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More than 100 people showed up in downtown Evanston Monday to raise their voices against racism in light of Saturday’s attack in Buffalo by a white supremacist that killed 10 people and injured three others. Of the victims, 11 were Black.
The rally also dealt with issues closer to home, after the discovery of three nooses hanging in a tree between Kingsley Elementary School and Haven Middle School in Evanston on Friday.
“We gather this evening with hearts that are hurting and filled with rage, all at once,” said the Rev. Michael Nabors, President of the local NAACP chapter and Senior Pastor at Evanston’s Second Baptist Church. “We come in anger over the discovery of nooses tied around tree branches near Haven and Kingsley schools. This act of terror is an extraordinary violence against people of color and lovers of justice in all colors.”
Dozens of Evanston leaders and residents gathered with the protesters in Fountain Square, which took place at dusk on Monday.
The Evanston branch of the NAACP helped organize the event with the Interfaith Houses of Worship, Evanston Own It and Evanston Cradle to Career.
As the sun passed over the horizon, and the temperature cooled off from a warm spring day, the multiracial crowd held signs reading “Black Lives Matter” and “End White Supremacy.” Joining the protesters were Evanston Mayor Daniel Biss and Council members Jonathan Nieuwsma, 4th Ward, and Juan Geracaris, 9th Ward.
Nabors explained the powerful threat that nooses represent.
He said he and his family recently discovered that his great-grandfather’s brother “was found hanging in a tree in Richmond County, Indiana” in 1885, according to a column published in the Indianapolis Star, calling the death “nothing less than a lynching.”
“That is why nooses are never acceptable,” Nabors said.
Faith leaders across Evanston were initially planning to gather Monday in the area where the nooses were hung, Nabors told the RoundTable, but Saturday’s attack in Buffalo led them to organize a bigger rally in the center of Evanston.
“Maybe this can be the epicenter for starting a movement of goodwill to put an end to racism,” Nabors said. “Because it has to be crushed. It has to be vanquished. It has to be killed. I’m not talking about the racist, but I’m talking about racism.”
Nabors was followed by a number of Evanston’s religious leaders, including the Rev. Kalif Crutcher of New Hope CME Evanston, the Rev. Eileen Wiviott of the Unitarian Church of Evanston, the Rev. Michael Kirby of Northminster Presbyterian Church, Rabbi Rachel Weiss of the Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation and Pastor Monté Dillard of First Church of God.
“It seems that, often, we gather ourselves in circles denouncing forms of racial violence and anti-Black bias that rears its ugly head in the city that many of us call home,” said Crutcher, who was born and raised in Buffalo before becoming an Evanston pastor.
“We can no longer gather in spaces of lament and grief and collective heartache, but rather, we have a duty and a responsibility to continue the work of eradicating our city of racial violence.”
At the rally, Crutcher wore a Buffalo Bills football jersey to represent his home city as he grieves for the lives lost in the grocery store attack.
Like the other speakers, Crutcher talked about feeling a weariness of spirit over the repeated need to demonstrate and denounce racism as having no place in Evanston, only to see racial violence continue.
In his speech, Biss condemned conservative politicians and media personalities for promoting replacement theory, a white supremacist doctrine that claims white Americans are being pushed out of power by immigrants and people of color. The theory was cited by the Buffalo shooter in a 180-page manifesto as part of his impetus for the attack.
Authorities have said the killer drove several hours from his home to attack Black shoppers at a grocery store in a majority Black neighborhood.
“This hate has been mainstreamed, and that is a choice that we cannot accept,” Biss said. “We cannot allow the digital tools to continue to push this hate into the eyes and ears of people who are lost and looking for answers. We cannot accept as a reasonable part of our discourse candidates for national office who peddle this form of hate.”
Every city has a responsibility to stamp out racist ideologies like replacement theory from the mainstream, said Biss, and only then will Evanston be able to move beyond having to rally against racism.
Evanston resident Germaine Newsome, a Deaconess at Second Baptist Church, an Evanston resident with three adult children who attended Evanston public schools and graduated from ETHS, told the RoundTable that their education was impacted by racism. She said she had to advocate for her kids to be treated fairly in terms of the classes they were assigned to and their basic schedules.
“AP classes, honors classes, even if they tested into them … other parents and students didn’t want Black children in those classes,” Newsome said. “When our children tested into [advanced placement and honors classes], we had to go in and talk to the administration, because they would try and place them in regular classes.”
District 65 parent Cherita Williams also spoke about her anger and disappointment after nooses were found near the school.
Williams helped organize a group of more than 100 parents and family members of Haven students who gathered outside the school Monday morning and afternoon to ensure students had a safe and supportive path to enter and exit the building.
According to Evanston Police Department Commander Ryan Glew, the investigation into the nooses is active and ongoing.
Police are “searching for and reviewing available surveillance video,” Glew told the RoundTable Monday.
No suspects are in custody, nor is the investigation at the stage where the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office has enough evidence to review possible charges, Glew said.
A Friday evening email from District 65 Superintendent Devon Horton to school families read: “Haven students were seen allegedly chanting and carrying ropes to the location where the nooses were found.”
But over the weekend, Evanston Police Sgt. Ken Carter said there was “no indication” the nooses found Friday were connected to the student protest against teacher transfers at Haven.
Speaking at the rally, Williams said, “We want to bring our community back together. We want to know that our children are cared for, all our children. … The fight will continue until everyone has opportunities, everyone can go places, everyone can achieve the same as others.”