CHICAGO—A group of spirited protesters chanted slogans about racist police and blocked traffic in downtown Chicago the night after a video was released of a white cop shooting a black teen 16 times in fewer than 30 seconds.
Under a nearly full moon and the ever-present whirr of hovering helicopters, the protesters marched for hours in several loops of downtown. At major intersections, they linked arms and formed human circles.
While there were a few clashes with police and some arrests were reported, the protests were peaceful, assuaging concern from city leaders that the release of the graphic shooting video might incite riots. The multiracial but mostly young group grew and waned in numbers, reaching about 400 people at its largest point.
“You can’t stop the revolution,” they chanted. “We are black history in the making!”
Many protesters said the video—which shows Officer Jason Van Dyke shooting 17-year-old Laquan McDonald 16 times on Oct. 20, 2014—wasn't the only reason they were angry and marching in protest, pointing to larger systems of structural racism that they said defined policing in the city. Almost every black person in the crowd seemed to have their own story about being stopped for no reason or knowing someone who had been.
“I didn’t know Laquan but I have brothers and that could have been them,” said Tiaranesha Jackson, 22. “I don’t want to protest, but this calls for it—we see this kind of violence time and time and time again.”
Some protesters said they watched the video, which clearly showed Van Dyke gunning down McDonald as the teen walked away from him, while others said that they couldn’t bear to see it themselves. Jackson said that she “watched it and cried.” Van Dyke was charged with first-degree murder Tuesday morning—the first such charge for an on-duty incident in more than 35 years.
Kelli Watson, who walked through the streets holding her tiny Yorkie puppy Chewie, said she “had to rewind the video three different times to make sure I was seeing what I thought I was seeing.”
“One minute he’s walking in the street, and the next minute there’s smoke coming from his body,” she said. “That could have been any of us.”
Police officers on bikes rode along beside the group on the sidewalk, holding traffic as the protesters approached intersections. They formed lines and used their bikes as walls to block protesters from highways and at a police precinct headquarters. In front of the precinct, one man loudly berated individual stone-faced officers by the last name on their uniforms. “You said nothing, you did nothing, not a free thinker among you,” he shouted at each one, as others screamed “fuck the police.”
At a few points, chaotic scuffles broke out as people tried to cross police lines, and at least four protesters were arrested, organizers said. A police spokesperson could not confirm that on Wednesday morning. Some protesters said they had been hit by police officers during the struggles.
But for the most part, the night was at once tragic and inspiring for those who participated. Walking down the middle of Michigan Avenue—likely the best-known street in the city—Dwayne Johnson, 57, had tears dripping from his eyes. “I feel proud of us that we’re getting out here together,” he said.
For years, racist police officers had been stopping him for just walking down the sidewalk in his Cabrini-Green neighborhood, he said. So now, he was walking in the street.
Casey Tolan is a National News Reporter for Fusion based in New York City.