Mount Greenwood protests a microcosm of national division on police brutality

By Alex Ortiz

During the afternoon of Nov. 20, a group of some 15 protesters walked down a closed off streets at Kedzie Avenue and 111th Street in Mount Greenwood on the city’s far southwestern edge. It was a cool but clear day — perfect  for a large demonstration. Residents looked on while standing on their front lawns. Many had confused faces, while others shook their heads disapprovingly. The action was organized by Revolution Club Chicago, to speak out against the Nov. 5 shooting death of a black man, Joshua Beal, 25, in town from Indianapolis for a funeral, allegedly by a white off-duty Chicago cop. While an investigation into what has been described as a road rage incident is ongoing and Chicago police say they have no comment, there have been multiple demonstrations, including the night of Beal’s death.

While New York, Dallas and Ferguson, Missouri, have been inflection points in the national conversation on race and policing of African-Americans, Chicago, too, has served as a staging ground. For example, days of protests erupted with the release of the Laquan McDonald police shooting video in November 2015, organized by groups like the University of Chicago-based Black Youth Project.

According to a Washington Post database, nearly 900 people have been shot and killed by police officers in 2016. The Black Lives Matter movement, which grew out of the August 2014 shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, has been calling for criminal justice system reforms and for police officers to be held accountable for those deaths, even though officers are indicted and convicted at very low rates in connection with these shootings.

This particular Sunday afternoon, protesters shouted “Asian, Latin, Black and white, workers of the world unite!” As they approached the intersection, they joined a few dozen more protesters. Lines of well over 100 police officers surrounded protesters on all sides, and behind lines of barricades were mostly curious bystanders, but also some counter-protesters.

Protesters walk down Kedzie Ave. to the intersection with 111th St. to demonstrate following the death of Joshua Beal by a white, off-duty police officer.
Protesters walk down Kedzie Avenue to the intersection with 111th Street to demonstrate following the death of Joshua Beal, allegedly by a white, off-duty police officer.

“Go home! Go home! Go home!” some of the counter-protesters, many of them Mount Greenwood residents, shouted. They followed up with chants of “USA,” “CPD!” and “Blue lives matter!” to show their support of the Chicago Police Department. Several counter-protesters carried black and white flags with a single blue stripe meant to represent support for police officers.

“If you don’t like it, then get the f— out of here!” one counter-protester shouted.

While not wanting to speak on the record, a couple of the white Mount Greenwood residents were upset with the protests in their neighborhood. Some of the residents there to voice their disapproval of the protest did not want this issue to come to their neighborhood. Others were concerned that there might even be violence.

Meanwhile in the center of the intersection, the official protesters held up signs reading “No to Trump! No to racism and sexism!” and “Black lives matter.”

There really weren’t any direct confrontations between the two sets of protesters. For nearly two hours the groups stayed put in their respective spaces and there was little conflict outside of the yelling, chanting and occasional expletives.

Eventually whole groups of people dispersed and some even walked away from the intersection still chanting, “Racist cops, you can’t hide. We charge you with genocide” and “The cops, the courts, the Ku Klux Klan, all a part of the boss’s plan.” The group was escorted by a line of police officers on foot and bicycle.

But just down Kedzie at the Mount Greenwood library, the discussion over Beal’s death and the reaction to it was being had in a far different manner.  A coalition of local churches and community members passed out flyers and held up signs that read “Let’s Talk.”

Activists and Mount Greenwood residents gather at local library to discuss tensions surrounding the shooting death of Joshua Beal by an off-duty police officer.
Activists and Mount Greenwood residents gather at local library to discuss tensions surrounding the shooting death of Joshua Beal.

“Yes we realize there was some wrongdoing done on both sides. We recognize that yes a young man lost his life, but right now, this demonstration is not necessarily about Joshua Beal anymore,” said the Rev. Shaunte Brewer, 29, of Beverly and Prayer Tabernacle Church. “We pray that the investigation is carried out justly and ethically, but right now, we’re here in response to the hate that was spewed on both sides.”

Inside the library, the atmosphere was much calmer. In one room, at least 50 people crammed in to discuss their feelings less about the shooting but more about the reaction. One woman described how she was always appreciative of the police, but it wasn’t until the backlash against the protests that she became “uneasy” in Mount Greenwood.

“So all of you who had the courage and who were brave enough to come in this room and have a conversation, I’m asking you all to do a huge favor for this city,” said local activist Jedidiah Brown. “Don’t leave here until you talk to somebody who doesn’t look like you and that didn’t come here for the same reason.”

The organizers encouraged attendees to speak to one another. They provided pizza for both residents and the police officers.

“Every Mount Greenwood resident that I heard said ‘a relative of mine is a Chicago police officer,’ ” Brown said. “This is where the police is from. I get it, but black assertion of our plight of life and our quality of life does not automatically equate to an attack on all white people.”

Photo at top: Protesters in Mount Greenwood gather at the intersection of Kedzie and 111th following the death of Joshua Beal, allegedly at the hands of a white, off-duty police officer, while surrounded by residents in support of the police. (Alex Ortiz/MEDILL)