“Who keeps us safe? We keep us safe.” 

This chant captures the spirit of the ongoing movement actions more than any other chant that I’ve heard since the Black Summer 2020 uprisings. It captures the energy and intentions of the teams of organizers and marshals that work together to ensure that all demonstrators are safe. It also speaks directly to why folks feel the need to organize in the first place: to protect their communities from the threat police pose to their safety. 

Friday’s protest in Logan Square to demand justice for 13-year-old Adam Toledo — who was murdered by Chicago Police Department (CPD) Officer Eric Stillman on March 29 — was a microcosm of the reality that police don’t do much to keep protestors safe and, in fact, end up doing the exact opposite: endangering them.

From the time thousands of demonstrators gathered at the foot of the Illinois Centennial Monument (a.k.a the Eagle statue) in Logan Square Park for the opening rally at 5:30 p.m., up until the protest dispersed from the same spot around 10:00 p.m. after marching through the neighborhood, there wasn’t a single violent interaction involving protesters. 

It wasn’t until demonstrators were exiting the park on their respective paths home that an altercation began between at least one man and a CPD officer that any physical conflict between protesters and police began. I overheard a maskless office mutter sarcastically, “Such peaceful people. I love it,” while walking back toward his police cruiser in the heat of the clash.  

I couldn’t grasp how the rally and march I’d witnessed that evening could be considered anything but peaceful up until that point, especially considering the circumstances, in which Toledo’s family led a march demanding for folks to be held accountable for his murder.


By the time I arrived at Logan Square Park for the rally, the crowd had already reached numbers I haven’t seen since the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend in 2020, when thousands descended upon Daley Plaza in protest following the murder of George Floyd. The organizers giving speeches and instructions before the march were inaudible to most of the crowd. They were being drowned out by the sound of at least three helicopters hovering overhead — one of them was a news chopper while the others appeared to be CPD. Once the march began around 7:00 p.m., CPD helicopters were still hovering over the action. 

Helicopter surveillance isn’t new for protests of this magnitude, but on Friday they felt particularly egregious, as they impeded on moments of silence held in recognition of Toledo’s life and the lives of others killed by police. And I’m not the only one taking notice.

“We’re wasting so much money on helicopters, and on hundreds of police just for today,” said 35-year-old Cynthia Brito. Brito is a mentor with Revolutionary Oak Park Youth Action League (ROYAL) and was on the frontline of Friday’s march. 

“If any of those resources were given to Adam Toledo instead of to the cops, he would’ve been supported. He would still be alive today,” Brito explained. “We give so much money to the cops when it could be going to schools, mental health resources, for healthy food, for extra-curricular programs. It’s ridiculous.”  

The march headed down Milwaukee. It was led by members of Toledo’s family holding up a banner with his picture on it. They were followed by organizers from groups including Little Village Community Council, GoodKids MadCity, Brown Berets and more. The crowd was full of people performing traditional Indigenous dances, dragging boomboxes blasting Chicago rapper Lil Durk, playing instruments and shouting “Fuck 12.”

The organizers giving speeches and instructions before the march were inaudible to most of the crowd. They were being drowned out by the sound of at least three helicopters hovering overhead. Photo by Darius Griffin // The TRiiBE
People performing traditional Indigenous dances. Photo by Darius Griffin // The TRiiBE

Enrique Enriquez is one of the members of Little Village Community Council who was most vocal in Friday’s march and knows Toledo’s family personally. 

“He was a little boy who loved cars. They got pictures of him from days ago playing with little hot wheels cars,” Enriquez said. “Personally, if I was one of these officers, I would’ve resigned from the force after seeing that video and knowing they straight up lied. I know these cops have kids. At least some of them should be on our side.”

The “our side” that Enriquez referred to is a particularly dangerous one to be on when the opposing side is a police force with a history of disappearing, doxing and beating protesters.

According to CPD, the mission of police officers at these actions is to protect the protesters’ First Amendment rights and ensure the safety of the demonstrators, as well as protect the surrounding neighborhood. To the protesters, however, the police’s motive — beyond intimidation — is unclear.

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

Volunteer protest marshals are successful at blocking off traffic to keep the march going without having a pistol on their hip the way CPD bike cops do. Besides adding tension, there was no noticeable impact to having police present at this action until tensions boiled over at the end.

After about two hours of walking through Logan Square, we end up back at the Eagle statue and organizers with Chicago Freedom School begin to lead an organized dispersal in groups of at least two in order to keep everyone safe from the possibility of being harassed or apprehended by police. But in the middle of dispersal, Enriquez said he saw a man who wasn’t involved with the protest get into an altercation with police.

“This old white guy was passing by and they [the police] were fucking with him. That shit was a setup,” Enriquez said. At the time, some people were shouting, “It’s a setup,” to the horde of demonstrators that descended upon the altercation when police grabbed the man to arrest him. It is unclear what exactly sparked this arrest, but it was this altercation that led to the videos of police and protesters clashing that have circulated on social media.

“The whole protest went peacefully and they [the police] had to rile people up at the end,” Enriquez added.

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

As folks poured in to protect each other from being arrested, police in riot gear showed up, and at least two people were dragged into police cruisers. 

By the time the initial clash settled down, there were more cops outside than protesters, and the crowd that had shrunk down to under 100 people as people continued to disperse, was on edge, surrounded by CPD officers in riot gear. 

What does it say about CPD that the moment the group of organizers and demonstrators — who had spent all night successfully keeping each other safe— decided to go their separate ways, riot police descended, batons were swung at protesters, and folks were arrested? 

Perhaps Friday was simply confirmation that the chant rings true: “Who keeps us safe? We keep us safe.”

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