Through a microphone Friday evening, May made the case to a mostly young and diverse crowd in Washington Park for abolishing a system of police and prisons she called fundamentally racist.
"This isn't just an issue of a few bad apples," she told them, "And this isn't an issue that we think can be reformed or fixed with more policies."
Unlike higher-profile rallies held outside Taste of Chicago and in the middle of the Loop Monday, Friday's event began at 51st Street and King Drive, near where Ronald "Ronnieman Johnson" was fatally shot by police in 2014. From there, the group marched up King Drive and around Bronzeville, where leaders periodically stopped to point out "divested institutions" along the way.
Although police killings were a focal point of the event, Assata's Daughters — a self-described "collective of radical black women" dedicated to teaching activism to girls between the ages of 5 and 19 — convened the rally as a challenge to the American legal and political system writ large.
"There's no evidence to suggest that police are actually keeping us safe," May said after the event. "Show me one example where adding more police and prisons makes a city safer. The opposite happens."
The group wasn't calling to rid the streets of cops right away, she added, calling the effort "horizon-based organizing."
"We're trying to organize in such a way that police and prisons are obsolete," she said. "Where the things that keep people safe are good schools, good housing and good health care."
At the rally, activist Benjamin Hart made the argument to attendees not to shy away from what may seem like a fringe idea.
"We should not be afraid of the word [abolition], because we as black people and oppressed people have abolished the s--- that has kept us down before," Hart said. "There have been huge systems dependent on the exploitation of our bodies, and we have abolished them."
"It's not about taking anything away," the organizer added. "It's about giving back. It's about providing safety through resources, not violence."
Speakers like Camesha Jones, representing a group called the Bluest Lie Initiative, warned attendees to fight a proposed ordinance by Ald. Ed Burke (14th) to classify all attacks on police officers as hate crimes.
"It would mean that any time you have a negative encounter with police, you could be fined or put in jail," Jones said.
After about an hour of speeches and performances from young organizers, rappers and spoken word artists, the group set off on the march toward 47th Street, blocking traffic and waving signs while calling chants like "Back up, back up, we want freedom, freedom! All these racist ass cops, we don't need em, need em!
As soon as they set off, the group drew a light police escort, with officers rolling on bicycles about 100 feet behind and ahead of them. Police didn't interact with any of the protesters.
Instead of veering away, most drivers honked their support or raised fists out their side windows. As the march passed the shops and restaurants of 47th Street, onlookers poured onto the sidewalks to cheer and take pictures.
The march became a historical tour of what activists called "state violence" against black communities, stopping at intersections to show how the neighborhood had been transformed in the past 50 years.
At 51st Street and State Street, where the Robert Taylor Homes once loomed large, Phade Wayze said the housing project's demolition in the early 2000s left a permanent scar on the neighborhood.
"We had our own community and economy going through here, and they tore it all down," he said through a rolling speaker system brought by longtime LGBTQ activist Andy Thayer. "All the people who lived here didn't just disappear. They were pushed out."
The crowd also passed DuSable Leadership Academy, 4934 S. Wabash Ave., where leaders reminded them of the December 2015 sit-in students staged to keep their library from closing.
As they looped back down toward 51st Street, one last chant clarified the activists' views:
"This ain't your grandma's movement, this ain't your daddy's movement! We're young, were reckless, we'll start a revolution!"
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