CHICAGO — Hundreds of protesters blocked store entrances and shut down four lanes of traffic in Chicago’s ritziest shopping district on Black Friday to draw attention to the 2014 police killing of a black teenager who was shot 16 times by a white officer.
Demonstrators shrugged off a cold drizzling rain to turn the traditional start of the holiday shopping season on Michigan Avenue’s Magnificent Mile into a high-profile platform from which to deliver their message: The killing of Laquan McDonald was another example of what they say is the systemic disregard police show for the lives and rights of black people.
They chanted “16 shots! 16 shots!” and stopped traffic for blocks to express their anger over the Oct. 20, 2014, killing of McDonald and the subsequent investigation, which they say was mishandled.
Prosecutors charged the officer, Jason Van Dyke, with first-degree murder on Tuesday, hours before police released disturbing dashcam video of McDonald’s death under a court order to make it public. It shows McDonald jogging down a street and then veering away from Van Dyke and another officer who emerge from a police SUV drawing their guns. Within seconds, Van Dyke begins firing. McDonald, who authorities allege was carrying a three-inch knife and was suspected of breaking into cars, spins around and falls to the pavement as Van Dyke keeps shooting.
Among the marchers Friday was 73-year-old Frank Chapman of Chicago, who said the disturbing video confirms what activists have said for years about Chicago police brutality.
“That needs to end. Too many have already died,” said Chapman, whose organization, the Chicago Alliance Against Racism and Political Oppression, is pushing for an elected, civilian police accountability council.
Officers along the sidewalk formed a barrier of sorts between the protesters and stores and helped shoppers get through the doors. But protesters on the march succeeded in blocking main entrances on both sides of Michigan Avenue for more than three blocks.
Store employees directed shoppers to exit from side doors. When one person tried to get through the front door of Saks Fifth Avenue, protesters screamed at him, shouting, “Shut it down! Shut it down.”
Entrances were also blocked at the Disney Store, the Apple Store, Nike, Tiffany & Co., and Neiman Marcus.
Van Dyke is being held without bond. His attorney said Van Dyke feared for his life when he fired at McDonald and that the case should be tried in an actual courtroom, not the court of public opinion.
The Rev. Michael Pfleger, a Roman Catholic priest and prominent local activist, said he thought Friday’s protest would cost businesses money because the publicity surrounding it would discourage shoppers from even venturing into the area.
But shoppers still crowded the sidewalks and seemed to take the disturbance in stride. Some even snapped photos of the crowd.
All previous marches have been largely peaceful. There have been isolated clashes between police and protesters, with about 10 arrests and only a few minor reports of property damage. The police have allowed protesters to march in the middle of the street and even hold rallies in the middle of intersections, and on Thursday the department said it would handle Friday’s march much the same way.
Throughout the week, protesters have expressed anger over the video of the shooting. They’ve also harshly criticized the department for its months-long effort to prevent the video from being released and the state’s attorney’s office for taking more than a year to file charges against the officer, despite having footage of the incident.