Oak Park activists lead West Side protests

Anthony Clark and Oak Park students organize recent demonstrations

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Zach Cunning & Igor Studenkov

Contributing Reporter/AustinTalks

For the last few weeks, Oak Park activists have led protest marches against police abuse on the West Side. 

On July 18, a few hundred people gathered at Columbus Park in Austin for a march in remembrance of Elijah McClain — a 23-year-old African-American Colorado massage therapist who was killed after an encounter with police while walking home — and to protest police brutality in general.

The march was organized and led by Oak Park activist Danielle Kovack, along with members of the Revolutionary Oak Park Youth League, or ROYAL, a group of middle- and high-school students from Oak Park, formed in early 2019.

Taylor Montes-Williams, a member of ROYAL, said their goal is to fight for equity in their community.

She said the march was focused on the Colorado man because they "wanted to shine light on the fact that even somebody as sweet as Elijah McClain still has to face the wrath of police."

McClain died in August 2019 after police placed him in a carotid control hold, which restricts blood flow to the brain, and paramedics gave him too much medicine when treating him. He suffered a heart attack on the way to the hospital and was placed on life support. About a week later, he was removed from life support after being declared brain dead.

Montes-Williams said police see any African American as a threat. "It doesn't matter how nice or sweet or kind-hearted you are."

That's what ROYAL is fighting to change, she said.

The marchers left Columbus Park and started east down Jackson Boulevard.

As they walked, bracketed by cars carrying water and snacks at the front and back and cyclists on their flanks, Austin residents shouted support from their front lawns and windows.

The following Saturday, July 25, ROYAL was back on the West Side, this time at the corner of Corcoran and Lake Street in Austin, for what they billed as a Love March. 

The young people of ROYAL banded together with Oak Park activist and former congressional candidate Anthony Clark, along with the Root2Fruit Youth Foundation and GoodKids MadCity — both youth-led social justice organizations. 

At Saturday's demonstration, some participants called for the city to shift 2 percent of its police budget toward addressing the root causes of the gun violence that's been so pervasive on the West Side. 

Others, particularly mothers of gun violence victims, insisted that, while the police were hardly blameless, there was a place for them, and they argued that the marchers weren't doing enough to speak out against gun violence. 

Nita Tannyson, of GoodKids MadCity, said she was tired of burying friends and family members.

"We need to let everybody know [to] love everybody, because everybody in Chicago are family, and we got to love each other," she said.

Kenyata Williams, mother of 15-year-old Michael Ike, who was killed on July 20 in Austin, became emotional as she called for peace. 

"There's no reason why I should be burying my 15-year-old son because your son killed him," she told those in the crowd.

Miracle Boyd, an activist with GoodKids MadCity who was punched in the face by a police officer during a July 17 protest in front of the Christopher Columbus statue in downtown Chicago (which has since been removed), decried the police department's approach to handling demonstrations. 

"We come to protests and we show up with banners and songs and dance and prayers, and police show up with batons and tear gas and mace," she said. "That ain't right." 

As they marched toward Garfield Park, the youth activists walked in front of the crowd, frequently chanting, "Defund the police!" and "F— 12." 

Keanna Lee Tywone, whose son was killed four years ago, said although she appreciated the diverse crowd that came out to march, she took issue with some of the chants, which she feared would paint all officers with the same broad brush. 

"I'm not saying they're all bad because it's like saying that all black people are criminals," she said, adding that she would like to see more rallies after shootings between community members.

"How we're standing right now, that's how it should have been when 15 people got shot," she said, referencing the mass shooting outside of a South Side funeral home on July 21. 

At the end of the march, Tywone's sister, Tywane Watts, of Austin, who said she also lost her son to gun violence, insisted that any solution requires the community to take responsibility.

"We got to stop putting all the blame on 12," she said. "Killings are happening in our basements, in our living rooms. Now, y'all quiet. Now, everybody looking at me like I'm crazy. If we want those cycles to break, we gotta tell our kids, 'You shot that innocent kid, turn yourself in.'"

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John Abbott from Oak Park  

Posted: July 31st, 2020 7:11 PM

an exemplary article, especially for giving voice to the range of perspectives involved here. An important and necessary conversation. Thanks for this.

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