CHICAGO — Video shot during a "Black Lives Matter" protest in Garfield Park Saturday appears to show a Chicago Police Department squad car loudly playing "Sweet Home Alabama," a move some interpret as innocent sports fandom on the day of the SEC Championship and others view as racist.
The unmarked squad car was one of many Police Department vehicles driving behind the protest to escort marchers north on Pulaski Road toward Madison Street early Saturday afternoon, where protesters then staged a "die-in."
Humboldt Park photographer Gabriel Michael captured the footage about 1:30 p.m. in the 100 block of South Pulaski Road.
Watch the video here (story continues below):
"I couldn’t believe what I was hearing because you have to know the history of that song and the meaning," Michael said. "It didn’t makes sense to me. It was [either] a horribly ironic joke that desensitized cops were playing, or it was intentionally disrespectful and intimidating."
The 1974 song has been criticized as supporting former Alabama Gov. George Wallace, a segregationist. Members of the band Lynyrd Skynyrd, which released the song, maintains it does not.
As the video spread on Twitter, some saw the incident as intentionally racist, while others assumed the song was in support of the Alabama Crimson Tide vs. Missouri Tigers SEC Championship football game set to kick off 90 minutes later.
Sunday night, Police Department spokesman Martin Maloney said the matter was "under investigation."
"As a Department, we are committed to community policing and fostering stronger relationships, based on trust and understanding, with the communities we serve," he wrote in an email. "With respect to the peaceful protests, as you have seen over the past week, CPD is dedicated to protecting residents' right to free speech and peaceful assembly."
The squad car trailed far enough behind the march that Michael believed the chanting protesters were unaware of the music, though bystanders seemed as shocked as he was, he said.
"That's called terrorism," a man walking in front of the camera can be heard calling out.
The protest was one of many nationwide, and several locally, in the wake of recent grand jury decisions not to indict white police officers in the separate deaths of black men Eric Garner and Michael Brown.
The march was attended by about 100 people, Michael said.
It was organized by Stop Mass Incarceration Network Chicago. In an email Monday, a representative from the organization called the incident "grotesque."
Michael said he could not tell if "Sweet Home Alabama" was coming from within the car or if it was being played over the car's PA system, but he is positive it was coming from the Police Department vehicle.
"It was intimidating. It was aggressive. It was totally out of place," Michael said. "It was supposed to be a peaceful protest, and they ended it with that."
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