Movement work is a matter of life and death for many protesters and organizers in Chicago. This story is a part of our Black Summer 2020 project.

Jeremey “Mohawk” Johnson can’t get the Chicago Police Department (CPD) out of his mind. They’re the antagonists in his nightmares; vivid scenes of protesters bloodied by the wave of their batons and temporarily blinded by the fog of their pepper spray. 

With an electronic monitor fastened to his left ankle for the past 17 weeks, Johnson sometimes spends hours staring at the walls of his coach house, crying whenever he has a flashback to Aug. 15, the day of his arrest.

“I was on the ground and they hit me, and another protester had to pick me up and drag me away while they was hitting me,” Johnson told me during our phone interview on Nov. 19.

On the afternoon of Aug. 15, Johnson went downtown to participate in the Defund CPD & Abolish ICE protest. That evening, he disappeared, last seen in handcuffs being taken by police. His friends and fellow protesters searched tirelessly for him: they called various police precincts, called the jail, called the State’s Attorney’s Office, called anybody they could think of who may know his location and how to help free him. On Aug. 16, CPD shared his mugshot and home block address on social media.

Although the Chicago Community Bond Fund paid his bond on Aug. 17, Johnson’s release was delayed until the evening of Aug. 20 because officials said setting up his electronic monitoring device took time, according to his attorney.

Since he’s been under house arrest, he’s been worried about his fate as he faces eight counts of aggravated battery for allegedly striking a CPD officer with a skateboard at the protest. CPD released a heavily edited video of the scene, and labeled Johnson and the other arrestees as agitators. Johnson said he hasn’t seen any body-camera footage from that day. His next court date is scheduled for Dec. 29.

“I feel weak, like, I can’t do anything. I can’t be helpful. I can’t be there for people,” Johnson said. When I spoke to him, protest activity had died down a bit. But he still felt guilty that he couldn’t participate in movement actions in September and October.

Mohawk Johnson pictured inside his home in December 2020. Photo by Alexander Gouletas // The TRiiBE
Mohawk Johnson has been under house arrest since August 2020. Photo by Alexander Gouletas // The TRiiBE

I asked Johnson how many protests he attended during the Black Summer 2020 uprisings, and he said, “too many to count.” Although he’s not affiliated with any particular community organization, he’s been showing up to protests since the police murder of Rekia Boyd in 2012. 

“This is the first time that I’ve ever been arrested,” Johnson added. “It feels like they’re trying to make an example out of me because they want to scare other protesters. And, in an environment where they’re actively trying to scare you out of protesting, I would wager that a lot of protesters feel guilty for taking this rest.”

Movement work is a matter of life and death for many protesters and organizers in Chicago. For a lot of Black folks, organizing begins damn near at birth and continues throughout childhood — from the moment our mothers scream for the attention of doctors who ignore their labor pains in the delivery room, to the days when we’re old enough to demand that teachers pronounce our beautifully unique names correctly, to the years we’re forced to fight to keep the city from closing our schools.

On top of that, for Black children coming of age at the time of Trayvon Martin’s murder in 2012, there comes that life-altering moment when they’re forced to grapple with the inevitable responsibility of their Blackness. Their innocence lost each time we heard 17-year-old Martin cry out for help on the 911 calls. Their tears turned to rage seconds after the criminal justice system dismissed Martin’s Black life. That’s why the Black Lives Matter generation sees themselves in Trayvon Martin; similarly to Congressman John Lewis and others coming of age in the Civil Rights Movement, who saw themselves in the tortured body of 14-year-old Chicago native Emmett Till.

In Chicago specifically, Black liberation work dates back to at least John Jones, a former slave and abolitionist who used the wealth he amassed as a tailor in the mid-1800s to lead anti-discriminatory efforts and host runaway slaves at his home, which was a Chicago station on the Underground Railroad. Outside of Chicago, this multi-century Black liberation work runs deep — arguably through European colonialism, the transatlantic slave trade, Nat Turner’s revolt, abolitionism, Reconstructon, Jim Crow, the creation of NAACP, the Back-to-Africa movement, the Harlem Renaissance, the Black Freedom Movement and so on.

