'We have to own this,' say white demonstrators during Madison Street protest

Rep. La Shawn K. Ford organized peaceful protest from Oak Park to Austin

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By Michael Romain

Staff Reporter

At least 1,500 people marched from Oak Park Village Hall, 123 Madison St., and held vigil in front of the 15th District Police Headquarters in Austin before walking to Central Avenue on Thursday evening to protest against the systemic racism that many of the participants believe is the root cause of the May 25 death of George Floyd.

Floyd died handcuffed while Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin had his knee on Floyd's neck for nearly nine minutes and as three other officers looked on. Chauvin has since been arrested and charged with second degree murder. The other three officers have been charged with aiding and abetting the crime, court records show.

Kris Simmons stood on the westbound side of Madison Street as the protesters, most of them white, streamed past her.  The sight brought Simmons to tears. 

"Everybody is trying to make peace and that touched my heart," she said.

The 55-year-old Austin resident said she's been depressed over the last several days, as much of Chicago and the suburbs have been ransacked by looting, vandalism and arson in the wake of George Floyd's death. 

"I've been scared to go to work," Simmons said. "I'm afraid out here, so I just want everybody to come together. I love this. At least somebody is fighting for our rights."

But some black bystanders were more ambivalent about Thursday's demonstration, which was organized by state Rep. La Shawn K. Ford (4th) and other West Side community leaders.

"I strongly feel that white people are beginning to understand," said Beatrice Starcks, as she stood outside of AA Rayner & Sons Funeral Home, 5911 W. Madison St.

"I like to see this but are they true?" said Starcks' friend, Sandra Turner, 72. "That's my concern. The bottom line is, if they're so into us, why didn't they try to do something prior to this?"

Starcks added that the white demonstrators "might be true to what they're doing, but it won't do no good for us at the bottom if they don't care of what needs to be taken care of at the top.

"We're both educators," Starcks said. "We work in the school system to try to teach these children how to think. You weren't born a racist. You weren't born to hate. You were taught to hate. So, we have to start teaching history. History has left the building. Everything is technology now. They're not teaching history, anymore."

That history informed the angry lament of 60-year-old Terry Carter, who was a child during the 1968 riots. Carter, of Austin, stood on the corner of Madison and Parkside shouting "An eye for an eye!" as demonstrators walked by peacefully.


"This is nothing new," Carter said. "This has been going on. It's just being caught on camera. What those people understand is violence. They put on everybody's head that we're violent and we're animals. They're the ones who perpetrated all of this. And I mean the European race. The white man. They perpetrated all of this. They've had their foot on our necks for years. I've lived through two riots and ain't nothing changed."

For some white protesters, George Floyd's death was an opportunity to finally confront and take ownership of that painful history.

"One of my realizations is that white people have to stand up and lead on this," said Tom Cofsky, an Oak Park resident who also sits on District 200 OPRF school board. "This is our problem. We have to own it."

Dana Langhans, 24, of Oak Park, held a sign that read "White inaction is violence" as she walked back to her hometown from Central Avenue.

"In general, for a very long time, white people have not done enough and often it seems like it has to take another tragedy for white people to show we care," Langhans said.

"Posting on Facebook is one thing, but we have to do a lot more than that," she said. "We got to figure out what more we can do. Talk to our family. Educate our family. Learn the history we never learned. Change the minds of our racist parents. Get out in the streets. Follow the leadership of black organizers. And protest."

Ford captured the general tenor of the crowd during a speech he gave while the march was paused in front of the 15th District Police Headquarters.

"My heart is heavy and I'm so grateful," he said. "I said in Oak Park that I appreciate white people for being out here with black people. Today is a demonstration that not all black people are bad, not all white people are bad, not all brown people are bad. Today is a demonstration that we are in it together and that's what we need."

Speaking after the protest concluded back at Oak Park's village hall, Ford said the blending of residents from Austin, Oak Park and River Forest "is an example no other part of the state can match. We can't do this without white people. There are white people who aren't racist but they've been silent. They didn't know they need to speak up."

Ford said that Springfield legislators must change state laws to create consequences for police brutality. "Police need consequences. There are almost none for bad cops," he said.

Ford said that by the next legislative session in the fall that a package of new laws focusing on racial bias training for police statewide, on making police discipline records more transparent can be crafted.

"We have veto-proof majorities in the house and the senate and a progressive governor. If we can't do this now in Illinois we'll never do it," said Ford.

