HOMAN SQUARE — A vacant lot on the corner of Homan Avenue and and Fillmore Street has for six days now been filled with playing kids, community yoga classes and young people dancing to the music of Chance The Rapper.
Across the street sits the Chicago Police Department's Homan Square site, an infamous facility that some journalists and activists consider a "black site" where detainees are illegally held and where civil rights are routinely violated. Police have denied the charges.
"This place is an atrocity," said Kristiana Colón, an activist with the Let Us Breathe Collective. "It's in the backyard of the people who are being tortured and traumatized at that space."
Activists and North Lawndale residents have camped outside of the police facility for six days now, setting up a makeshift community center on a brown site to exemplify that the community would be better off with social services and resources and not a shadowy police building, they said.
The group has set up stations that represent the type of services that should be funded in minority communities. Young volunteers station a food tent, a first aid facility, a clothing and goods store, a tutoring station and an arts and crafts tent with its own mini library.
"When you invest in those things, the community can keep themselves safe," Colón said. "You get a peaceful community."
The idea for the encampment was spontaneous, Colón said. Activists with Let Us Breathe and other groups last week led a sit-in at the Homan Square facility, temporarily blocking the site while also setting up camp across the street so protesters could get food and drinks. The action was coordinated with similar sit-ins at police facilities nationwide.
But Colón said the group saw how the North Lawndale community rallied around their action, and they decided to stay at the site as long as they can.
"What we were doing was wanted continuously by the community," she said. "It was an overnight decision to occupy the space."
The group's goals for the occupation are two-fold: they want to demonstrate that an involved and active community can keep itself safe without the help of police, and the group also wants city leaders to drop their consideration of an ordinance that would allow prosecutors to charge protesters who clash with police with hate crimes.
"We're trying to build love," said Damon Williams, Colón's brother and another leader with Let Us Breathe. "We want to see a world without police and prisons. We know that's going to take a lot of love and healing."
Their occupation has galvanized activists throughout Chicago who have come to lend a hand and show their support. A group came by Wednesday to mow the lawn and help clear brush from the overgrown vacant lot. Youth and Opportunity United, an Evanston after-school program, brought a group of kids to the site Thursday to help out in any way they can.
"They want to learn how to be community leaders," said Emeric Mazibuko, of the Evanston teen group. "We want to show them, this is how you get out and get involved."
About 15 to 20 people sleep in tents overnight at the facility, though many more are there throughout the day. The group has endured excessive heat warnings, stifling humidity and dangerous storms. A ever-changing list of immediate needs is posted to the Let Us Breathe Twitter account.
Terrione Jordan, 9, was sitting in a folding chair in the shade to try and escape the hot afternoon sun Wednesday. He said he had camped out overnight with some friends and family the night before, and was able to do some arts and crafts Wednesday morning.
"It was fun," he said of camping out. "It was my first time really [camping]."
When asked why he thought everyone was out at the vacant site, Terrione said :to be able to build a community."
Williams said the experience the occupation is able to provide to kids like Terrione is why the action is so vital. He said he hopes the group can stay until the end of August, when kids start to go back to school.
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