Evanstonians marched in solidarity on Saturday with the families of Jacob Blake and Breonna Taylor. The group’s stated mission: standing united in the fight for justice and equality.
“Today is all about unity and solidarity with the Taylor family and other families who’ve been through what we’ve been through – as well as, Jake wanted me to make sure everybody gets out to vote. We love you all, and we need everyone to line up with about six-foot spacing so we can start marching,” Justin Blake told those who gathered outside of Jacob Blake Manor, a senior care community named in honor of Jacob Blake’s late grandfather, Reverend Jacob Blake, a leader in the charge for fair housing practices in Evanston.
Both Jacob Blake and Breonna Taylor are victims of police shootings. Jacob Blake, who grew up in Evanston and attended Evanston Township High School, was shot seven times in the back on Aug. 23 by a Kenosha, Wis., police officer as he opened the door to his car. Three of his children were in the back seat. Breonna Taylor was fatally shot on March 13 by Louisville, Ky., police officers who forced entry into her apartment during a drug investigation.
As marchers assembled ahead of the 3 p.m. start time, some of them talked with the RoundTable about the need to address police violence and systemic racism in policing.
Since 2013, only six of more than 4,000 killings by police have led to convictions; and in only two percent of those cases was an officer charged with a crime, according to data published by Center for American Progress. Nationally, Black people are three times more likely than white people to be killed by police, despite being less likely to be armed than any other racial group.
“I had to come out and support for a cause that’s so critical at this time, so we’re here,” said Pamela Barber, who attended the rally with her friend and fellow “Evanstonian, born and raised,” Shauna Breton.
Jessica Goodnight and Michael Robinson held original portraits of Jacob Blake and Breonna Taylor, painted by Adam Johnson of Minneapolis, Min. “He’s been sending pictures and portraits and copies all over the country,” said Ms. Goodnight.
A math teacher by profession, Mr. Johnson has become widely known for his paintings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and others who have died at the hands of law enforcement.
“I’m standing here in solidarity with both Jacob Blake and Breonna Taylor, and all of the victims of police violence. We’re here to raise awareness and to stand with them, because it could be any of us,” said Ms. Goodnight.
“We came here to support all the victims of gun violence, because like she said, it could be anybody. It could be you, this could be me, and I just feel like if I don’t say something, or I don’t stand for something, I won’t stand for anything,” said Mr. Robinson.
Many attendees said they learned about the rally through social media or news sources. Alderman Robin Rue Simmons, 5th Ward, said she learned about the event from Justin Blake, who is Jacob Blake’s uncle. She was among a group of several dozen people who traveled from Evanston to Kenosha to support Jacob Blake and his family in the days after the shooting.
“We will continue to do what we can to support the family, hold out hope for Jacob’s complete healing and support the Blake family generally as they rally this nation for peace,” said Ald. Rue Simmons.
Civil rights activist Bennett Johnson, who is 91, said that each rally he attends is different. “Now, there’s a much broader base for support of what’s right than there’s ever been,” said Mr. Johnson.
“This is my district, so of course I’m here. Jacob Blake went to junior high right down the street from me, and the Blake family is famous here in Evanston. And the injustice of the situation – we can’t ignore that,” said Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky.
Michael Jefferson said he was marching in support of the families. “Jacob and my little sister grew up together,” said Mr. Jefferson.
As the group spread out across Emerson Street, Krissie Harris and her fellow members of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc., distributed blue flyers with QR codes that enable people to register to vote from a mobile phone. “Scan the bar code; it will take you right to the site to register,” said Ms. Harris as she passed out flyers.
Justin Blake led the marchers, many carrying signs, east down Emerson Street toward Ebenezer-Primm Towers. Along the way, he and others led echo chants:
“No justice,” “no peace.”
“What’s her name?” “Breonna Taylor.”
“Say her name,” “Breonna Taylor”
“U-N-I-T-Y,” “stands for unity”
“Say his name.” “Jacob Blake”
“What’s his name?” “Jacob Blake”
“Whose streets?” “Our streets”
“Black Lives” “Matter”
“You can’t stop” :the revolution.”
The march ended at Ebenezer Primm Towers, located at Maple Avenue and Emerson Street, the second senior housing project of Reverend Blake. A lectern was in place for a lineup of speakers that included Breonna Taylor’s aunt, Bianca Austin; Jacob Blake’s sister, Letetra Wideman; Reverend Jesse Jackson; Congressman Bobby Rush; Jacob Blake, Sr.; Bishop Travis Grant; Reverend Deborah Scott of Ebenezer A.M.E. Church, just a few blocks away;and Nia Williams, founding member of Evanston Fight for Black Lives.
“Jacob said to tell everybody here that he loves you all so much, and thank you for coming,” said Jacob Blake’s sister, Ms. Wideman, holding up her phone to share the live image of her brother in his hospital bed.
“We love you, Jake,” said Justin Blake, who went on to say, “This is 2020. And for you to think that shooting a young man in the back seven times is working for Kenosha’s police department, it is not. But I also don’t want you to think this a rogue officer, either. See, this is where the systemic [part] comes in.”
In her remarks, Ms. Wideman said, “Most of all, we’re here for unity of the 99 percent. …The one percent wants to keep us divided. … We are here to wake you up, we are here to provoke thought. We are here for real change. We are here for policy change, legislative change, judicial change – and we’re not letting up. Justice for Jacob Blake. Justice for Breonna Taylor.”
Like the Jacob Blake Manor, Ebenezer-Primm Towers, where the march concluded, has special significance for the Blake family. Under the pastorate of the late Rev. Jacob Blake in the 1960s, Ebenezer A.M.E. Church fought hard to build Ebenezer-Primm Towers, an affordable housing community for seniors at 1001 Emerson St.
Decades later, Ebenezer A.M.E. expanded its commitment to providing housing for seniors by opening Jacob Blake Manor at 1615 Emerson St. in 2003. Founded in 1882, Ebenezer A.M.E Church is midway between the two buildings, at 1109 Emerson St. Founded in 1882, it is Evanston’s oldest Black church, currently under the pastorate of Reverend Deborah Scott.
Sponsors of the march include Evanston Fight for Black Lives, Rainbow Push Coalition and Jacob Blake Foundation.