With each new uprising, a new generation of organizers is born, building on the strategies and lessons of the past to create a stronger Black movement.

But that doesn’t mean that the work gets easier over time. With each Black liberation movement, organizers and protesters put their bodies on the line in the fight. Sometimes they walk away with a couple of bumps and bruises. Other times they go home with long-lasting psychological and physical wounds. Then there are times when they don’t make it home at all since this work can also imprison or kill them.

Civil Rights Movement luminary Rep. John Lewis dedicated his life to the fight for freedom. As he lay dying in his hospital bed during the heart of the Black Summer 2020 uprisings, it was clear that the movement was still in him. In his last words, published in the New York Times, he penned:

“Though I may not be here with you, I urge you to answer the highest calling of your heart and stand up for what you truly believe. In my life I have done all I can to demonstrate that the way of peace, the way of love and nonviolence is the more excellent way. Now it is your turn to let freedom ring.”

After reading his final words, and realizing that he spent 65 years of his life — ages 15 through 80 — in the movement, it made me wonder: is it possible for Black people to get any rest while alive?

“I think personally, as an organizer and a person in movement right now, of trying to figure out how to create space for rest and it always feels like there’s an impending crisis, responsibility and things to show up for,” said Damon Williams, co-founder of the #LetUsBreathe Collective, an alliance of artists and activists organizing through a creative lens to imagine and build a world without prisons and police. The group formed in 2014 following the police murder of Mike Brown in Ferguson, Mo.

“It’s really hard to make time for [rest] in a world that tells us [we’re] unproductive unless we’re constantly working and grinding,” Williams said.

When I spoke to Williams back on Aug. 4, the notion of rest weighed heavily on his mind. He became politically activated during the 2014 Ferguson uprisings after studying the history of rebellions and revolutionary change in college. The street-style Ferguson rebellion reminded him of the South and West sides of Chicago, of Harvey, of Ford Heights.

That connection of street thought and radical revolutionary justice inspired Williams. And he’s been working nonstop ever since to liberate Black lives in Chicago, most notably in 2016 with Freedom Square, when the #LetUsBreathe Collective camped out for 41 days in a vacant lot across from the notorious Homan Square CPD black site, offering food, mental health resources and their vision for a police-free world.

Damon Williams pictured at a GoodKids MadCity press conference in July 2020. Photo by Alexander Gouletas // The TRiiBE

Fast forward to May 31, the first weekend of the Black Summer 2020 uprisings. Williams was slammed to the ground and repeatedly hit with batons during a movement action in Hyde Park. Similarly to Johnson, his friends couldn’t locate him or several other organizers  — Jennifer Pagan, Thoughtpoet and Malcolm London — who were out there with him — for hours after the mass arrest for disorderly conduct on 53rd and Lake Park. Williams spent part of the night in jail with a concussion and bruises to his head.

After his release from jail around 2 a.m. on June 1, Williams wrestled with the idea of resting to regenerate and repair his body. Crippling nausea, light sensitivity and a reduced appetite eclipsed his days. He also had to move from his home because CPD shared his mugshot and home block address on social media as well.

“Every morning, just trying to find my clothes would cause, like, a panic attack or a debilitating overexertion,” Williams said, recalling the physical and psychological effects the arrest had on him. “It has been very difficult and was emotionally taxing while also, at the same time, being hyper-stimulated and super excited and, like, called upon and energized, having all this adrenaline.”

