On April 7, following a string of murders that claimed seven blacks lives in the South Shore community of Chicago’s South Side, neighbors and activists gathered at 71st Street and Oglesby Avenue for a vigil to remember two of the victims.
Even though they all lived in South Shore, many of the attendees were meeting each other for the first time, and significantly, cops and activists who regularly protest against police actions found that they don’t disagree on everything. The prayer vigil was across the street from Alderman Leslie Hairston’s office and not far from where the actual shooting took place.
The neighborhood is no stranger to violent crime. Just last year there were 124 shootings, and South Shore is the 14th most violent of the 77 Chicago neighborhoods. The community is also one of the most densely populated and poorest communities in Chicago. According to the Chicago Tribune’s Crime in Chicagoland tally, 31.5 percent of all households in the community are below poverty level.
As the diverse crowd gathered in a circle to pray, William Calloway, a police reform activist told the People’s World, “We need to put these guns down and fight for more resources to come into this community. … We can’t just put accountability on our community without putting accountability on our elected officials. Our elected officials are the gatekeepers to the resources that get to our community.”
Calloway has been active in the police reform movement since 2012 and was one of the people responsible for the buildup of public pressure that resulted in the release of the dashboard video showing the police killing Laquan McDonald.
After the vigil, community members made the short walk to 75th Street and Coles Avenue where they rallied in the intersection. Police cars blocked off the four-way intersection, and volunteers from the Chicago Alternative Policing Strategy (C.A.P.S) program set up tables to recruit volunteers for block clubs and neighborhood watch groups.
Standing in the middle of a semicircle of community members and activists, with police standing at attention to his left, Glen Brooks, CPD area co-coordinator, said, “This particular operation, Operation Wake Up, is a sea change. I promise you there are many people that are standing amongst you that have been opposed to the police.
“Don’t worry,” Brooks said, “they still don’t like us, but what they do like and they do love is this community. … That’s what we agree on.” His statement revealed the complex relationship between police and marginalized communities that is routinely ignored by right-wing narratives.
Calloway spoke shortly after, saying, “I can’t in good conscience call myself a peace activist and hold the police accountable and not hold my own people accountable. We have to spread more love out here.”
Demetrius Nash, the Founder of Replace Guns with Hammers, an organization which seeks to place at-risk youth in building trades union apprenticeships, said, “If we hold police accountable, we have hold each other accountable. … [We need] resources coming down from city hall, the state levels, and even Washington D.C. into these communities and getting vocational skills for these young men, youth centers, and the things we used to have.”
Dante Wilson, C.E.O of the non-profit Notarized Inc. and 48-year resident of South Shore, sees himself as having grown and changed alongside the neighborhood. Wilson told the People’s World that “at one time, I was part of the problem, and right now I’m part of the solution to it.”
Notarized Inc. has hosted nearly 60 events in and outside of the South Shore community, including back-to-school supply drives. Wilson agreed with Nash that it is essential for the long-term health of the neighborhood to hold police accountable and fight for more resources.
The struggle continues …
Ongoing work is being done within the labor movement to build working class unity by making it clear that bringing public investment and living wage jobs into racially and nationally oppressed will also improve the working conditions of those employed as law enforcement. A forum in October 2016 at the Murphy Institute for Worker Education and Labor Studies in New York City with leaders from Communities United for Police Reform; the Civil, Human, and Women’s Rights Department of the AFL-CIO; and a former NYPD officer and academy instructor highlighted how racist policies hurt all working people, including law enforcement workers. A follow up event will be taking place again at the Murphy Institute (25 W 43rd St. 19th FL) on April 28-29 from 9am – 5:30pm.