just months before the mayor’s tough re-election and a $5 million settlement for McDonald’s family was approved by the city council just a week after his runoff victory in April.
While the mayor has attempted to stabilize the situation by firing Police Supt. Garry McCarthy and now welcoming a Department of Justice investigation into the patterns and practices of the police department, some say it’s “too little, too late.”
Lora Chamberlain, a doctor and activist, said she does not buy the mayor’s “crocodile tears in city council,” adding that, “He’s trying to save his rotten ass and Alvarez’s too.”
The pessimism is nothing new as Emanuel has struggled with likability numbers throughout his time in office. According to an Ogden and Fry poll, the mayor’s approval rating stands at 17 percent while 51 percent of Chicagoans think he should resign.
“Rahm’s saying he’s setting up another task force, he’s going to have another investigation. It’s just not good enough,” Chamberlain said. “We want indictments. We want an indictment of Alvarez for sure and we want an indictment of the cops that covered it up. The blue wall is not going to get cracked unless there’s some serious accountability. And one bad apple resigning is not going to do it.”
Police accountability was a common demand among protesters with many advocating for a civilian board to oversee the police department.
“The police need to answer to the people democratically and we need people to have a say over policy, and there need to be major outings of the people who have been in charge for generations and created where we are now,” said protester Julia Hundley.