His romantic partner, Jennifer Pagan, and friends asked him to “take it easy” in the weeks after his arrest. But how could he? For the first days of the Black Summer 2020 uprisings, there were nonstop movement actions: jail supports for other arrested organizers, press conferences, more justice for George Floyd protests, and defund CPD demonstrations; one of which 30,000 attended in Union Park. On July 17, Williams attended a Black and Indigenous solidarity rally in Grant Park, called Defund, CPD, Decolonize Zhigaagong. However, he left when the rally turned into a march to a nearby Christopher Columbus statue, because he figured protesters would try to take down the statue and that police would respond with violence. 

“So, you know, I would do the rally. [But] I’m not really doing any marching right now,” Williams told me on Aug. 4. “I intentionally leave things where I know there’ll be some type of standoff between cops — not only to protect myself, but also recognizing that there’s, like, a level of fear that’s been taken away from me that’s, like, kind of unhealthy. I feel like a kid that doesn’t care that the stove is hot anymore.”

Damon Williams’ speech at the Freedom Square anniversary rally on July 24. Condensed and edited by Morgan Elise Johnson with images by Darius Griffin // The TRiiBE

On July 24, at the Freedom Square anniversary rally to defund CPD, Williams didn’t seem like his usual self. He stayed to himself under a tent. After giving a powerful speech, he went back under the tent and barely engaged with anyone in attendance. When a march through North Lawndale ensued, he didn’t join.  

“It’s been a struggle to try to figure out how to rest and how to be in hiatus,” Williams said. “Because, you know, I am in it for the long haul. And I don’t think that there is an ultimate victory, right? Like, even if white supremacy as we know it were to be toppled, right? Like, there would still be work to do.”

Forced into this

Alderwoman Jeanette Taylor didn’t ask to do this work. She wouldn’t have run for office in 2019 had her predecessors done what they were supposed to do for the people of the 20th Ward, which includes most of the Woodlawn, Washington Park, Englewood and Back of the Yards neighborhoods.

Three of the 20th Ward’s last four aldermen have been indicted on criminal charges, including Willie Cochran, who served from 2007 to 2019. He was sentenced to a year in federal prison admitting to stealing $14,000 in charitable donations from the 20th Ward Activities Fund to pay for expensive dinners, his daughter’s college tuition, upgrades to his luxury car and a gambling habit, among other things. According to the Federal Bureau of Prison website, Cochran was released in June 2020, about two months shy of his full sentence. 

“I was forced to run,” Taylor told me on Nov. 19. “I’m sometimes the token Black girl, or the black sheep, when it comes to policies and decision-making because I make my decisions based upon what the constituents need and want — not based upon seeing who is going to fund my campaign and give me a check.”

Taylor has faced many challenges in her journey from community organizer to alderwoman. She had her first child at age 15. In the early 1990s, when Taylor was 19, her mother encouraged her to join the Local School Council (LSC) at her child’s school. 

“And believe you me, I didn’t want to do it. Because I saw the BS my mother had to go through,” she explained. She’d grown up watching her mother be undervalued and silenced as a Black woman working in Chicago Public Schools (CPS) while also serving on the PTA. “And so when I got on the LSC and PTA, I started to see that my mother had it hard.”

Throughout the early 2000s, while serving on the LSC at Mollison Elementary, where she also attended as a child, Taylor fought back each time CPS wanted to close the school.  She couldn’t understand how their school could be deemed “failing” when it had little support from the district and tenured teachers were being fired. She started to get involved in the school more and more, learning about LSC policies and attending training sessions held by Kenwood Oakland Community Organization (KOCO).

Ald. Jeanette Taylor pictured inside her South Side office in December 2020. Photo by Alexander Gouletas // The TRiiBE

“I thought it would be PTA and LSC meetings then I could go home at night and rest,” Taylor said. But as she dived deeper into the work, later joining KOCO and organizing around education inequality, she would wind up taking home the anxiety, frustrations and hardships of others in the community.

“I’m worried about the elder who, to her, $56 is her medicine or her meals for the month. I take that home to bed with me,” Taylor said.

