Hundreds of activists have gathered daily in downtown Chicago since a grand jury announced it would not indict Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson in the shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed teenager. Numbers of protesters have grown again in the days following the grand jury decision in New York not to indict a police officer in the chokehold death of Eric Garner.
Many of the protesters have called for an end to police brutality and racism and they have vowed to continue protests until conditions change. They have blocked streets, stopped traffic, disrupted meetings, staged “die-ins” and some have been arrested. Most of the protests in Chicago have been peaceful.
Around 200 protesters gathered at Chicago Police Headquarters, 3510 S. Michigan Ave., waiting for the grand jury’s decision to be announced in the Ferguson case on Nov. 24, according to ABC7 News.
Around 8:30 p.m., the decision was announced and police were forced to shut down sections of Lakeshore Drive and streets in the Loop to make way for the protesters who were marching through downtown Chicago.
Matthew Carlton, freshman journalism major at Columbia College Chicago, joined the protest as it made its way down State Street, heading toward the Thompson Center. Carlton said he was taken aback by how angry and intense the protesters were, despite it being a peaceful protest.
“I was really surprised with one of the chants this girl was saying,” Carlton said. “She was chanting, ‘We will not have rest until we have Darren Wilson’s head on a silver platter. He needs to suffer the same pain we’ve suffered.’ I just thought about how they’re trying to make a difference and be peaceful, but at the same time, they’re preaching really awful and horrific sayings.”
Another Columbia College Chicago freshman, Rachel Behlmann, who is television major, grew up in a town not far from Ferguson and said the attitude in Ferguson and the surrounding towns has changed dramatically.
“I drove through Ferguson when I went home for Thanksgiving, and it’s devastating what the protesters did to the city,” Behlmann said. “The attitude in the overall area is completely different. Everyone is on edge all the time, looking around everywhere they go. Nobody is calm.”
Protests have broken out worldwide regarding the Brown and Garner decisions. With protests still going strong in Chicago, Carlton said the Ferguson protests were excessive, but the ones for the Garner case are not. The situation in Ferguson is very complex and it was word of mouth against Wilson’s testimony, so no one knows exactly what happened. But in the Garner case, people were able to view the video of the arrest and use of the chokehold.
“I think police brutality is a problem in our country and just giving up on protests won’t bring the change people want to see,” Carlton said. “We’re not going to see any immediate change, but, long-term it’s essential and I think if everyone continues to protest and speak out against this issue, then we will start to see the positive change we’re looking for.”
Despite following the Ferguson case from the beginning and going back to visit since the protests erupted, Behlmann said she still does not understand what the protesters are calling for.
“I know the protesters want less police brutality, but that’s all I know,” Behlmann said. “They’re burning their city down, which I don’t understand. I don’t know what they’re doing or why they’re doing it. It’s a very beautiful city ,and now it has some bad corners because of all the damage that’s been done.”
Carlton said protesting issues like police brutality are important, especially because strength in numbers helps when calling for change.
“We don’t want to leave [protesting these issues] just up to the minorities. They need help from everybody,” Carlton said. “They need help from the country, they need help from the world to make some sort of change and it’s a ‘we’re all in this together’ type of thing. It shows that people do care and that something is wrong because so many people care.”
Leslie Kloss, a 22-year-old activist, said she finds these protests important for raising awareness about issues like police brutality.
“If people don’t protest for what they believe in, then people won’t know about it,” Kloss said. “It’s good to protest and bring issues with police officers to light. It’s nice to know that people are protesting police brutality around the world because it shows that it’s a problem that needs to be addressed.”
Many of those joining the protests are younger people. For most, it is the first time they’ve taken to the streets to join demonstrations, Kloss said.
“People in older generations have experienced protests like this with racism and sexism back in the day,” Kloss said. “But now, this generation is starting to get their foot in the door. I think they’re trying to prevent things like what’s happened with [Brown] and [Garner] from happening again.”
Carlton said it is important for the younger generation to speak out against issues like police brutality because teens and young adults will one day be in charge.
“Younger generations are going to have to grow up into this world,” Carlton said. “This whole place is going to be ours soon, this is what we’re going to have to live with. If we start turning the other cheek to these issues, then it’s only going to get worse. This world is going to be ours, and if we don’t like something, then we definitely need to make a change.”