At a vigil for Black lives on Aug. 26, organizers requested that the news crews standing front and center move out of the way. “Mainstream media, this isn’t your show,” said Jae Rice of the Brave Space Alliance. “You don’t have to leave, but moving a few feet back seems to be the most respectful thing to do right now.” 

This echoed sentiments shared by Jalen Kobayashi, an organizer with GoodKids MadCity, just a few days before at the #BreakThePiggyBank protest.

“At large, you have done an absolutely abysmal, appalling job at covering what’s going on in this city,” Kobayashi said, airing out his grievances into cameras and microphones from WGN 9, CBS 2, ABC 7 and Univision. 

While Kobayashi’s speech is available online, that part didn’t make the nightly newscast for any of these channels. “I see too much coverage of looting and gun violence. You are not showcasing that we are having revolutionary joy,” he continued.

On Aug. 26, two separate demonstrations occurred as part of the movement to protect Black lives and defund the police. The first was a #CopsOutCps rally outside of Chicago Public Schools (CPS) headquarters downtown during the hearing to decide the fate of the School Resource Officer (SRO) program in CPS. 

The other was a candlelight vigil in Union Park to commemorate the casualties of the fight for Black lives, including those murdered at the hands of police including Jacob Blake, who was shot in the back seven times by officers in Kenosha, Wisc. The events of these demonstrations emphasized the value of what Kobayashi called, “revolutionary joy,” as well as the distrust organizers have for media outlets in their ability to accurately portray their actions to their audiences.

Photo by Alexander Gouletas // The TRiiBE
Photo by Alexander Gouletas // The TRiiBE

Around 10:30 a.m. on Aug. 26, demonstrators gathered outside of CPS headquarters 42 W. Madison Street, at the same time the Chicago Board of Education, some aldermen, CPS parents and teachers met via Zoom for a board meeting whose agenda included renewing an amended Chicago Police Department (CPD) contract for the SRO program and an accompanying resolution. 

The new CPD contract cut the SRO program budget to $12.1 million for the 2020-21 school year, and detailed increased scrutiny in SRO selection, including principals having the option to interview and select from officers deemed eligible by CPD’s Chief of Bureau Operations, and have undergone extensive training for interacting with students from marginalized communities. 

Meanwhile, a resolution was passed to require that CPS CEO Dr. Janice K. Jackson and district leaders develop an alternative plan to ensure safe school environments.

More than 100 demonstrators flooded the street outside of the CPS building facing the main entrance in a scattered semi-circle holding maroon signs that read, “#PoliceFreeSchools NOW.” 

The centerpiece of the crowd was a DJ booth with two large banners on the ground in front. One read “We came to learn,” the other directly beneath it has the heading “We do this for…” with the names of victims of racist violence written in different colored markers. 

Surrounding demonstrators were multiple camera crews, from WGN, ABC 7 Chicago and FOX 32 Chicago, to name a few. Snacks, water, masks and other essentials were being lined up against the elevated bus stop as DJ illest had already started hyping the crowd with his set, playing songs from artists like Chief Keef, DJ Nate, Tha Pope, Chance the Rapper and more.

Photo by Alexander Gouletas // The TRiiBE

At first glance, my first thought was that the scene mirrored a block party as much as it did a protest. Then, Jennifer Nava of Brighton Park Neighborhood Council (BPNC) began with an opening statement.

“We have shared our stories, shown the stats, we have marched, rallied, gotten arrested, we’ve even shown up to some of your houses,” she said. “You have deliberately chosen to ignore us, deny our truth, our experiences and our pain.” 

As Nava gives an impassioned speech about the struggles of fighting for the safety of Black and Brown students, she asserted the importance of revolutionary joy. 

“Celebrating ourselves is a part of protest,” she added. “Part of revolution is joy!” 

That sentence set the tone for the rest of the action. That tone is a reminder that perhaps a protest that centers around dance and music can be as potent an act of revolution as one that ends in police arresting demonstrators and issuing a curfew. Perhaps even more so.

After the opening statement was given, people occupied the street: footworking, juking, bobbing, cupid shuffling and el caballo dorado. Throughout the demonstration, the occasional mic check gives organizers an opportunity to lead chants, and announce the next stage in the program.