Simultaneously, Taylor began to see her Bronzeville neighborhood, which is often referred to as the Low End, change beginning in 2007, after Chicago placed a bid for the 2016 Olympics. Her family lived on 45th and Calumet, and she witnessed outsiders coming into the community, buying up property while schools closed simultaneously.

When new landmarks such as the Harold Washington Cultural Center opened, Taylor said property taxes increased, and it became too expensive for her to live there with the money she brought home from her retail job. Her family moved to Woodlawn in 2010, but then word spread about plans to build The Obama Presidential Center in nearby Jackson Park. She worried her family would be displaced again.

“And I was, like,’No. No. No. I’m not moving again,’” Taylor said. “And I just got the will to stand up and fight. And the more I started to stand up in these meetings, the more people would come up to me after the meetings, like, ‘You right. You right.’”

When Taylor got into Black liberation work, she knew it would be tough but she didn’t know how taxing it would be on her body. In 2015, she led a hunger strike for the Dyett High School, where a group of parents and school activists went on a liquids-only diet for 34 days to protest the closing of the school and the overall destruction of neighborhood schools in Black and Brown neighborhoods.

Right after the hunger strike, Taylor had a stroke. She had just turned 40 years old, and was beginning to feel like this work wasn’t worth it anymore. When we spoke about this on Nov. 19, she reflected on how hard her mother fought for the future of Black and Brown children in CPS. Despite how hard she worked, Taylor said, her mother still couldn’t even afford health insurance when she died this fall.  

“That was kind of my wake up call, like, your body will let you know when you had enough,” Taylor said, referring to her stroke. She decided not to give up when she met a Black woman at an out-of-town conference, who cried and thanked Taylor for putting her life on the line during the hunger strike. 

“She was like, ‘They could have killed you. You being on a hunger strike, people have died,’” Taylor recalled their conversation at the conference. “When you in the movement, you don’t even realize that stuff.”

Generational trauma and radical activism, resilience and joy is what often forces us into Black liberation work. Similarly to Taylor, Black Lives Matter Chicago co-founder Aislinn Pulley’s parents brought her into this work. While her father was enlisted in the Army, he organized against the Vietnam War. He and his comrades held public meetings and mailed out newsletters to different bases. The Army brass eventually jailed them for this work, Pulley said, but the movement rallied and their charges were dropped. 

“There’s so many folks who are still incarcerated from the organizing that they did in the 1960s and 70s — mostly Black people, because white folks didn’t get incarcerated at the same rate,” Pulley said. “So that is always on my mind, especially when organizing, how the system will target Black organizers.”

As a young girl, Pulley would flip through the pages of her mother’s Black Power Movement picture book. With every photo of a Black child hosed down by police, she wondered, “How could they do that? Why would they do that?” Then, in sixth grade, she learned just how deeply racism is ingrained into the fabric of policing when she wrote her history fair project on the 1969 police assassination of Black Panther Chairman Fred Hampton and Deputy Mark Clark. 

“I was just amazed at the incredible injustice and brutality,” Pulley told me during our phone conversation on Nov. 20. “And so that sense of, like, confusion and injustice just remained with me.”

When asked what specific moment got her into Black liberation work, she went down the list of police murders: Oscar Grant in Oakland, Calif.; Troy Davis in Savannah, Ga; Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Fla.; Rekia Boyd in Chicago; Mike Brown in Ferguson, Mo.; and Chicago residents Dominique Franklin, Roshad McIntosh, Desean Pittman and Ronald “Ronnie Man” Johnson. 

It’s worth noting that Pulley recalled these names to me in the chronological years of their deaths. While each unarmed Black death tends to trend on our social media channels for a relatively short amount of time, for her, each name is forever etched into her memory. 

“It really did feel like there wasn’t another option, that I had to be a part of the movement,” Pulley said. “I had to be a part of the outrage and figure out how and why this was happening and continues to happen and how we can stop it.”

For Pulley, witnessing thousands of people take the streets of Chicago during the Black Summer 2020 uprisings felt like a culmination of decades of organizing against policing, police killings and police torture.

