More than 1,000 members of the Des Plaines community gathered at the corners of Lee and Oakton streets on June 5 in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. They gathered to protest against the powers of racism that grip America. They gathered to fight for justice on behalf of the Black men, women, and children whose lives were taken through police brutality. They gathered to stand and kneel and shout so that the systems that rule America would be shaken and the pillars of racism would come crumbling down.
Over the past weeks, it has been impossible to ignore the demonstrations taking place after the brutal murder of George Floyd less than a month ago. If you turned on the hourly news report in your car, you likely heard updates about the massive protests throbbing through the streets of Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York. Since Des Plaines is less than four miles away from Chicago, you probably heard your phones go off with an “Emergency Alert,” when Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot issued a city wide curfew. Perhaps, you were listening to the radio in your kitchen or watching the nightly news round-up for updates on the protests; whatever the case, you heard, you saw, you know where our country is right now.
Protesters raise signs on behalf of the BLM movement.
It is also impossible to ignore the immense pain felt by the Black community. I cannot continue writing without first recognizing that the Black community has been oppressed, marginalized, and ignored for far too long. As you read this, pause and take in the fact that the Black people of our country are grieving, and regardless of where you stand, ignorance is simply impossible. I also recognize that no amount of words can ever fully capture the raw emotions flowing out of these protests. As a white female writer, I will never understand this pain. What I can do is express that I stand firmly in the belief that all men and women are created equal, and under no circumstance can racism be tolerated. It is to that end that I write to capture the events of last Friday.
When the demonstration in Des Plaines began at 6 p.m., people from all over the city came out in support of the BLM rally. Walking through the crowds of people, I recognized people I’ve had classes with, people I’ve seen in the halls of Maine West, my neighbors, and my friends. From that moment onward, the size of the crowd rapidly increased, and chants began to ring out across the 4 corners.
Local protesters take a knee to commemorate George Floyd.
“Say his name! George Floyd,” “I CAN’T BREATHE,” and other phrases echoed over the intersection. At 6:15 p.m., everyone took a knee. This was specific to the death of George Floyd, a Black man whose neck was kneeled on for nine minutes by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin. Silence blanketed the corners as protesters kneeled. This moment of silence not only commemorated Floyd, but acknowledged the long-standing and deep seated issue of systemic racism. This was the heart of the protest.
Seeing not only the Des Plaines community, but the Maine West community come together on behalf of the BLM movement was especially impressive. “What is happening right now is not right, and it needs to be changed,” said sophomore Caitlyn Claussen. “It’s really empowering to see everybody coming together in my community and my neighborhood, and it just shows that we all care.”
Junior Nate Schmidt had a similar response, saying, “There are thousands, if not millions of Americans just like us that are going undiscovered, underappreciated and prosecuted for no good reason, and we’re here to stop that. I did not think there would be this many people here today, and to see not just my family, but us as a community think this way is great to see.”
Juniors Nate Schmidt and Raphael Ranola at the Des Plaines BLM protest.
This pride was also expressed by senior Andrew Zero, who said, “I think it’s incredible that our community is just so united and everyone wants to fight for this cause, no matter who they are. Women, children, men, families are coming by, and it’s just so incredible. I almost cried earlier, I was just so emotional. It’s an honor to know these people, especially people here at school. It’s an honor to be here.”
Senior Andrew Zero protesting at the Des Plaines BLM demonstration.
Looking back on June 5, I recall the energy, the solemnity and the unity displayed from all those present. It was an unforgettable event, one that captured both a pride in community and a fervent passion for the end of racism. As the BLM movement continues, I hope that our community will continue to show such passion and unity. While there is still much to achieve in breaking off the ugly parts of our history, the members of our community displayed a commitment to seeking positive change. Ultimately, it is this passion that will bring the change we so desperately need.