Photo by Alexander Gouletas // The TRiiBE

By the time protesters break for pizza around an hour or so in, the local news cameras have vanished — except for a lone cameraman from ABC 7 Chicago — which is conveniently about a five-minute walk from the site of the demonstration. Besides independent photographers, I am the only reporter left to tell whatever is left of the story of this action— an action with minimal police presence and no confrontation. 

However, at #BreakThePiggyBank, and other more tense demonstrations, cameras and reporters are there from beginning to end, documenting potential police confrontations as closely as they can bring themselves to the action.

When uprisings began Memorial Day weekend, I recall being one of a few reporters in between police and protesters recording the demonstration on Wabash bridge, but being the only one out of many reporters standing outside the broken windows of Nike Chicago who wasn’t recording people leaving the scene with merchandise. 

In covering protests, reporting from many outlets has been deemed untrustworthy to organizers, because their coverage falls short of capturing the totality of the demonstration at best, and actively presents them as nefarious actors at worst. 

For about four hours straight, the same formula of music, dancing, chanting, and testimony was followed. Around three in the afternoon, the music on the loudspeakers was replaced by the voice of Board of Education Vice President, Sendhil Revuluri, who is discussing the board’s plan to apply “major reforms” to the SRO program, but not to completely remove it. By the time the vote begins, the DJ is gone, and the less than 50 demonstrators still outside 42 W. Madison, are huddled up listening in.

Photo by Alexander Gouletas // The TRiiBE
Photo by Alexander Gouletas // The TRiiBE

In a 4-2-1 decision, the new SRO program — with a reduced budget from $33 million to $12 million — is upheld for another year. A separate 4-2-1 vote also adapts the resolution with the added caveat that CPS should begin to research ways to effectively replace SROs in order to phase them out over time. 

While the budget cut is welcome news, there is a clear sense of disappointment mixed with a general feeling of preparedness for this outcome. Even after more than six hours of protesting and waiting for this unsatisfying verdict, the joy hasn’t been drained from the demonstrators, though, and speeches and chants start back up after the vote is over. Around 5:00 p.m., I leave the scene to get some rest, before heading out to an evening action.

When I arrive at Union Park around 8:00 p.m., a crowd of more than 200 is gathered around a baseball diamond. Candles are lit beneath the bench just outside the diamond and a cardboard sign leans against them with the message, “We stand with Kenosha.” 

Photo by Darius Griffin // The TRiiBE
Photo by Darius Griffin // The TRiiBE

As I walk closer to the diamond, the pulpit for the evening, I notice news vans packing up their equipment and heading out after being told by organizers to back out of the middle of the gathering. Jae Rice, who identifies as they/them, is from Evanston, and has ties to Jacob Blake dating back to high school. They emphasized Blake’s character from knowing him personally. “Back in high school he was definitely a jokester,” they reminisced. 

The background of the vigil begins to grate on the severity of the occasion. Across the field, recreational baseball games are being played, and music is blaring out of speakers from another part of the park. It is difficult not to notice that every face playing on the field is white.

Regardless, the program carries on with speeches from activists from BYP 100, BLM Chi, and more, and performances from Black artists. One of the last performers is Kwirabura Intwari of the band Dcolonization, who begins with a song called “Hate,” detailing the anger and exhaustion brought on by the constant fight for Black lives. He follows it with another song called “Dreams,” that he opens by saying “I don’t have anything else radical right now, so I’ll do a love song because you are all lovely people.”

Protestor playing guitar at gathering
Photo by Darius Griffin // The TRiiBE
Photo by Darius Griffin // The TRiiBE

The air is much heavier than what I witnessed outside of CPS, but the fight is no different. 

“Some of the cops that were involved in Jake’s shooting, or attempted lynching, were resource officers in schools,” Rice said. “I need someone to give [Mayor] Lori Lightfoot the message that her well wishes for justice in regards to the Jacob Blake shooting doesn’t mean shit when her unelected school board just voted to keep their [$12 million] contract with CPD.”

As the evening ends and the crowd dissolves, the candles remain lit for the victims of police violence that we were there to commemorate. I notice that the news cameras are long gone, and I can’t help but recall Rice’s request for them to back up, and Kobayashi’s disdain for their trends in coverage. 

Perhaps, if they’d been more willing to stay out in the morning to cover the revolutionary displays of joy expressed outside of CPS, they’d be more welcome during displays of revolutionary vulnerability.

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