Aislinn Pulley pictured near the lake in December 2020. Photo by Alexander Gouletas // The TRiiBE

Over the last eight years, Pulley has cemented herself as an instrumental figure within Chicago’s organizing spaces. In 2012, following the police murder of Rekia Boyd, she helped lead regular demonstrations at Chicago Police Board (CPB) meetings. Back then, she remembers seeing only a handful of people at their movement actions. 

More people caught wave of the movement in Chicago in 2014 with the police murder of Laquan McDonald. By that time, Pulley had co-founded the Chicago chapter of Black Lives Matter, which made a nationwide rallying cry in cities across the country with the memorable tagline “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” in response to the police murder of Mike Brown in Ferguson. 

With each instance of state violence, Pulley said, organizers analyzed the impact of their movement actions to strategize ways to broaden the conversation for the next civil unrest. That includes adopting research-based messaging that connects state violence, over-policing in marginalized communities and economic disparities with the high rates of intra-communal violence that we see in cities like Chicago. This messaging is in direct contrast to the “bad apples” theory that government officials often use to drive narratives of police murders as isolated incidents or flashes of unique happenstance.

“The amount of violence that is normalized needs to become exposed,” Pulley explained. “There are so many stories that we all have. We just need to keep telling them, and then allow that to become the normative narrative of how policing actually functions, and deconstruct and destroy the mythology of policing that we see in movies and in TV shows — that they come and they save the day. That’s never true. Let’s tell the real story.”

For Pulley, connecting the dots looks like reparations for the survivors of the former CPD Detective and Commander Jon Burge’s torture ring. Her organizing led to the historic 2015 Reparations Ordinance for the survivors and their families, and also launched the Chicago Torture Justice Center, where she serves as executive director today.

Additionally, connecting the dots includes understanding the link between over-policing marginalized communities and poverty, underemployment, education and wealth inequalities, and gun violence. For instance, Chicago has the most police per capita in the country, led the country in the largest public school closing, closed half of its public mental health centers, and that almost 4,000 people were shot in the city through the end of November — a 58% increase year over year.

“All of these things are connected. So what is it that we know?” Pulley asks rhetorically. “Our people need resources. You look at any wealthy community. They have housing. They have schools. They have health care. They have jobs. That’s what we need to reduce inter-communal violence.”

In the midst of the Black Summer 2020 uprisings, Pulley lost two cousins — Jason Pulley, 39, and Solomon Pulley, 17 — to gun violence. 

“Most of us are compelled into this movement, into this work, because we either see ourselves or we see our loved ones in all the people who have been killed and people who have been unjustly incarcerated [or] tortured,” Pulley said. “We do this because we are forced to do this, because there is no other choice. So get the police to stop killing people, and there will be a whole lot more calm on the streets. Get CPD out of CPS. I mean, the answers are simple. Redistribute the resources, and we won’t have these uprisings.”


In real time, Williams said, organizers within the BLM movement are trying to be intentional about healing from the abuse, marginalization and erasure of women and femmes present in past movement spaces, and instead working to regenerate how gender and sexuality works within liberatory movements. Black women have been the backbone of the multi-century Black liberation movement; however, they’re often erased from the historical narrative — or silenced altogether. 

“What we have seen throughout cities across the country as this movement is growing is that cis-het [cisgendered and heterosexual] Black men carry a lot of emotional trauma,” Williams said. “It’s teaching us that, more than anything, our movement is a movement against gendered and sexual violence, intersected with racism and white supremacy.”

On Aug. 19, a Chicago organizer who goes by the name JuJu Bae shared on social media that she was sexually assaulted by fellow activist and rapper Malcolm London in 2018. “After 2 years of carrying this burden in my body, I’m choosing to share my truth publicly on my relationship to @MalcolmLondon in hopes to inspire serious reflection, intention + accountability to each other–in how we handle rape + sexual assault in our communities,” she wrote in her Twitter post.

