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The gathering at Fountain Square on July 4 might be termed a counter-celebration. Etown Sunrise, together with Defund EPD and Evanston Fight for Black Lives, hosted a chalk-out. Attendees – more than 100 and mostly high school- and college-age – were invited to chalk their messages about defunding the Evanston Police Department in the plaza itself and on the downtown sidewalks. One of the messages was “We are here to show this movement has no intention of slowing down.”
“Defunding police means reducing police budgets on local and state levels and investing those dollars in what truly matters in our communities – for example education and affordable housing,” says a prepared statement from Etown Sunrise. “We are doing this because police reform is not working.” Etown Sunrise is the successor to the Evanston Township High School climate resilience group Etown Climate Action.
Lily Aaron, a rising junior at Evanston Township High School and member of Etown Sunrise brought the groups together for the chalkout. “It really it came together very much through social media. I created a document with all the partnerships and the vendors that I wanted to have here. So we reached out to Black Lives and Defund. And they were totally on board with the whole thing from the beginning; they’ve been super supportive.”
Bella Hubbard, another member of Etown Sunrise, said, “We were inspired by the meeting [hosted by Evanston Fight for Black Lives] at Mason Park, and we figured the Fourth of July, an historically racist holiday, was the best time to do this.”
Lily said, “Well, obviously July 4 is a celebration of our country and those who inhabit it, which is pretty much false, especially in Evanston where we promote diversity and inclusion. … Ever since we stepped foot on the shores, I mean, we have oppressed people of color, whether it be Native Americans, whether it be black people, whether it be Hispanic people, I mean, the list goes on and on. … July 4 is celebrated strictly by white people, and that’s something that needs to change, because I feel like when we celebrate this holiday, it’s ignoring all the blatant racism that’s embedded within all of our institutions.”
The centerpiece of the chalkout, in the middle of Fountain Square, depicts the relative amounts of money the City spends on the police – 6.2 times more than it spends on health services, 5.9 times more than it spends on library services and 4.6 times more than on parks and recreation, according to City figures.
Elena Hart, a junior at the College of Wooster majoring in art, chalked a picture of Breonna Taylor, who was shot and killed in Louisville, Ky., by police serving a no-knock warrant.
Allison Sloan and her group took almost a third of the Sherman Avenue sidewalk between Fountain Square and Church Street to write all the names of people killed by police in the last few years.
“Chalkouts, Bella said, “are a really powerful way of getting the message out.”
Few took advantage of the open mike session but one speaker urged attendees to vote out those in power. “Every elected City official is up for re-election. … It’s really frustrating to go to the people in charge and have them tell us to do the work they are paid to do. … We have to realize this is not new and will last until the people are out of office.”
The group is planning a sit-in at an upcoming City Council meeting, Lily said. “And we’re going to have signs and banners about defunding the EPD [Evanston Police Department].”
The Etown Sunrise statement also said, “It’s important for people to recognize that it’s easy to sign a petition or repost an image on social media, but this does not mean that you have done your part. It is a privilege not to wake up every morning with the fear of enduring violence because of your skin color. It is up to us to use our platform to confront our privilege.”