Nearly 120 people, wearing masks and carrying signs, marched through Oak Park at 7 p.m. Saturday, May 30, in a show of peaceful solidarity in a “Walk for Justice for George Floyd” sponsored by First United Church of Oak Park, 848 Lake St.
“There was a sense of a need for action,” said co-organizer and parishioner Lois Thiessen Love.
Floyd, a black man from Minnesota, died Monday, May 25, at the hands of white Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, who has since been fired and charged with third-degree murder.
The video taken of Chauvin with his knee on Floyd’s neck, with Floyd struggling to breathe, has spurred people across the United States to come together in protest during the COVID-19 pandemic to denounce police brutality and demand justice.
“The nation, I think, our hearts broke when we saw how this man was treated and killed by police officers,” said co-organizer and parishioner Sandy Jefferson. “Too many times we’ve seen that happen and it’s disgusting.”
Jefferson and Thiessen Love decided to plan a vigil for that night. Thiessen Love contacted the church’s lead pastor, Rev. John Edgerton, who suggested doing a march, due to Lake Street construction, to bring more visibility to their cause.
“It felt like a time when people needed to be together and have a public show of love and a call for justice,” said Edgerton.
Thiessen expected about 10 to 20 people to attend. Word spread of the plans to march through the church and on social media, resulting in a much larger turnout of people, a mixture of church members and non-members, as well as people of different colors, religions and ages.
“It was so good to see teenagers holding signs that say, ‘Black Lives Matter,'” Jefferson said. “To see those teenagers, of all colors, do that was just amazing to me. They get it.”
Edgerton said the march “really felt like a community gathering.”
Many met at 6:30 p.m. at First United to make signs. Those who attended were asked to bring pots and pans and other noisemakers. At 7 p.m., the march began; the group walked south Kenilworth Avenue then down Home Avenue to the pedestrian bridge over the Eisenhower Expressway.
“We definitely recognize the need for justice for George Floyd but understand that there’s systemic racism and injustice in our society,” said Thiessen Love. “We’re anxious for the Floyd situation to be handled with justice. We need a change in society so that black families and parents of black children, particularly boys, don’t have to fear for their lives every time they go out.”
While the large group made moving briskly cumbersome, the response from those sitting in the traffic the marchers caused was mostly very positive, as was the reaction from the people who live on the streets the group marched down.
“They honked their horns, waved at us,” Thiessen Love said. “People on Home Avenue came out on balconies and porches and clapped for us. We were greeted warmly.”
At the pedestrian bridge, the group got more honks in support of their demonstration.
“The whole thing was very peaceful,” said Jefferson.
There was no police presence during the march. Thiessen Love said she didn’t see a single police car or officer until after the march when she and her husband were walking back to their car.
“The march itself was not a sad event. It was occurring against a backdrop of the saddest period of time that I have ever seen in my life,” said Edgerton.
As an African American, Jefferson has experienced fear firsthand when interacting with police officers. Jefferson left the march feeling encouraged and went to bed very peacefully.
“It’s not about one race or another. It’s all of us. It’s about working together and being humane to one another,” Jefferson said.
While the walk was small in the grand scheme of things, it was powerful, according to Jefferson.
“This was a drop in the bucket but a step toward the right thing.”