She said that she met London in July 2018. At the time, they were affiliated with BYP 100. In August 2018, she said, the two met for drinks and, “in the same month, he raped me.” Their relationship continued in 2018 and in parts of 2019. In the Twitter post, she wrote that she wasn’t trying to make excuses for wanting to be loved and trying to pull that love out of someone who hurt her, but she wanted to lean into the power of telling her story.

I reached out to JuJu Bae for an interview to get her perspective on this topic of work and rest within movement spaces, but I didn’t receive a response.

“I was someone who chose (a word I use lightly and carefully) to remain in community with Malcolm knowing his history and public call-outs of rape, while hoping to be a positive influence in his life (another role that I witness many Black women inhabit). However, in doing that, I neglected to be truly in community with him,” she continued in her Twitter thread. “When we choose these relationships while we occupy spaces as activists, organizers, healers, abolitionists, or even just ‘good people,’ then we commit to a semblance of accountability to consistently challenge, question, support, and create safety (as much as we can) so that that person can move through their shit honestly.”

JuJu Bae’s story sparked much conversation among the movement community on social media. Mostly because this wasn’t the first time Black women within the movement called out London — or other figures in Black Chicago movement and cultural spaces, for that matter —  for sexual harm. Even Chance the Rapper made a post on Twitter about London: “Tw: Also I hope all of Malcolm London’s victims get their justice. At this point there are too many stories about dude, and the severity of each one is getting worse. I can’t vouch for him at all and hope all these stories get amplified.”

When people who come from underserved communities enter into movement spaces, they are forced to build the resources, policies and support systems that the government, school systems and community-at-large have failed to provide. As the current movement calls to defund the police, organizers are often tasked with reimagining what society can be. But on the journey to Black liberation there’s not always a quick and easy solution to preventing intracommunity violence and sexual violence like in the case of Juju Bae. 

“People come into this work unhealed and traumatized and are retriggered and then we absorb and redistribute that trauma amongst each other in ways that are really isolating, really discouraging,” Williams said.

In the case of Black liberation work specifically, patriarchy is pervasive and, when coupled with gender violence, is debilitating to the movement. For Williams personally, he said it breaks his heart to see survivors, or other women and femmes, do the labor of accountability for those who harmed them, or leave movement spaces altogether because they’re triggered each time they have to be in spaces with those who harmed them.

“Emotional abuse, in a way, makes it very difficult to gather, to make open collective space that is intended to be survivor-centered and restorative and transformative,” Williams explained. “A lot of abuse, and marginalization, and harassment and erasure of women and femmes in the 60s and 70s, in ways, [created] modern Black feminism, and we still live with that.”

As a Black trans woman living in Chicago, Zola Chatman has experienced the intersection of gendered violence, racism and white supremacy up close. On June 14, she delivered a dynamic speech in front of thousands of people at the Drag March for Change in Boystown.

Zola Chatman pictured inside her home in November 2020. Photo by Alexander Gouletas // The TRiiBE

“To those, I am a secret to be kept. To those, I am a liability until dealt with. To those, I am a mouth to close. To those, I am a loose end to tie up…I should not have to be here.”

– Chatman speaking at the Drag March for Change.

“Theoretically, Black people shouldn’t be within this country period,” Chatman said. She’s referring to the start of the U.S. slave trade in 1619. “But also, figuratively, I shouldn’t have to come and relive traumas and experiences to validate and advocate for my own existence,” she added. “At the end of the day, I am an activist — not because I really want to be — but because I have to, because I want to see not even the next generation of Black trans women, but the current generation of Black trans women be able to grow and develop and live and thrive and survive.”

Chatman entered this work at age 19. While existing as a Black trans artist, she liked going to the YMCA and being in community with other activists within Black Youth Project (BYP), but she often felt out of place.

