CHICAGO —Protesters disrupted holiday gift shopping in downtown Chicago on Friday, marching up and down the city’s “Magnificent Mile” retail district, in the largest and most concentrated demonstration since the release of a video late Tuesday showing the shooting death of a black teenager by a white city police officer.
The video showing the October 2014 slaying of Laquan McDonald, 17, by officer Jason Van Dyke, who was charged with first-degree murder this week, has stirred the protests. In the video, taken from a police cruiser, Van Dyke is seen shooting McDonald 16 times.
As they have all week, protesters — frustrated by the fact that it has taken more than a year for Van Dyke to be charged — on Friday demanded the resignation of Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy and the assignment of a special prosecutor to take over the case from Cook County officials. Protesters also accuse Mayor Rahm Emanuel of being tone deaf to what they allege is a systematic trend of police misconduct against African Americans in the city’s most impoverished areas.
“We believe injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” said J.D. Anderson, the pastor at Centennial Missionary Baptist Church on the city’s south side. “There has been an implicit cover-up from the top down.”
The march moved north along Michigan Avenue through the downtown district’s collection of high-end retailers. Protesters blocked traffic on the avenue, chanting “16 Shots.”
Although the protests mired traffic along one of the city’s busiest thoroughfares during one of the busiest shopping days of the year, some expressed support for the protests.
“I’m good with this. I’m Hispanic and I feel like them,” said Dante Franco, who with his family was stuck on Michigan Avenue, their gray minivan surrounded by a sea of marchers. For his children, who took pictures out the van’s window, the excitement added to their vacation trip from Florida.
One family, downtown from suburban Woodstock, Ill., to tend to their ill son at nearby Northwestern Memorial Hospital, stood on the curb and took pictures as if they were watching a parade. “After seeing the video, I’m not surprised they’re marching,” said Steve McCoy.
At the front of the march walked the Rev. Jesse Jackson and Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.) who led nearly 1,000 people to the site of the historic Chicago Water Tower where speakers rallied protesters through megaphones.
After almost an hour of holding the intersection, the marchers reversed course and moved southbound, taking to the sidewalks as they barricaded entrances to stores like Victoria’s Secret, Nordstrom, the Apple Store and Disney, not allowing shoppers inside and, in some cases, not allowing shoppers out.
Police told reporters that they were instructed to only intervene if there was a threat to physical safety. So while protesters locked arms to block entrances to stores, police huddled on the street watching. Tension was noticeable in some stores; at a Walgreen’s, an employee had a panic attack and had to be carried out by medics. A Saks Fifth Avenue store redirected shoppers to an employee entrance in the back of the building where salespeople guided them up stairs, through back storerooms and onto the showroom floor.
Grant Peterson of Chicago, who came downtown to watch the protest, said he supports the marchers, but disagreed with police tactics to allow the stores to get shut down.
“It’s obviously out of control. [The protesters] are intimidating people who have nothing to do with this and that’s just not right,” he said.
With Michigan Avenue largely emptied of vehicle traffic, leaving people to move anywhere they wished, the district suddenly had a festive atmosphere. A sidewalk saxophonist blew his horn, people stood on grassy medians to take pictures and frustrated tourists made their way down the middle of the street after being forced off sidewalks. Gary Nix, of South Chicago, waved an American flag in the middle of the street in support of both the protesters and the police, who he says are not represented by Van Dyke.
“Violence in Chicago needs to change. Racial tensions in Chicago have to change,” Nix said. “I’m here to support everyone.”