Protests at Chicago’s Homan Square have entered its eighth consecutive night as local activists call for the closing of the controversial detention center and push for new police reforms. Demonstrators are also looking to repeal a piece of proposed legislation that would designate attacks on cops and/or emergency personnel as a hate crime.
According to the Guardian, local groups #LetUsBreathe and Black Youth Project 100 have set up an encampment known as Freedom Square that they say will keep operating until city leaders meet their demands. The makeshift “tent city” has been up and running since the beginning of last week, following a march last week on Chicago’s west side in honor of the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr’s “Freedom Summer” rally, the publication reports.
Among the group’s demands is the closure of Homan Square, covert detention facility infamous for making thousands of Black men “disappear.” Atlanta Black Star reports that the CIA-style interrogation facility, operated by the Chicago Police Department, is where over 7,000 people, mostly Black men, have been detained and abused, off the books and off the grid. Oftentimes, these individuals were kept at the warehouse without access to their legal representation and without public knowledge or contact.
Community activists want the facility’s operating funds to be redirected to community resources.
Retraction of the “Blue Lives Matter” bill is up next on the groups’ list of demands. If passed, the legislation would essentially make any criminal offense against law enforcement personnel or emergency responders a hate crime. The controversial legislation has gained momentum around the country, with Louisiana becoming the first state to pass such a law earlier this year, Atlanta Black Star reports. Wisconsin, Kentucky, and Florida recently announced similar legislation that would place any attack against cops on par with a hate crime.
“We did the demonstration to show that police are not here to protect people, but instead harm us,” said activist Camesha Jones in reference to both the alleged torture inside Homan Square and the Blue Lives Matter bill that was recently introduced to the Chicago city council.
According to the Chicago Tribune, the idea of a long term sit-in arose after dozens of people marched from the Douglas Park home of Dante Servin, the officer who was acquitted of manslaughter after fatally shooting 22-year old Rekia Boyd, then chained themselves together, blocking the intersection at Homan and Fillmore. About 10 people were arrested that day, the publication reports.
Many of the protesters later gathered in a vacant lot and labeled it Freedom Square. Damon Williams, a member of Black Youth Project 100 , said the group wasn’t prepared to occupy the lot at the time but returned last Friday with tents, food, water, sleeping bags, and a barbecue grill among other supplies. According to Progress Illinois, there are tents for sleeping, cooking, and making artwork as well as one for first aid and another where community members are welcome to pick up free clothes and books.
Local activists said they specifically chose the Homan Square site because the building is a representation of the persistent acts violence committed against citizens in their community.
“[Homan Square] is just emblematic of the fact that our system is boldly and unapologetically violent and destructive,” Williams told the Guardian. “There are a lot of things you can hide. But at a certain point you can’t hide a large building.”
While occupying the lot, the community activist also said he came across a lot of people who had reportedly been tortured inside the warehouse facility.
“They didn’t come here for a protest – they just came here to see what this was all about,” Williams said. “They coincidentally were people who had been tortured.”
So far, the protesters have showed no signs of letting up, as they’ve vowed to stay put until their demands are met.