There is no debate that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination on April 4, 1968 is one of the most important moments in Black History. For many, King’s death at the Lorraine Motel holds significant symbolism as the end of a nonviolent church-based Civil Rights Movement, and the complete transitioning into a militant Black Power movement of self-determination. Today, 50 years after King’s death, young Black people who are two and three generations separated from King’s era, are now acting on his philosophies with the nuance and vigor of their Black Power ancestors.
In Chicago, their call is “#NoCopAcademy!”
“We demand no cop academy. Since my adolescence, I’ve been personally targeted by police. But I represent thousands who have been brutalized by the CPD, Rahm Emanuel, and his cronies– like Laquan McDonald and Dominique Franklin who were both murdered by CPD,” belted Ethos, a community organizer from Circles and Ciphers, during a #NoCopAcadamy sit-in at City Hall. “I implore them to listen to the youth #NoCopAcademy.”
#NoCopAcademy is a multi-organization grassroots campaign that seeks to prevent Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s proposed $95 million police academy. After Mayor Emanuel, the Chicago Police Department, and City Council received a substantial amount of backlash regarding their handling of the Laquan McDonald video, Emanuel introduced legislation that calls for more police training through a newly built facility in the West Garfield Park neighborhood.
The #NoCopAcademy campaign includes visits to City Hall, surveying the West Garfield Park community, door-to-door canvassing, strategy meetings, political education workshops, social media blitzes, and nonviolent direct action.
These tactics parallel the strategies used in the Chicago Campaign to End Slums and Discrimination, a campaign that infuriated Chicago’s working-class White communities to the point of harming Dr. King and forcing him to say, ‘‘I have seen many demonstrations in the South but I have never seen anything so hostile and so hateful as I’ve seen here today.’’
The youth behind #NoCopAcademy are depending on grassroots organizing and public disruption, as Dr. King had done in the mid-60s, to create a better Chicago. Last Wednesday, their 5-hour sit-in on the first-floor of city hall garnered mainstream media attention and went viral on social media timelines. Most of the protesters were Black teenagers who were on Spring Break, representing different organizations such as Assata’s Daughters, Simeon’s Young Activists, and Good Kids Mad City. Protesters created a mock cemetery with headstones that listed people who were killed by the Chicago Police and closed schools under Rahm Emanuel.
All throughout the day, the teens met resistance. Police told protesters that they couldn’t eat inside of the public building and were prohibited from using public restrooms. Jim Crow imagery reared its head when Black teens who were protesting were not allowed to have food but White onlookers were free to eat.
An organized sit-in this elaborate had to take a considerable amount of time to prepare, so how did teens learn of such tactics?
The #NoCopAcademy Youth Summit
On March 24, the youth-led March for Our Lives saturated social media, mainstream publications, and national radio and television programs. The event–featuring a host of student, community, and political organizations–was a coordinated response to the pressing gun violence epidemic making national headway after the recent influx of mass school shootings. While thousands flocked to Chicago’s Union Park to join the multitude participating in the massive rally, about 100 youth on Chicago’s West Side engaged in the free #NoCopAcademy Youth Summit.
Students from Bronzeville, Washington Park, West Chatham, West Garfield Park, and Austin all shared the day thinking, analyzing, discussing, and activating their vision of alternatives to the proposed police academy.
The cloudy morning did not deter the many young smiling faces entering the Westside YMCA. The summit began with Page May, a co-founder of Assata’s Daughters, co-facilitating a workshop about the history of the #NoCopAcademy campaign. When May asked attendees about their feelings about the $95 million cop training facility, many young people voiced their displeasure.
“$95 mill to cops?!,” said one voice. “That’s crazy. We can use that for more art programs!”
Attendees had an array of activities to channel their political passion. In one room dedicated to the arts, people created political signs and buttons. In another room, a “Know Your Rights” workshop taught participants the dangers and responsibilities that come with community cop-watch programs. The Chicago Freedom School directed an “Oppression 101” workshop where young people learned how to define oppression and tactics to fight against it.
Some were treated to a viewing of The Children’s March documentary. The young attendees sat quietly as they watched how children impacted the Civil Rights Movement by defying the orders of the police–and even Dr. King himself–in the name of justice. By showcasing the intergenerational struggle of the 60s, the youth were able to identify that there has not been much change since the days of yesteryear.
Ujimaa Medics (Umedics) made an appearance at the summit. Umedics is responsible for first-response to gunshot victims. Representatives trained a youth group on the how to treat gunshot wounds and best practices in the event of a shooting.
The #NoCopAcademy youth summit not only offered a variety of outlets for participants to be civically engaged, but it allowed youth to freely dictate their level of political engagement. When organizers announced plans to canvass the Austin neighborhood for campaign support, many teens and kids freely volunteered for the unglamorous work. Others stayed behind to join other political activities, converse with friends, or to eat if they were hungry.
The most energetic and lively scene was the train takeovers. In an effort to spread awareness about the $95 million Cop Academy, young people boarded the Green Line trains and conducted what is commonly referred to as “mic-checks” –– a series of loud call-and-response declarations that states protestors’ purpose and demands.
These young people are making their own footprints and delivering a new surge of activism post-Laquan McDonald. Dr. King’s legacy is more than just alive; it is being evolved, critiqued, studied, preserved by the people that have been most impacted by Chicago political landscape–the youth.
Follow the #NoCopAcademy on Facebook and Twitter.