About 200 protesters gathered outside the Chicago Patrolmen’s Federal Credit Union on Saturday, their breath visible in the cold air as they chanted, their fists pounding with each cry.
They were determined to shut down Saturday morning’s business for the credit union, across the street from the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 7, Chicago’s police union. For nearly two hours, Black Youth Project 100 Chicago Chapter members, dressed in black T-shirts with the words “Fund Black Futures” written across them, linked their arms together to form a barricade around the bank’s front desk, stopping workers from conducting business.
“The FOP’s advocacy of CPD has helped perpetuate cycles of criminalization that especially plagues low-income black communities,” BYP 100 member Jennifer Pagán said. “These politicians, that these organizations and institutions, like the FOP, would rather police us, kill us, lock us up, than meet demands of better housing, mental health clinics, fully funded neighborhood public schools and jobs programs with fair wages for all of us.”
Protesters succeeded in closing the credit union for regular business, but they had done so because they believed they were “shutting down a privately owned bank that the FOP is housed in,” Pagan said during the protest. The union, however, is housed in a building across the street.
The protesters said they had an additional mission: To reconfirm the values of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Monday’s federal holiday honoring him comes at a tumultuous time for Chicago’s race relations, as city officials deal with the aftermath of the Laquan McDonald police shooting scandal and work to change a long-standing policy of keeping video evidence in police shootings under wraps.
The march on the Near West Side was intended to bring awareness about King’s belief that political equality can’t be achieved without social and economic equality. Protesters called for black workers’ rights, open housing for blacks, the revitalization of black communities and viable jobs.
Protester Gabe Frankel, of the Ravenswood neighborhood, said marching the day after the anniversary of King’s birthday was meaningful, particularly after this week’s release of surveillance video from the January 2013 police shooting of 17-year-old Cedrick Chatman.
“It’s time to step back and reflect to see if we’re meeting the pillars of (King’s) goals,” he said. “I think we’re failing miserably.”
In addition to protesting police brutality, dozens of activists joined the march to advocate for workers’ rights, asking for people of all education and experience to have access to parental leave, paid sick leave, the right to unionize without retaliation and protections against discrimination based on race, gender, past drug offenses or incarceration.
Kejioun Johnson, a McDonald’s employee living in the Roseland neighborhood, said black communities won’t be stabilized until black workers begin receiving fair and equal treatment.
“Low income, low-wage jobs and race (at Chicago’s fast-food restaurants) are one and the same,” he said. “Organizations like McDonald’s suck our community dry. Today, we’re here to reclaim history and continue fighting for our communities.”
Upon being hired for a job, Joseph Wilkerson, who is black, said he’s on the receiving of “hands-end judgment” from co-workers, who set their expectations for him based on his race.
“Black people are more likely to look at a pay cut,” he said. “If there’s a budget problem, you’re the first to be cut off.”
Wilkerson said he hoped that those skeptical about protests could understand that peaceful demonstrations, such as Saturday’s, are one of the few effective ways to get a message across.
“This is the only way we organize. Otherwise, we’re separated,” he said. “This shouldn’t be thought of as a waste of time.”