Activists Have Turned Notorious Homan Square Into A 'Block Party Occupation'

By Stephen Gossett in News on Jul 27, 2016 3:34PM

Dozens of activists have set up camp across the street from controversial Homan Square police facility for the last six days to protest the facility's role as a potential "black site." On Tuesday, they emphasized community-building and social engagement while continuing to call attention to a host of grievances.

The demonstration, dubbed Freedom Square, cites its present focus as “building community, protesting the Blue Lives Matter ordinance, and defunding the Homan Square detention center,” according to group literature. The protest, catalyzed by the Let Us Breathe Collective and Black Youth Project 100, has also called for divestment from police and legislative systems that are violent towards Black communities.”

Homan Square, in North Lawndale, has been alleged a black site where detainees are kept from family or legal representation.

At the camp on Tuesday afternoon, the mood was casual and positive despite the loftiness and gravity of the issues at hand. Several dozen people were on hand to offer free books, food, snow cones, and join in discussion circles about political and social issues.

Michelle Nance, a self-described “personal activist” with little experience with formal protest, provided arts-and-crafts materials for children.

“I’m not a part of a specific organization, but I’m here to offer support as a community member, she told Chicagoist. “This has been a really positive space, a lot of important movement and gathering—a lot of support and communication here.”

A few feet away, Tita Thomas, a local artist with ties to the Let Us Breathe Collective and For the People Artists Collective, led a banner-making activity with children. “We want to make art accessible to communities who otherwise have limited access; and bring a community-driven, collaborative project to the space.”

“The art should be engaging for the participants but also bring love to the area,” she added.

Others also emphasized community and foundation-building while criticizing the “black site” that looms across the intersection, at Homan Avenue. and Fillmore Street.

"We’re here feeding kids, occupying their time, providing support. Now, when it comes time to voice our opinion and agenda—namely cutting all spending for Homan Square—we have a greater chance,” Dontey Carter, a St. Louis native who previously volunteered with the Lost Voices in Ferguson, MO, told Chicagoist. “This building stands in the community, and it affects the community. It treats individuals—mostly minorities—like animals.”

“We don’t have all the tools. We don’t have all the answers. But five days ago was a great damn time to start,” he added.

Nance said her objections stem from a combination of several problems, but she mentioned the Blue Lives Matter ordinance in particular. “But we also have to focus on ending police brutality and ending the police as a state itself. There are powers that really don’t have any interest in what holds communities together,” she said.

A performance by Free Street Theater titled 100 Hauntings takes place at Freedom Square on Wednesday at 7 p.m. A town hall meeting is planned for Thursday evening at 6 p.m. Lawndale residents and organizers are invited to attend the meeting and contribute to the vision of the action.