Once, she was offered an opportunity to perform at a popular recurring drag show in what’s formerly known as Boystown (the neighborhood’s name changed to Northalsted in September). As written in her performance contract, Chatman would perform to “Cake” by Ciara and simultaneously eat cake on the stage. She never received any additional instruction or guidelines for the performance, she said. 

Later in the show, the host — a popular white drag queen — slipped and fell on the stage, injuring herself. Chatman said the host blamed the cake performance for the fall, and asked her not to come back to the event. Chatman remembers seeing social media posts from the injured host, telling other promoters in Boystown not to book her.

“Everybody in this show, who is predominately queer and people of color, are performing for free, for tips, and on an application basis,” Chatman said. She did not receive pay that night, only tips. “So there are many barriers in terms of, like, gatekeeping but also underpaying these individuals who are one: young, two: mostly Black and Brown, and three: inexperienced. If I could sum it up, [it’s] taking advantage of individuals who have no other choice.”

This act highlighted a larger trend of anti-Blackness in queer and trans spaces. She said the show was sustained off of free labor, as there were typically 10 to 15 performers each time. Only the headliners and hosts received pay, she said.

“Whiteness in America, that system thrives on Black people — Black women, the identities of Black women and Black trans women as well — being oppressed and marginalized to the point where they are considered worthless, for a lack of better words,” Chatman explained.

The more Chatman spoke out about her challenges, she was asked to speak on panels, host fundraisers and to share her experience as a Black trans person in white and sometimes violent spaces.

“Although there may be white allies who voiced a desire to make those changes, or voiced a desire to create spaces for those things to be overthrown or revolutionized, no white person wants to give us their power in a way that completely lets that system be flipped on its head,” she said.

Zola Chatman’s speech at the Drag March for Change on June 14 in its entirety. Edited by Morgan Elise Johnson with images by Darius Griffin // The TRiiBE.


Although each of the organizers I spoke with witnessed some great movement wins during the Black Summer 2020 uprisings, they believe there’s still more Black liberation work to be done. For Pulley, one of those wins was seeing the demand to defund CPD become so mainstream.

“It was extremely instructive on how important it is for our demands and our analysis to be very concise and palatable, meaning deliverable very efficiently,” she said.

But there were some fractures, too, that she learned from. “When the analysis didn’t necessarily meet the demand in a mainstream way, how co-option begins, how usurping begins, it was very important to watch as that began to happen simultaneously so that we can sharpen our analysis and sharpen our demands.”

At one point during the summer, Pulley said, some of the Jon Burge torture survivors were upset that their stories weren’t being included in the demand to defund CPD. Movement organizers wove in youth organizers’ demands to take CPD out of CPS, but there wasn’t an immediate link between policing and the overall carceral system.

“Policing doesn’t exist isolated from the rest of the system, right? It’s one link in the long chain of carcerality,” Pulley explained. “I think we’re going to be looking at the summer of 2020 for a while, and really analyzing and learning the lessons because there’s a lot to cultivate in terms of knowledge.”

Johnson also saw a need for more digestible conversation around this notion of abolition. He comes from a family of police officers. His grandfather, who left CPD a couple of years before Johnson was born, would share stories about how white officers would call him nigger. Some of the other elders in Johnson’s family, who remember the days of segregation and Jim Crow, would also share stories about the white people in Bridgeport who would jump groups of Black people, and the officers who would intentionally drop Black people off in the neighborhood for a beating.

Despite these stories, including Johnson’s own encounter with police on Aug. 15, he said some of the officers in his family still think the solution is getting rid of the bad apples. Unfortunately, he said, these family members are not at the point in their criticism where they can see the violent intersection of policing and systemic racism. 

“They’re not at abolition, but they’re not happy with the force. It’s, like, you can’t be Black and work for the force and pretend that what you see them doing to people is OK,” Johnson said. “I just wish the conversation would go to, ‘Aye. Maybe I shouldn’t work somewhere with people who would shoot me if I didn’t have this uniform on.’”

