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La Grange

'We want cops to protect us' Hundreds of protesters pour through La Grange streets in peaceful demonstration

Hundreds of protesters sit in the intersection of Brainerd Avenue and Plainfield Road during a peaceful demonstration on Wednesday in La Grange. Photo: Josh Welge
Hundreds of protesters sit in the intersection of Brainerd Avenue and Plainfield Road during a peaceful demonstration on Wednesday in La Grange. Photo: Josh Welge

LA GRANGE – Tosin Olowu rose up in front of a massive gathering of fellow young people and let her voice be heard.

Olowu, a University of Illinois sophomore and Riverside-Brookfield High School graduate, was one of several hundred people who poured through the streets of La Grange Wednesday afternoon in a peaceful demonstration. It ended at the corner of Brainard Avenue and Plainfield Road, where the entire crowd sat in the intersection and Olowu took the bullhorn to address her peers and police looking on.

"We want cops to protect us, and it starts with our generation," Olowu said.

Olowu did not expect to speak, but the emotion in her voice was deep-seeded. It reflected a generation fed up and demanding an end to racism and police brutality toward black people.

"I've been seeing so much in my community for the last 19 years, and I refuse to be silent any longer," Olowu said. "I think change is coming and it starts with us. Something is stirring."

It stirred up the village of La Grange Wednesday. A huge crowd gathered at village hall, while many cars honked their horns in support as they passed by. A red car had a sign "Boy Scouts for Black Lives Matter" on its side window, "George Floyd 1974-2020" on its back window.

The protest is one of so many held this past week across the country in the wake of the death of George Floyd on May 25 in Minneapolis, when an arresting white police officer, Derek Chauvin, pressed his knee to Floyd's neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds.

On Wednesday, the murder charges against Chauvin, who has since been fired, were elevated to second-degree murder. Three other former Minneapolis police officers involved in the death are charged with aiding and abetting murder.

Charlotte Wolf, a recent Lyons Township graduate, was one of a group of young people who organized the La Grange event.

"What happened with George Floyd is tragic, there has always been a problem and it's time now to speak up against it," Wolf said. "There is systemic racism, there needs to be police reform and now. This is an opportunity to spread the word."

Wolf, who is white, said that "we are done with being bystanders."

"It's not enough to be not racist," Wolf said. "You have to be anti-racist to make the change. White silence equals violence."

Indeed, protesters in La Grange made their voices heard with signs from "Silence is violence" to "We may never understand, but united we stand" to "BLM, say their name, fix the system, increase the peace."

A white protester carried a sign covered with the names of black men and women who have died as a result of excessive force at the hands of police.

The Rev. Shawana McGee described what that does to a family's psyche. Her eyes welling in tears, she spoke of the fear of waiting at home when her husband is out at night. She has lived the unknown herself.

"I have been the victim of police brutality in the past. It does not feel good," McGee said. "We don't need people in positions of power who abuse their power."

McGee was one of several speakers to address the crowd from the steps of Village Hall, after an opening prayer for unity.

Lyons Township High School graduate Samantha Taylor, the first to take the bullhorn, reflected the anger and frustration of a black woman growing up with the reality that McGee later spoke of.

"Every day I wake up and ask myself is this the day that my black skin gives me a death sentence?" Taylor said. "Imagine what that does to one's mental health. My mind is distorted.

"I'm speaking to you on behalf of the black community that resides in La Grange, Countryside, Western Springs, Hinsdale and beyond. I know what it is like to feel invisible. I know what it's like to wake up every day and be conscious of the color of your skin. The second we become unconscious to it we become another George Floyd."

Melissa Farias, speaking after Taylor's impassioned speech, said it's on white people to be part of necessary change.

"You have to speak up," Farias said. "Use the voice that you have and stop letting your friends be passively racist, because it doesn't affect you."

The Rev. Maurice McGee, CEO of Caring Place Foundation, spoke to the suffering of black people going back hundreds of years in this country.

"When is enough enough? That's the question," McGee said. "The people of color have endured 250 years of slavery, is that enough? We've endured 3,500 lynchings, is that enough? We've endured the Jim Crow laws, the race riots, we've endured the killing of Emmett Till and the assassination of Martin Luther King, and is that enough? When Barack Obama was elected president, everybody said we made it, that's enough. In a lot of our eyes that was enough but as I stand to tell you that is not enough.

"George Floyd, Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, we thought, 'oh man, that's enough.' Eric Garner, is that enough? It comes to a point in everybody's lives where enough really is enough."

The crowd took to the streets in friendly, peaceful demonstration with the chants of "Hands up, don't shoot," "I can't breathe" and "George Floyd, say his name."

La Grange resident Eric McPherson walked with his son, both wearing the jersey of Colin Kaepernick, the former NFL quarterback famous for taking a knee to protest police brutality. McPherson carried a sign with the words "Thumbs up if you always promise to be a good cop."

He said it's important to pass along the right example to the next generation.

"I was raised in this community, I have a lot of black friends. Now that I'm raising my own children, I really think the only way is to raise our kids the right way and see things through other people's eyes," McPherson said. "The relationship with police has to improve. Even though our community isn't directly affected, it will take a lot of like-minded communities for change to happen. This is the least we can do."

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