In an eighth day of protest, Chicago activists remain camped out in front of the Homan Square police facility to push back against a proposed "Blue Lives Matter" ordinance.
Chicago activists are in their eighth day of protesting in front of the Homan Square police facility on the city's West Side.
Activists call their encampment "Freedom Square" and say they "are standing for love, fighting for freedom and building community."
Freedom Square occupiers are drawing attention to the building across the street -- a Chicago police facility that allegedly functions as an "off-the-books" detention and interrogation center -- and speaking out against a proposed "Blue Lives Matter" city ordinance.
The legislation would make offenses committed against current or former police officers, firefighters and paramedics a hate crime. Showing "animosity or hostility" toward a first responder would qualify as a hate crime under the so-called Blue Lives Matter measure, proposed last month by Ald. Ed Burke (14th), a former police officer.
The ordinance has stalled in the city council -- at least temporarily. Activists want the proposal dropped altogether and have vowed to continue their Freedom Square occupation until that happens.
"We are out here until the Blue Lives Matter bill that has been proposed in the Public Safety Committee in City Hall is rescinded," said Let Us Breathe Collective co-founder Damon Williams, 23. "I don't think it's gonna pass in the city, but we're gonna make sure of that."
In announcing the legislation last month, Burke said it is important to extend "every possible protection" to first responders.
"Each day police officers and firefighters put their lives on the line to ensure our well-being and security," Burke said in a press release. "It is the goal of this ordinance to give prosecutors and judges every tool to punish those who interfere with, or threaten or physically assault, our public safety personnel."
But Williams asserts that the proposal "greatly threatens democracy."
"It puts the First Amendment in grave jeopardy and allows police to further suppress resistance and make potential protest activity illegal and criminalized and also gives them more power," he said.
Freedom Square protesters have a second key demand: that the city of Chicago shut down Homan Square. Detainees at the police facility have allegedly been beaten, abused and denied "basic constitutional rights," including access to counsel, according to reporting from The Guardian.
Chicago Police Department officials have denied any wrongdoing at the facility, which houses special police units and a ballistics lab.
The resources used to operate Homan Square should instead be invested in the community for schools, mental health facilities, job initiatives and other services, Williams argued.
"As we have created this space for the community, and as we are engaging the children and young people of this community, it seems apparently obvious that the divestment from the community has made our presence necessary," he said.
The Freedom Square occupation was spurred from a protest staged last week outside Homan Square to demand "a full divestment from policing and a full investment in black communities." Following the demonstration, which resulted in multiple arrests after protesters chained themselves together outside the facility's entrance, activists decided to set up camp.
The rain and heat hasn't deterred the activists. There are tents for sleeping, cooking and making artwork as well as one for first aid and another where community members can get free clothes and books. Several kids were playing there Thursday afternoon when Progress Illinois stopped by for a tour:
North Lawndale resident Shavonna Brown, 22, brought her daughter and six siblings to Freedom Square. She was serving food Thursday afternoon to her fellow community members.
Monday was Brown's first day at the camp. The same day, her friend Jonathan Mills, a 26-year-old former Chicago high school basketball star, was fatally shot in the city. Mills died after being shot multiple times in the 4100 block of West Roosevelt Road.
"My first day here, I lost my best friend to senseless violence. My friend was killed on Roosevelt and Keeler outside a store," she said. "He had just dropped me off here [at the Freedom Square]. ... After that, I got a call" that he had been shot and killed.
"I'm up here fighting for this violence to stop, and my best friend was becoming a victim to what I'm fighting for," Brown continued. "It's kinda still emotional for me to talk about him. But that's what got me out here."