Video provided by Todd Bannor

Email: michael@oakpark.com

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Reader Comments

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Comment Policy

Michael Nevins  

Posted: June 11th, 2020 12:33 PM

A short while ago I discussed my recent comment below with a friend. It made me think some more and this is what followed: I'm not going to move to Austin any time soon (I've lived in the same OP home since childbirth - 60 years), but last week I did donate blood at the Red Cross location at 2200 W Harrison. Did I care what the skin color was of the recipient? Of course not. Actually, like the staff who worked with me, it'd lprobably be a POC (considering the donation location). Do you think that the recipient would care about my skin color (I'm white)? Of course not. The OP and Chicago public schools are always looking for people who will "tutor" their students. Should we care about the skin color of those kids? Of course not. Whether it be blood, kids or adults.....I don't think that the color of one's skin should matter in these circumstances - or even their "character." I'm certain that our Village Board will have disagreements about where/how to reduce expenses, but now, more than ever, they should keep those "disagreements" civil and positive. So far so good!

Michael Nevins  

Posted: June 11th, 2020 9:51 AM

The recent civility of the OP Village Board (regarding the budget shortfall) gives me hope that positive change is possible in OP. What, though, about Austin? I was struck by what the women outside of AA Rayner said and their, hmm, skepticism. That will change when the same "protesters, most of them white, streamed past her" (Kris Simmons) begin to move (with their school-age children) and shop to/in Austin. Again, I'm very much encouraged by the reporting on how the Village Board is approaching the budgetary shortfall with civility - rather than the recent rancor. A journey always begins with the first step.

Gregg Kuenster  

Posted: June 7th, 2020 10:47 AM

LaShawn Ford is a very effective noble representative. Ford works extremely hard to help a desperate community keep a positive attitude . I think Representative Ford is the best. But a growing mostly White "radical" element is fighting to outshout each other to get on board their train to who knows where. This new careening movement of mostly white politicians and pundits joining calls to hang the "insert your boogeyman here" and commentators calling for censorship. Moderate voices seem to be fading with the escalating demands that speakers denounce the values that define our culture. No time for thought or discussion. Let us keep shouting until this blows over, Whew ... that was a close one. The Austin community needs jobs, Who can lend a hand?

William Dwyer Jr.  

Posted: June 7th, 2020 9:45 AM

I guess when you can't respond honestly to a point posted here, you just ignore it, Dean. The outrage people like you express at what are admittedly unsafe practices any rallies rings utterly hollow in the absence of any outrage at the realities underlying those rallies, an ugly reality captured on video. As for your noting the Democratic leadership of our major cities, I suggest anyone taking you seriously go back and look at the video of the anonymous uniformed thugs who smashed peaceful protestors and journalists with their riot shields and tear gassed them. When people like you, Dean, start criticizing that double standard, I'll start taking your concerns seriously.

Dean Rogers  

Posted: June 7th, 2020 1:23 AM

William Dwyer Jr. The current occupant of the White House has very little to do with the complaints of excessive force bypolice.Minneapolis,Chicago, New York City,St. Louis,Los Angeles,Baltimore... all run by democratic mayors. These police departments are run by democrats,across the board. And,Todd,I have no problem with these demonstrations,I support reforming policing policies.But you cannot have separate policies depending on political purpose.Freedom of assembly is not allowed or prohibited depending on what cause politicians decide are permitted. There were more people at today's rallies,crowded more densely,than a White Sox game.Certainly more than a wedding,funeral or graduation ceremony.You may consider it more important,but it's not your decision to make.The double standard and hypocrisy is obvious.

Nick A Binotti  

Posted: June 6th, 2020 11:11 AM

To be fair, viruses don't have a moral compass. They don't care if you were praying, protesting, or partying. The hypocrisy now is that the powers-that-be are attempting to make value judgments on when and where citizens can practice their freedoms. The party of science has now boarded the Carnival Cruise Line.

William Dwyer Jr.  

Posted: June 6th, 2020 9:44 AM

Good to see you're intolerant of "hypocrisy" in a group of mostly teenagers, Dean. Having gotten that off your chest, maybe now you can consider directing your distain and your insistence on consistent thought and behavior toward the current occupant of the White House.

Todd Bannor  

Posted: June 6th, 2020 9:25 AM

To be fair, risk of infection outdoors is low. And many people wore masks. Given the enormity of the problems of racism and police brutality, it was worth the risk. It's not like they packed themselves into a crowded bar after attending an oh so important crowded pool or beach party with no masks.

Neal Buer from Oak Park  

Posted: June 5th, 2020 6:51 PM

"Ford said that by the next legislative session in the fall that a package of new laws focusing on racial bias training for police statewide, on making police discipline records more transparent can be crafted. "We have veto-proof majorities in the house and the senate and a progressive governor. If we can't do this now in Illinois we'll never do it," said Ford. - Not certain I would advertise that the Democrats are in charge of this failed state called Illinois.

Dean Rogers  

Posted: June 5th, 2020 12:15 PM

Social Justice trumps social distancing. Are large gatherings allowed solely for politically approved events? Hypocrites.

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