For Taylor, the biggest win of the post-2014 Black Lives Matter movement in Chicago was the conviction of former CPD officer Jason Van Dyke, who murdered Laquan McDonald in 2014. After years of organizing and protests, a jury found Van Dyke guilty of second-degree murder and 16 counts of aggravated battery with a firearm in October 2018; one count for each of the times he shot McDonald. He was sentenced to 6.75 years in prison — the first Chicago police officer in 50 years to be found guilty of murder for an on-duty shooting. 

“These other victories, they’re just steps in the right way. But we ain’t free til we all free,” Taylor said. “We got years of work to be done.”

One area that needs work is connecting the dots between voting and how it impacts us on the federal, local, communal and individual levels. During the 2019 Chicago municipal elections, older folks criticized millennials for a low voter turnout. However, on the contrary, a lot of seats were flipped thanks to what TRiiBE contributor Charles Preston calls the “McDonald effect.”

But “the McDonald Effect” is bigger than movement individuals winning office and gaining greater proximity to the mayor’s office. It’s about a people’s commitment to building power and shifting the current political climate to reflect the interests of the protest movement.

“OPINION | In defense of Chicago’s millennial voters: a response to columnist Mary Mitchell” by Charles Preston

It was young activists who organized, protested and rallied around the need for more mental health clinics, an elected school board and defunding the police. These young organizers regularly attended Chicago Police Department Board hearings, confronting Chair Lori Lightfoot and former CPD Supt. Garry McCarthy when it seemed a police officer was getting off scot-free for taking yet another Black life. 

As Charles Preston put it, these movement demands weren’t present in the mouths of politicians. Yet, Lightfoot co-opted this language to ultimately win her mayoral seat, with mainstream media outlets labeling her campaign “progressive.”

The Black Summer 2020 uprisings made Chicago politicians nervous. Williams said the spontaneous attacks on the Magnificent Mile’s high-end shopping district that followed high-profile police shootings of Black people were a “brilliant” thing, politically.

“That’s never what happens. There is a very, I think, politically astute attack on commerce and capital because there’s a recognition that the violence we experience from police and other systems is connected to this form of commerce,” Williams explained. “So once the news shows people breaking into shit, or the fact that people want Gucci or people want TVs and stuff, because that’s the type of materialistic society we live in, it is used as a way to divert the conversation from the structural critique of power.”

 Although the uprisings made Chicago politicians uncomfortable, Taylor said they still didn’t learn their lesson. In November, the Chicago City Council voted to approve a $12.8 billion budget, which included $1.9 billion for CPD (with a cut of $58.9 million) and a property tax increase. 

“That’s what organizers need to be working on — fundraising, and getting some viable candidates that we can trust and we can hold accountable and who answer to the community,” Taylor said. “We need to be talking about who will run the city. We need to talk about who are those bad elected officials that we need to replace. The work never stops, but it’s worth it.”

This brings us back to the central question at hand: when will Black people get a chance to rest?

“I think rest for us means the day when Black people can love each other… without having to think, ‘I’m gonna lose this person to an officer one day,’” Johnson said. 

His idea of rest includes abolishing police and creating more drug rehabilitation centers, free mental health care for therapy for those grieving the deaths of loved ones, and shelters for houseless people to have a place to eat and sleep.

“I would say creating space for my happiness, creating space for my joy without feeling guilty,” Chatman said.

It’s clear that Black people have had a fatally depleting relationship to work. With being dehumanized and overworked from chattel slavery to Jim Crow, and being routinely exploited through industrialism and capitalism, there’s never been a moment since the colonization of America that Black people haven’t had to fight tooth and nail to survive. 

“I refuse to keep up the cycle of Black people working tirelessly within this country to correct the fuck ups of white people.” Chatman said. “And I feel like it is a disservice to not only myself but my ancestors and all of my family to not create rest for my Black soul and my Black life.”

is the editor-in-chief of The TRiiBE.