What’s Happening in Chicago Right Now? Protests, Miracle Boyd and Federal Agents

As George Floyd’s murder on May 25 continues to reverberate through the United States and expose decades of racial injustice, protests and rallies have taken different forms in cities across America. As the summer thus far has been marked with clashes between police and protestors and rising coronavirus cases, Chicago is also dealing with an alarming increase in its (already problematic) gun violence rate. After President Trump spent days alluding to the possibility, Homeland Security is now planning to deploy federal agents in Chicago.

What happened this weekend in Chicago & what’s to come?

Friday, July 17

On Friday, BLM Chicago and other local organizations held a Black and Indigenous solidarity rally in Grant Park. When the protest dispersed, some 1,000 folks gathered at the nearby Christopher Columbus statue to advocate for its removal – as has happened with controversial monuments in several American cities. Protestors scaled the statue in an attempt to topple it, but they were met with swift and aggressive resistance from the Chicago Police Department.

When protestors began to throw cans and fireworks at officers, CPD hit back with batons and pepper spray. Colin Boyle, a reporter with Block Club Chicago, posted a video of his encounter with a CPD officer to Twitter where he can be heard yelling for help, to which the officer replied, “Yeah, you’re going to need help.” Boyle was reportedly moving across the street to his bike, and also showed the officer his press pass. He was not the only journalist to have reported being harassed by police, Marissa Parra from CBS Chicago also posted a video to Twitter of a CPD officer swatting her phone out of her hand with a baton.

Miracle Boyd, an 18-year-old activist and recent CPS graduate, was assaulted by Chicago police the same night. She was hit in the face by a police officer following the protest, and lost several teeth. The confrontation in Grant Park resulted in at least 12 arrests and 18 officer injuries, according to the police department.

The Columbus statue is still standing, but protests have opened up the debate surrounding its continued relevance. In June, Mayor Lightfoot said she opposed the removal of Chicago’s Christopher Columbus Statues, but said on Saturday that her team is developing a plan for a “comprehensive review of our public icons.”

Some Italian Americans have also pushed back against the removal of the statue, led by Pasquale D. Gianni of the Joint Civic Committee of Italian Americans. He says Christopher Columbus has come to symbolize Italian American pride. The same group opposed changing Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples’ Day in Chicago Public Schools.

Saturday, July 18

On Saturday protestors, motivated in part by the events of the night prior, took to the streets near Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s home in Lincoln Square. According to Block Club Chicago, “They sang, chanted and danced, calling on Lightfoot to defund the Chicago Police Department, remove officers from schools and keep public school students learning at home when classes begin.”  This comes on the heels of Lightfoot’s Friday announcement that the city plans to have most students back in school come fall.

While the protest did not see as much violence as Friday night, an unmarked police vehicle was caught on video running over protestors.

Monday, July 20

Press conference for Miracle Boyd in Washington Park. Photo courtesy of Madison Muller.

On Monday, Miracle Boyd and GoodKids MadCity held a press conference at the George Washington Statue on 51st and King in Washington Park. It was important to organizers that Boyd have a platform to speak to her experiences, as personal narrative too often gets muddled as it passes through various media outlets.

Boyd, who was surrounded by supporters, told reporters: “I am not a menace, I am not a hood rat, I am not a rebel, but a dedicated freedom fighter.”

Over the weekend, group members helped to raise nearly $84,000 in a GoFundMe campaign to cover Boyd’s medical, dental and mental health care following the assault. During the press conference, Boyd said that she plans on donating most of the funds to Chicago’s homeless, mental health services for Black girls and will donate $10,000 to GoodKids MadCity’s violence prevention work. Chicago-based rapper, Vic Mensa, also spoke in support of Boyd at the press conference. He came to her aid when NBC-5 reporter Charlie Wojciechowski attempted to question Boyd regarding a video circulating from May, that purportedly shows her engaging in “certain violent acts.” Later, Mensa and others, engaged in a heated exchange with Wojciechowski about why his statements were problematic and fed into rhetoric vilifying Boyd.

Vic Mensa stands in solidarity with Boyd to reiterate the issue of police brutality in the US. Photo courtesy of Madison Muller.

“Regardless, Miracle should not have been abused. If police officers are being taught to deescalate situations, why didn’t it happen Friday?” Taylore Norwood, another organizer with GoodKids MadCity explained. “We expect the city and the mayor to value people over property.”

Boyd’s lawyer Sheila Bedi, who was also present, pointed out that head strikes are considered use of deadly force under a 2019 federal consent decree aimed at reforming the police department.

Later, a separate press conference was held by Chicago organizers at the controversial Christopher Columbus statue. Protests continued into Monday night.

Also on Monday…

Homeland Security announced that they are making preparations to deploy 150 federal agents to Chicago, according to the Chicago Tribune. This comes on the heels of President Trump’s continued threats to send U.S. law enforcement personnel to other Democratic-led cities experiencing increased crime and unrest.

Trump made this most recent announcement while defending his use of force in Portland, Oregon where federal agents are now patrolling the streets. Mayor Lori Lightfoot, who on Monday sent a four-page letter to President Trump; later appeared on MSNBC to say she would use every tool she has to stop Trump from sending troops to the city. Trump has been critical of Chicago’s handling of crime throughout his presidency. As Chicago’s gun violence rate has alarmingly increased in recent weeks, as has crime, Trump appears to think that deploying federal agents is the solution.

Leaders of the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois issued a statement opposing the move.

“Make no mistake: Trump’s federal troops will not be a constructive force in Chicago,” Colleen Connell, executive director of the group, said in the statement. “As our colleagues have seen in Portland, Trump’s secret forces will terrorize communities, and create chaos. This is not law and order. This is an assault on the people of this country, the specific protections of protest and press in the First Amendment, and the Constitution’s assignment of policing to local authorities — not from a president acting like a despot.”’

You can also find our most recent update on Chicago’s coronavirus situation here.


How you can help:

Many are finding that helping others is an effective way to help combat feelings of powerlessness in the face of COVID-19. Here are some deserving nonprofits, including food pantries, that need your support.


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Madison Muller is the Assistant Digital Editor at Better. A recent graduate of Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism, she approaches our contemporary media environment with compassion and candor. She is interested in writing about the intersectionality of social justice issues in marginalized communities and environmentalism. Madison proudly supports Action Now, a community organization that empowers and uplifts residents on Chicago’s West Side.

She also encourages reading and supporting The Marshall Project, a non-profit news organization that seeks to create and sustain a sense of national urgency about the U.S. criminal justice system.