HOMAN SQUARE — The corner of Homan Avenue and Fillmore Street was mostly quiet on Sunday, but as storms raged and temperatures soared over the weekend, an occupation at the site remained.
Since Wednesday, a group of activists have stood vigil on the site, standing in opposition to a proposed new city law making that would make any attacks on police officers and firefighters hate crimes.
Though temperatures rose over 90 degrees, some 20 activists continued their occupation optimistic and undeterred.
Children painted a banner. Activists grilled hotdogs and chicken as fire bolted upward from the hot coals. Passersby pulled over in their cars or stopped as they walked down the street, asking about what the gathering was or bringing water, freeze pops and other supplies.
Volunteers handed out free water, fruit and food to onlookers and explained their reasoning for being there to recipients. With signs that read “Freedom Square” and “The Bluest Lie, The Blackest Site,” the scene from a distance looked somewhere between a cookout among friends who had camped overnight and a peaceful demonstration.
Following a protest on Wednesday during which protesters set up a blockade in front of the Chicago Police Department’s alleged black site at 1101 S. Homan Ave., activists from the Let Us Breathe Collective and other supporters in the movement for black lives began occupying the parking lot diagonally across the street and dubbed the site Freedom Square.
“Freedom Square became a safe space for people to observe the blockade,” said Let Us Breathe Collective co-director Kristiana Colon. “Comfort is not our concern. We have the resources to remain comfortable. Our primary concern is that the community is comfortable,” she added while standing in upper 80-degree heat.
The occupation is in response to Ald. Edward Burke’s (14th) proposed ordinance that seeks to protect past or current police officers, firefighters and first responders under hate crime legislation. The proposed ordinance comes amid recent shootings of police officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge, La.
The legislation could make it easier for protesters to be charged with a hate crime if an altercation arises between demonstrators and police, said Damon Williams of BYP100’s Chicago.
The ordinance calls for up to six months in jail or fines up to $2,500 as punishment for assault, destroying the property, trespassing, vandalism, disturbing a place of workshop or telephone harassment.
“They can charge people responding or people protecting themselves [with] hate crimes,” Williams said. “They have that extra power to criminalize and charge someone with a felony… We know police that the police engage with protesting in a militaristic fashion and things could escalate.”
The group continued their occupation of the Freedom Square through a severe thunderstorm on Saturday night and summer temperatures reaching as high as 91 degrees. The activists periodically leave to shower, maintain food reserves and so on before returning to the Freedom Square where the others remained, Colon said. Williams added that the group has medical liaisons on standby in case someone needs medical attention.
“People have been out here consistently since we’ve opened. We created a rain shelter over there and a lot of people brought their cars and slept in their cars overnight,” Williams said.
Supplies for the occupation have been provided either out of pocket by the activists themselves or donated by supporters, Colon said. The Let Us Breathe Collective hasn’t yet formed a nonprofit, so it cannot accept monetary donations. Instead, the group welcomes volunteers to help with other needs such as assisting with trash removal or providing supplies like canopies and tents.
During their time there, the group has fed about 200 people or so, Williams said. The group also set up a tent for its on-site Free Store, where residents can receive items like books, clothing, shoes, and feminine hygiene supplies.
The occupation is modeled after a similar demonstration held in Ferguson, Missouri, Colon said, adding some Ferguson protesters were present at the Freedom Square occupation. Williams said the occupation will continue until the proposed ordinance adding police officers to hate crime protection legislation is recalled.
“We are showing love in action,” Colon said. “We mean for Freedom Square to be a visual representation of our belief in love and freedom. We want to show the North Lawndale community that we love them.”
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