PI Original Ellyn Fortino Friday July 8th, 2016, 12:54pm

Chicagoans Protest Police Shootings Of Alton Sterling, Philando Castile (VIDEO)

Chicagoans demonstrated Thursday evening on the city's South Side in response to the fatal police shootings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. The local protest came hours before sniper gunfire left five Dallas police officers dead and seven others injured during a protest over police violence. 

Chicagoans expressed outrage and demanded justice Thursday evening during a peaceful but disruptive protest in response to the fatal police shootings this week of two black men, Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, in Louisiana and Minnesota.

Toting signs that read "Justice for Alton and Philando Now," a few hundred people protested on Chicago's South Side as part of a call to action against police brutality.

They marched outside Area Central Police Headquarters, at 5101 S. Wentworth Ave., and briefly blocked the Dan Ryan Expressway's southbound lanes near 53rd Street at about 7 p.m. A separate group of protesters demonstrated downtown Thursday evening and blocked traffic on Michigan Avenue.

The Chicago protests came hours before news broke out of Dallas that at least five police officers were killed and another seven injured Thursday night by snipers during a peaceful protest against police violence. Three people are in custody in connection with the attack and a fourth suspected was reportedly killed after an overnight standoff with police.

President Barack Obama, who was attending a NATO meeting in Poland, spoke to reporters early Friday and deplored the "vicious, calculated and despicable attack on law enforcement."

"Police in Dallas were on duty doing their jobs, keeping people safe, during peaceful protests," the president said. "These law enforcement officers were targeted, and nearly a dozen officers were shot. Five were killed. Other officers, and at least one civilian, were wounded. Some are in serious condition, and we are praying for their recovery."

Obama added, "I believe I speak for every single American when I say that we are horrified over these events and that we stand united with the people and the police department in Dallas."

Just hours earlier, the president had delivered a statement on the deaths of Sterling and Castile, saying "all of us Americans should be troubled by these shootings."

Sterling, 37, was fatally shot by police Tuesday outside a convenience store in Baton Rouge. One day later, 32-year-old Castile was killed in a separate officer-involved shooting during a traffic stop in Falcon Heights, Minnesota. Video footage of both shooting incidents have gone viral.

"These are not isolated incidents. They are symptomatic of a broader set of racial disparities that exist in our criminal justice system," the president said. "To be concerned about these issues is not political correctness. It's just being American and wanting to live up to our best and highest ideals."

Instituting law enforcement reforms, Obama argued, would benefit communities as well as police officers.

"If communities are mistrustful of the police, that makes those law enforcement officers who are doing a great job, and are doing the right thing, it makes their lives harder," the president said. "So, when people say 'black lives matter,' it doesn't mean 'blue lives' don't matter, it just means all lives matter. But right now, the big concern is the fact that data shows black folks are more vulnerable to these kinds of incidents."

At the Chicago protest, demonstrators linked arms and formed a large circle in the intersection at 51st Street and Wentworth Avenue as they chanted "black lives matter."

"I'm tired of seeing young black (men) dying," said protester Ponchita Moore. "I'm tired of going to funerals. I'm tired of it. I'm sick of it. ... I have three young black sons. I'm not burying them. I'm not. And whatever I have to do to stop that, I will."

Another demonstrator, Autumn Branch, echoed Moore's sentiments in speaking about the latest episodes of police brutality against African Americans.

"I'm exhausted. It's too much," she said. "I shouldn't have to do this, to basically beg people to say, 'Don't kill me.' I deserve to survive. My uncles deserve to survive. My father, future sons, future children -- it's to the point where I'm scared to bring children into this world."

Here are scenes from the protest on Chicago's South Side:

The Rev. Jesse Jackson, founder and president of the Rainbow Push Coalition, is among the community leaders calling for a campaign by the federal government to "end the national plague of anti-black police violence." He held a news conference Friday morning with Cook County Commissioner Richard Boykin, clergy and community activists. 

"This is a season of race rage," Jackson said in a statement. "It is a season of anti-black, anti-Hispanic, anti-Muslim fear peddling and polarization. Out of this poisoned air emerge these brutal and devastating acts.

"People should be angry," he added. "To be silent is to give consent. But it should be focused anger and disciplined anger. There must be mass marches around the nation, mass voter registration, a mass response."


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