By Kayla Daugherty
Video by Alexis Myers
More than 100 clergy, community leaders and citizens crowded together under a sea of umbrellas Monday night at Chicago Police Headquarters for a prayer vigil honoring Laquan McDonald, victim of a 2014 fatal police shooting.
The vigil was calm, with uniformed officers guarding the doors of police headquarters at 35th and Michigan and surveying the crowd. The vigil followed several days of mostly peaceful protests after the release of police dashcam video showing Officer Jason Van Dyke firing 16 times and killing McDonald, a black teen, in an encounter on the Southwest Side. Van Dyke was charged with first-degree murder and earlier Monday had been released on $150,000 bail.
At the vigil, church leaders from a variety of denominations and cultural backgrounds took the megaphone and prayed for peace and justice. Many of the leaders asked for the community to come together to pray for the youth of the city and also for police officers.
“I am a mother. I am a stepmother to young teenage black men and this could have been them.”
– Evette Willis
“When the video came out last week, we started talking about how we wanted to respond,” said Pastor David Swanson of New Community Church in Bronzeville. “It seemed that as people of faith, prayer was the best response. A great starting point would be to see more proactive interaction between churches, the clergy and the police. If we were to see more of that interaction and that relationship-building, that community policing, that would go a long way.”
The video was ordered released by a judge last week after the city fought for over a year to keep it under wraps. Police Supt. Garry McCarthy was fired early Tuesday by Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who faced growing pressure to oust McCarthy. Protesters have also called for the resignation of Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez, saying she took far too long to file charges against Van Dyke.
Those in the crowd ranged from older adults to college-aged young people to families with toddlers brought by their parents to witness from a young age what it meant to gather peacefully and make one’s voice heard.
Daniel Michmerhuizen, a high school teacher from the South Side, stood on a bench in the rain during the entire vigil, holding his young son.
“My wife and my other son are also here. My entire family is here,” said Michmerhuizen. He and his wife helped coordinate the march to the protest from several blocks away.
Michmerhuizen has been teaching on the South Side for nine years and has had violence affect his students. This intimate interaction with gun violence motivates him to speak out whenever he has an opportunity.
“I’ve had kids [in my classes] who have been killed by gun violence,” Michmerhuizen said. “And anytime that there is a chance for us to speak out, anytime there is a chance for us to put our faith into action, it’s important for our family to do so and we model that for our children as well. “
The crowd included a large number of youth from the community, including Lamon Reccord, a 16-year-old activist who took part in the Black Friday protests along the Magnificent Mile.
“What’s got me out here are the young people,” said Reccord. “The young people are the future. You can’t kill them.”
Despite his young age, Reccord is determined to make a difference in the battle for justice. Reccord lives on the Southeast Side and was encouraged by the large number of people who showed up on Black Friday and to the vigil.
“It’s a good thing, because you know, right now we all know the issues that are going on in the City of Chicago and we all want to make a change,” he said. “If you want to see a change, you have to make a change. I think that this is what it is about. “
Reccord said he knows that there is a long fight ahead. “We’re so close, but we’re not there yet,” he said.
Amanda Askew, resident of Woodlawn, couldn’t agree more.
“The youth are the future. Before we [young people] were here, there was Martin Luther King, there was Coretta Scott King, Shirley Chisholm. There were all these people that paved the way for us,” said Askew, who is in her 20s. “You can learn from the older generation because they blazed a trail for us.”
Askew referred to the discrimination and other social issues that black and other minority communities dealt with and overcame.
“What did they do to get to that point and what can we use that they used years ago that we can use right now in 2015?” she said, citing voting, peaceful protests and community organizing. “The same thing they were doing back in the 70’s still works. It is still relevant for 2015.”
“The young people are the future. You can’t kill them.”
– Lamon Reccord
Evette Willis came to McDonald’s vigil hoping to secure a better future for Chicago’s youth.
“I am a mother. I am a stepmother to young teenage black men and this could have been them,” Willis said, referring to McDonald. “We need some answers to how that situation happened the way it did, and we want to make sure it never happens to anybody’s child ever again.”
For Willis, it is not about skin color or demographic differences–it’s about justice for children everywhere regardless of where they live over what they look like.
“We are just human beings,” she said. “We love the same, we look after our children the same. It’s all the same. The only thing that’s different is our color and some family and cultural differences. But yet, we are still human beings.”