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More than 500 people joined Evanston Fight for Black Lives (EFBL) and Northwestern Community Not Cops (NUCNC) at Independence Park on April 18 to stand in solidarity for Daunte Wright and Adam Toledo and call for the reallocation of funding away from the Police Department to other locally funded agencies.
Protesters of all ages, including many families, held signs with the words: “Black Lives Matter,” “Racism is a white problem,” “White Silence is Violence,” and “Defund the Police.”
Alice and Molly Lemmon were part of a group of seven marchers. They did not hessite when asked how they learned about the protest and what motivated them to participate.
“I saw it on Instagram, and we really care about it,” said Molly Lemmon.
“We felt like we had to come because it’s important to us. And we thought, if we didn’t come, then it would be saying that we didn’t care,” said Alice Lemmon.
Sebastian Nalls said he learned about the protest when he saw a flyer posted on social media by Evanston Fight for Black Lives. The group endorsed Mr. Nalls in his recent campaign for mayor of Evanston.
“I’ve worked with Evanston Fight for Black Lives on a couple of issues. …This is something that I feel I should go to, that we should all go to, in support of the Black community,” said Mr. Nalls, who traveled from West Lafayette, Ind., to attend the protest.
With a drumbeat provided by Michael James, volunteers walked through the crowd offering bottled water and masks to anyone who arrived without them.
“Masks are required. We are still in a global pandemic, even if some of us might be on our way towards being fully vaccinated,” announced an organizer from NUCNC, who also asked participants to stay inside the perimeter to keep each other safe, not to engage with hecklers, and not to take photographs or videos of organizers.
“We’re going to try and cover Central Street, Ridge [Avenue] and Northwestern,” an organizer told the RoundTable as protesters assembled at Independence Park, at Central Street and Stewart Avenue.
Protesters carried hand crafted signs and recited echo chants and call and response chants, including:
Call: “Say his name.”
Response: “Daunte Wright!”
Call: “No justice.”
Response: “No peace!”
“Black lives matter.”
“Black lives matter.”
“No justice, no peace,”
Protesters marched east on Central Street, ending at the corner of Sheridan Road and Chicago Avenue opposite the Northwestern University arch, where speakers from the two organizing groups addressed a growing crowd that filled the intersection.
An opening speaker offered a land acknowledgment honoring the indigenous tribes and their homelands which are currently occupied by Northwestern University and broader Evanston.
“By offering this land acknowledgement, we are committed to indigenous sovereignty, and are committed to holding Northwestern University and Evanston more accountable to the demands of indigenous people,” said the speaker.
Another speaker thanked those who have supported the family of 13-year-old Adam Toledo, a child living on Chicago’s West Side, who died last month after being shot in the chest by a Chicago police officer.
“He was a baby. … Keep his mother in your prayers,” said the organizer, who led the group in an echo chant, the last stanza of which was, “The whole damn system is guilty as hell.”
One speaker said that “nothing has changed” since last summer, when 5,000 people marched through Evanston to demand police reform in a protest organized by Evanston Fight for Black Lives last summer.
In a move away from a police response and toward community-based response to “appropriately identified” emergency calls, the City of Evanston’s Human Services Committee and the Alternatives to 911 Subcommittee, chaired by Alderman Cicely Fleming, presented a report to City Council recommending that members of an alternative-to-emergency-response team include mental/behavioral health, substance abuse, and other non-emergency medical trained staff and would operate Citywide with both mobile and street outreach. City staff will create and issue a request for proposals for alternative emergency response services. That story is available here.
“People get more mad about the words ‘defunding’ and ‘abolition’ than they do about the actual lives of people we have lost,” said a speaker from Evanston Fight for Black Lives.
“Our calls to divest from policing are prompted by the harassment and abuse suffered by Northwestern community members, Evanstonians, and Chicagoans at the hands of NUPD, EPD and CPD. … These experiences are not singular. As we noted in our June 3  petition letter … these calls were also prompted by the killing of … George Floyd in Minneapolis, Breonna Taylor in Louisville … and countless others whose lives were taken by the State,” said a speaker from NUCNC.
“It has been 319 days since we sent our letter to [Northwestern University President] Morty [Shapiro], Kathleen, the vice president, and the Board of Trustees,” said an organizer from NUCNC, adding that the group has marched for 30 consecutive days, emailed, and hosted education events “to pressure Northwestern to divest from police and invest in life giving structures for Black people.
“Over the past 319 days, Northwestern has … talked in circles and … met us with derision, and has made little progress answering our calls. There has been no commitment to …divest from policing.
“Our organizing does not end within the boundaries of our university. It ends inclusive of all oppressed people, particularly Black, brown, indigenous and low-income Evanstonians.
“Most notably, Northwestern’s failure to pay land taxes, which increases … segregation within Evanston, as well as deprives Evanstonians of much-needed resources,” said the speaker.
“Evanston Fight for Black Lives demands that Evanston defund the Police Department by 75%. Police who commit murder must not be re-hired or receive a pension. We demand that 20% of the reallocated funds, which amounts to $8 million, go towards true reparations,” said a speaker from EFBL.
In a call for action, one speaker asked everyone in the crowd to call the prosecutor’s office in Minneapolis and ask that all charges against protesters be “immediately dismissed.”
In closing, a speaker from NUCNC asked, “Why is it that we march, and how is marching moving us closer towards abolition?
“When it comes to marches like the one today, that’s spurred by yet another loss of a Black, brown, or indigenous life at the hands of the State … or the one that I attended on Friday night [in Logan Park Square], they remind me of traditions in the African diaspora when there’s a loss of life. They make me think a lot about the traditions and rituals in my mother’s homeland – where when someone dies, the entire community, the entire village, comes out and marches through the streets – as a means of mourning together, as a means of grieving together and celebrating life together.
“So when I think about why we’re out here marching today, I see it as … an acknowledgement that grief and loss felt deeply at an individual level can be shared as a community. Many of us are out here today because you’ve been holding onto so much grief, and so much loss this year. And it feels good to be together and to express that grief by yelling, by screaming, by laughing … and so there is a purpose to marching, I think,” said the organizer.