Justin Harper* spent his 4th of July at an outdoor gathering on the West Side this year. I met him at Mandrake Park near his family’s home in the Oakland neighborhood. According to 19-year-old Harper, it was a relaxed scene on the 4th before he and his friends noticed a scuffle that began to escalate. Someone announced that one of the men involved in the commotion had a gun, triggering everyone in the area to take off running. 

“That’s when the cops hopped out and started chasing everybody. They were even pepper spraying people,” Harper says. “They ended up grabbing my homie and throwing him to the ground. One of the cops had his knee in his back while he was on the concrete.”

Harper says his friend was kept in jail through the weekend, and his family was on their way to get him out as we spoke. His friend being kept in custody was part of a police strategy to curb violence through the July 4th weekend, which typically sees a surge in violent crimes. Chicago Police Department (CPD) Supt. David Brown announced the strategy to deploy an additional 1,200 officers and keep offenders in jail through the weekend during a press conference on June 29. 

The target of the effort, according to Brown, were “drug corners,” where he says “the violence is centered around because it’s so profitable.” 

Eighty-seven people were shot, 17 of whom died from Thursday evening through Sunday night, an increase of 28% in total number of victims and over 3 times as many killed versus last year’s July 4th weekend numbers.

According to Harper, he and his friends’ only crime that day was running from the danger of a potential shooting. “We’re trying not to get shot and [the police] chasing us like we did something.”

Young Black adults like Harper and his friend stand at a unique intersection between police violence and interpersonal violent crime, in which they are the most common victims of both occurrences. According to research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in 2019, the risk of being killed by police use of force peaks between ages 20 and 35. The research also found that “police use of force is among the leading causes of death among young men of color.” 

On the other hand, a Chicago Sun-Times database shows that nearly 60% of the homicides committed in the city this year victimized people under the age of 30; 68% of those victims were Black.

Damayanti Wallace, a rising sophomore at New York University, says that most of her peers — especially the young men she knows — have experienced police harassment. “[Harassment] has not happened to me personally but it’s something that I’ve heard about quite frequently from close friends,” she says. 

Wallace is one of the co-founders of the youth activism organization GoodKids MadCity (GKMC). “[The police] randomly stop young people when doing things as simple as going to school,” she said. 

Recently, GKMC has been focusing much of their efforts toward police abolition, but they have also done extensive work toward the reduction of gun violence. The group has also organized marches on the South and West sides against gun violence and provides programming such as workshops, panel discussions and entertainment with the goal of giving teens an opportunity to educate themselves and occupy their time.


“One of the solutions that we could start putting into place immediately, is defunding police and reallocating those resources toward education,” Wallace says. “Too many people I know have had to attend schools without basic resources like up-to-date text books, technology and counselors. But they had police officers.” 

The June vote by the Chicago Public School (CPS) board that resulted in the upholding of their current contract with CPD, is an offense that Wallace — a Chicago High School for the Arts  alum — finds particularly disturbing. She feels that having officers in schools only gives Black students direct engagement with the school-to-prison pipeline. [Editor’s Note: Since the June CPS Board vote, each school’s Local School Council (LSC) has been voting on whether to keep police in their school].

“Many of the people who end up in office have little connection to our daily experiences,” Wallace said. Mayor Lori Lightfoot, for example, was raised in a predominantly white neighborhood in Ohio, and attended predominantly white schools all the way through her education.

“We, the people, are telling them what works, but they just aren’t listening. [GoodKids MadCity has] polled people on this, and the results from our communities say that people don’t feel like police make them safer,” Wallace said.

To say that the police don’t make young Black adults feel safe might be an understatement. In many cases, such as one of the young men I met while out with Harper on July 6, the feeling is fear. One of his friends who was with him at Mandrake Park that day had something to say about the increased police presence in the area around the park. Throughout the holiday weekend, he saw police cruisers lining Cottage Grove and patrolling the park. 

However, he asked for me to redact much of his statements and not use his name in this story. His reasoning: “All it takes is one of them to see my name and say ‘he one of the ones that be out here’ and now they after me.”

Illustration by Robin Carnilius // The TRiiBE

His sentiment was not unusual. Throughout that evening of July 6 while reporting on the street, I traveled from South Shore to Bronzeville and stopped to talk to seven individuals between the ages of 18 and 26, as well as two separate groups of at least five young adults hanging out. 

While many declined to talk, a few who did speak had first-hand accounts of police harassment, and every single one who talked to me had a story of themselves or someone close to them being a victim of gun violence. In the end, most declined to be quoted in any way for a story, even when offered anonymity. Harper was the only person willing to have his words published. 

At a press conference on July 6, Supt. Brown suggested that keeping violent offenders in jail longer would achieve the decrease in violent crimes, or that we should “revamp the electronic monitoring program.”

“What we’re seeing from Mayor Lightfoot and Supt. Brown is the definition of insanity,” says 18-year-old artist and organizer Kaleb Autman. “The response of throwing more cops at the problem; we’ve seen [former Mayor Richard] Daley do it, and [former Mayor Rahm Emanuel] do it. It didn’t work then.” 

Autman believes that the solution to Chicago’s violent crime wave lies within an abolitionist framework rather than increased police presence. 

“I have cousins who have been on both sides of the situation as victims and perpetrators of gun crime,” he says. “I know too many people who have lost loved ones to violence, but I don’t know any who look to the police to protect them from it.”  

Autman says that he has had to help cooking for repasts for far too many young Black people.

“Abolitionists are not the type of people who believe all harm will disappear from the world when police are gone,” he says. “The fear that people have is that the world will descend into chaos without police is really just a desire for first responders. What people actually mean to say is ‘who will respond to these calls if not [the] police.'”

“Everybody experiences that kind of violence in Chicago, unfortunately,” Autman says. “I don’t feel safe around other young Black men at times, especially because I am not the most masculine-presenting guy.” 

Autman believes that the gun violence experienced in Chicago is not due to any one issue, but rather a series of intersecting issues that affects more than just the Black men killed by guns. 

“Patriarchy is what makes men believe that they need to have some ‘ownership’ over certain blocks,” he says. “It’s patriarchy that makes men feel like they need a gun to feel safe in their own bodies. Policing is an insufficient solution because it only ever addresses the problem after the harm is done and their only solution is punishment.”

Those concerns of police protection not being adequate were perhaps most recently exemplified by the mass shooting that occured on July 21 after a funeral service at Rhodes Funeral Services in Auburn Gresham. The police were tipped off about a potential retaliatory attack and were stationed nearby for safety. Fifteen people were wounded in the drive-by shooting, despite two police cars and a full tactical team monitoring the funeral.

Autman believes it’s possible to prevent these crimes from ever happening through restorative initiatives. 

“Part of this work is holding the men and boys who commit violence accountable in order to reduce intercommunal violence,” he says. “That may mean having a violence intervention program where we teach Black men about the harms of misogyny and patriarchy. It can mean providing mental health services to young Black adults who have been on either end of gun violence.”

Justin and his friends, Wallace, and Autman are all young Black adults who are in a constant fight for their survival — a fight in which their biggest opponents are most often the people sworn to protect them from the violence that they’ve seen too many of their peers fall victim to. 

*The Triibe used the pseudonym Justin Harper to protect the identity of one of the sources quoted in the story, at his request.

is a staff writer with The TRiiBE. Email him with news tips.