If you follow me on Socials Media you may have noted that on Saturday morning I participated in the "Shut down the Dan Ryan" march in Chicago that achieved its goal of saturation local media coverage in addition to national exposure…as a way Fox News could offer its dying, elderly audience a group of black people to be mad at for no particular reason.
The reasons I went are many. One is that the South Side is routinely an afterthought in this city, even among people who live here. Another is that since a Catholic parish organized and led the event, I thought there was at least a decent chance the police wouldn't just club everyone over the head and herd them into paddywagons. But mostly I was eager to participate to use the experience of being there as a baseline for evaluating the media coverage (and social media commentary) on the event after the fact. Here are, in no order, some observations.
1. The police presence was absolutely ridiculous overkill, and I have substantial experience already being at events in public places where the police presence was ridiculous. I suppose the police have to "plan for the worst" from their perspective, but they had enough people and vehicles and equipment there to fight a small rearguard action in the Korean War. You wonder what goes on in their imaginations – like, what is the imagined scenario they are preparing for?
2. As it turned out, the crowd was overwhelmingly older people, pre-adolescent kids, and people of middle age with kids in tow. There were, to my knowledge and post-event reports, zero arrests. It could not have been more uneventful from a police vs. protesters perspective.
3. That didn't stop the Governor and tens of thousands of racist Facebook uncles from going off half-assed about "chaos" and "mobs" and whatnot. Event organizers, coordinating with the police at every step of the process, told everyone where to stand and wait (a fenced-in park). Then they told us when we could enter the expressway. Then they told us where we could exit (67th Street, as planned). The crowd of mostly elderly and older adult people made no attempt to do anything except what was planned.
4. The messaging was devoid of "Fuck the cops, black power!" and very heavy on economic messages. Lots of "We need jobs" and "fix the schools" and "45 minutes for 9-1-1 calls??" and "$8/hr isn't enough." People seem remarkably attuned to the economic causes of violence and averse to the tired old "culture of violence" bullshit.
5. For police who were supposedly very worried about the flow of traffic, I find their decision-making curious. They allowed everyone to enter the highway with 3 of the 4 lanes blocked off. Traffic continued through the one open lane. Then they made us wait for 90 minutes while the Catholic leaders negotiated to shut down the fourth and final lane. We just stood there, waiting. Nobody indicated any aggression. Just patience like you'd expect from people who have been waiting patiently for decades to be listened to. And then the State Police announced, "Hey OK go ahead we'll close off the fourth lane too." And then we had the whole highway. What was the point of blocking the highway for an additional 90 minutes in "holding pattern" before letting us do exactly what we wanted to anyway?
6. Well…I chalk that up to some Dick-Waving by the police. A very juvenile sort of "We're in charge here" power play. But if the state, city, and law enforcement REALLY were so concerned about the interruption of traffic, they demonstrated that concern in a very odd way by making the event take at LEAST two hours longer than it would have. In my only interaction with a police officer, I told the nearest state trooper during our lengthy delay, "You know if you guys had just let everyone go we'd have been done an hour ago."
7. Three lanes of traffic were closed for several hours on a Saturday morning. All four lanes were closed for about 30-40 minutes. The crowd moved at normal speed over a course of about 1.25 miles. No one attempted to sit or lie in the roadway to delay. The crowd was compact enough that I could see everything, and I brought my bike so I was able to ride back and forth along its length (the police had no problem with bikes) several times. If anything like fights had erupted, I would have seen it.
8. Then it was over, and every reporter on the planet was on the 67th Street ramp. I declined to make comments when asked, as a white person who does not live in that neighborhood. I told them to interview the people who live there, which the media present was eager to do. The interviews I've seen in the papers and on the radio/TV coverage were all very On Message. With older people in the majority, "Our kids should not have all these guns" was the common theme.
I'm long past the point of arguing with old white people on social media, but I have to say that from a first-hand perspective it is quite hilarious(ly sad) to see the narrative that people, including Republican elected officials, attempt to create about something that was in practice quite uneventful. I've been in rowdier buffet lines. The crowds on the street at Bar Time are more aggressive and unpredictable than that group was. Wrigley Field is more chaotic after a Cubs game. And yet in all the unsubtly racially coded language available, people insist on telling lurid tales of chaos and rioting and violence – all the while insisting that their attitudes have nothing to do with race.
Sure they don't, buddy. That's why you spent Saturday on the internet making up tales of mob violence at a march of black grandparents that briefly closed traffic, a disruption announced weeks in advance that could only have inconvenienced people who insisted on paying no attention to traffic reports or the news.