Lab community protests police brutality, racism throughout Chicago


Amanda Cassel

Approximately 150 Lab community members protested police brutality at Midway Plaisance June 1.

Peter Pu, News Editor

Sophomore Leila Garfinkel ended the weekend remembering police officers smiling while beating a woman. 

“They just started throwing some people to the ground, and there was this one woman right by me who they threw to the ground, and they hit her with their baton and they pulled her hair,” Leila said, remembering the interactions between police and protestors near Wacker Drive along the Chicago River downtown on May 30, “and they were smiling.”

Along with sophomores Zoe Garfinkel and An Ngo and junior Nick Cheney, Leila protested against police brutality and racism in downtown Chicago after the death of George Floyd while in police custody in Minneapolis. Leila also protested in Hyde Park on May 31, and approximately 150 people participated in a peaceful protest along the Midway Plaisance on the afternoon of June 1. 

Mr. Floyd, a black man, died of mechanical asphyxiation after a white police officer kept a knee to his neck for nearly 9 minutes. Two autopsies have rendered conflicting results.

Referring to both of her protest experiences, Leila said, “For all the times I was there, the protestors were completely peaceful, chanting and yelling at some points.”

Leila remembered chants including “Black lives matter,” “We can’t breathe” and “Fuck 12,” referring to police, as well as the names of “George Floyd” and “Breonna Taylor,” a Louisville woman who was killed last month in her home by police.

The illegal activity Leila witnessed was limited to people tagging and spray painting buildings, and she said she left before seeing any arrests. Fires, explosions, looting and violent confrontations followed that evening. 

Also on May 30, junior Naomi Corlette attended a protest in the Pilsen neighborhood. She left before the protestors drove to encircle Cook County Jail.

“I want to participate in every way I can, and that was the protest on Saturday that I was able to attend,” Naomi said.

Naomi also participated in the Midway Plaisance protest, organized by fine arts department co-chair Allison Beaulieu, which began 2 p.m. at the intersection of Stony Island Avenue and 60th Street and continued around the Midway Plaisance.

Despite postponement by Laboratory Schools Interim Director David Magill due to unrest in Hyde Park on May 31 that led the university to close campus June 1, Lab students, faculty and parents and others persisted while University of Chicago police monitored the situation and directed traffic. Occasionally, passing drivers opened their windows to express support. 

“It was nice to see so many young children there,” Naomi said, “and toward the end see how many people from the Lab community and also outside were there.”

Protesters gathered in Hyde Park May 31 to protest police brutality after the death of George Floyd. The protest began peacefully, but fires, explosions and looting followed the protest later that evening. (Max Garfinkel)

Hannah Ruby, a former Lab student who is now a sophomore at Kenwood Academy High School, said she participated in the protest to demand change in police corruption and has been involved in many social justice movements in the past.

“I think what’s happening is disgusting, and it needs to change,” Hannah said.

In contrast to the violence around the country, protestors at the Midway Plaisance marched peacefully. 

Considering the destruction caused by violent protestors in other neighborhoods, Hannah said, “I don’t think it’s super effective for change. I don’t think that’s the primary thing we need to be focusing on now, but I do think destruction sends a message.” 

However, Zeray Alemseged, a Lab parent at the Midway protest, noted the damage on the lives of innocent people. 

“No one should of course condone any type of looting or breaking windows, etc.,” Mr. Alemseged said, “but people also should be as concerned about looting people’s lives and souls.”

According to history department chair Naadia Owens who also attended the Midway protest, mass gatherings of protestors raises the concern of a spike in the number of COVID-19 cases, but the need for protest trumps social distancing recommendations for some.

I think the other question then is that it is sad that people feel that they have to put their lives in danger in order to have their voices heard.

— Naadia Owens

“I think people feel true anger and frustration in their hearts right now, and I think that for many people, yes the need to get out and say, ‘This is not OK, and we’re tired of this’ is more important than this other piece,” Ms. Owens said. “I think the other question then is that it is sad that people feel that they have to put their lives in danger in order to have their voices heard.”

In working toward change, Ms. Beaulieu said she would organize marches around Midway Plaisance every Monday at 2 p.m. They will similarly begin at the intersection of Stony Island Avenue and 60th Street. 

Considering the possible solutions for Lab as a whole, Naomi said, “I think the most important thing is that a lot of students have really great ideas on how to improve the school, and they know what’s actually going on, and the administration really needs to listen and pay attention to that.”