Crowd gathering on June 7 for Black Evanston Men rally. Photo by Steve Lemieux-Jordan, Evanston Photographic Studios

Rallies and marches against the killing of George Floyd and against the larger issues of police brutality and pervasive racism continue in Evanston, the United States and the world.

The rally at Fountain Square on June 7, supported by the Evanston Northshore Branch NAACP, Chessmen Club of the Northshore, Evanston Alumni Chapter (IL) Kappa Alpha Psi, Fraternity, INC., and BEM (Black Evanston Men), drew about 1,500 people. Conscious of the threat of COVID-19 in large gatherings, those in attendance wore masks and did their best to maintain a social distance, spreading  east and west on Davis Street across Sherman and Orrington avenues and south into the small Fountain Square plaza. More than one speaker alluded to the parallel viruses of racism and COVID-19. All stressed the urgency of the present situation.

Drumming from members of SOUL Creations began the event, and individual drumbeats highlighted parts of some of the speeches.

In his opening remarks, Pastor Michael Nabors of Second Baptist Church said he had been asked, “How many rallies are you going to have in Evanston?”  He replied, he said, “As many as are necessary.”

Rev. Nabors said, “People are coming together and saying, ‘It is enough. Racism has to end. It has to be killed. It has to be buried.’” Looking specifically at Evanston, Rev. Nabors spoke of the black population that is declining because of living here and asked those in the crowd to support black businesses that had been “hit by two viruses – COVID-10 and racism for 400 years.”

Former School District 65 Board President and current Chessman Club member Keith Terry said, “We need prayer; we need votes. We cannot hesitate anymore.”

Evanston Township High School teacher Corey Winchester said he often is asked, “Are you certain your teaching isn‘t too political?

“How can it not be?” he said. “How would you teach about racism in the United States? How do you get white youth to understand the responsibility they have in whiteness?”

Other speakers pressed the issues of racism in Evanston and in this country. “I am tired,” began Liana Wallace. “The collective breath they took from us.” She spoke of slavery and oppression and said, “This is America … even as we tell your grandchildren what you failed to tell them.”

Although many rallies have focused on police brutality, Evanston Police Chief Demitrous Cook received cheers as he spoke. “I didn’t give up my blackness for this white shirt,” he told the crowd. “I didn’t give up my blackness to the people of this community. I have a lot of respect for the people in this town. ….

“If a police officer is correct under the law, I’m going to stand up for him, but if he’s wrong, I’m going to do what I’m supposed to do in terms of discipline.

“The time has passed for reform. … To this point, we have not persevered in making police reform. We’ve done a few good things along the way, with the independent commission, and President Barak Obama came out with 21st Century policing. … Why do we fall off?  Ask yourself that … This is a pervasive injustice for black people.

“It’s your duty as well as the police officer’s duty to make things right. I want to see things right in our neighborhoods, black on black. I want to see things right in our neighborhoods, white on black. I want people to stand up for our Hispanic brothers. …

“Your perseverance is definitely needed. You don’t get this that often. This is the first time I’ve seen this magnitude of protests in my life.

“The police department can’t run from police reform. The police department can’t run from injustice. The police departments can’t run from injustice.”

Longtime Evanston resident and community activist Carlis Sutton said, “We [black people] are no longer property, but we must change things. … We now demand enforcement. We are asking for us to get the same things that you got, and we’ll get it because, as I look at the television, I see ‘Black Lives Matter.’” He asked people to vote and get the racists out of Congress and eliminate the Electoral College. “Are we the Fortune 500 or the 535? Don’t let this opportunity go. ‘I can’t breathe.’ Change the community; fund affordable housing. ‘I can’t breathe.’ Fund reparations.”

Possibly in acknowledgement that black men organized and sponsored the rally and comprised the greatest number of speakers, Mr. Sutton alluded to the force that women play in civic and other affairs, advising. “When you [go out and do these things] make sure you have a sister at your back.”

Heidi Randhava is an award winning reporter who has a deep commitment to community engagement and service. She has written for the Evanston RoundTable since 2016.

Larry Gavin was a co-founder of the Evanston RoundTable in 1998 and assisted in its conversion to a non-profit in 2021. He has received many journalism awards for his articles on education, housing and...