Throngs of protesters descended Thursday on the Magnificent Mile, the city’s busiest shopping district, in hopes of barring last-minute shoppers and disrupting commerce for local retailers to call attention to the 2014 fatal shooting of Laquan McDonald by a police officer.
“Black Christmas” organizers hoped to replicate a demonstration held on Black Friday, when protests cost retailers 25 percent to 50 percent of their expected sales on what is normally the busiest shopping day of the year.
Thursday’s protest, attended by around 100 people, was smaller and appeared to have less of an impact on sales, but it drew a diverse crowd of participants.
“When one part of Chicago is affected, all of Chicago is affected,” said protester Alex Thiedmann. “If I remain silent, I become an oppressor.”
Adam Gottlieb, 26, of Chicago, came downtown with his parents and sister to join the protests.
“I think it’s an appropriate way to celebrate Christmas, which after all is about world peace, and there’s not only war all over the world, but there’s war going on in our city on the South and West sides,” Gottleib said.
Sidewalks remained busy with last-minute Christmas shoppers, and protesters blocked only a handful of store entrances — including Apple, H&M, Uniqlo, Columbia Sportswear and the Water Tower Place mall — and only for a few minutes a time. Desperate shoppers simply waited it out, or if they were determined to ignore the protesters, were in most cases allowed to enter the shops without a struggle, sometimes with police assistance.
Security officers who stood nervously near store entrances, ready to lock doors as protesters passed, were not called into action. In many cases the largest inconvenience to shoppers appeared to come from bicycle-mounted police who whizzed along the sidewalk with their bicycle sirens blaring as they attempted to stay ahead of the protesters.
Inevitably, isolated flare-ups did occur as shoppers’ tempers frayed in the last-minute rush. During a brief struggle outside H&M, police, protesters and media found themselves caught in a scrum of shoving that resolved itself without injury or arrest.
In at least two instances, however, young men were arrested. A 19-year-old was charged with failure to obey police and disorderly conduct after an incident at Michigan and Erie Street about 1:30 p.m., and a 22-year-old man was charged with battery and failure to obey police after an incident at the same intersection about 3:30 p.m., said Officer Nicole Trainor, a police spokeswoman.
In another incident, 16-year-old activist Lamon Reccord led a group barring a man from going inside Columbia. When a store security guard tried to help the man inside, he too found himself without a way back in until a swarm of bike police broke up the line of protesters locking arms.
“They were kind of mad, but it’s not our fault, it’s Rahm’s fault,” Dontreal Widow, 20, of the Hyde Park neighborhood, said about shoppers. “Some of them understand where we’re coming from, but we want all of them to understand where we’re coming from.”
Tom Stine, 59, of the Streeterville neighborhood, had to hop out of the way to dodge one officer after he bought a gift at Brooks Brothers, but said “It’s no stress — the police and the protesters are very well-behaved, considering that this is a protest about the police.”
And at the Apple store, Emily Grossman, 36, of Chicago’s North Center area, found herself exasperated as she was temporarily prevented by police and protesters from collecting her repaired iPhone.
“I hate to put myself first, but this is (expletive)!” she said, explaining that she needed her phone while she traveled out of town for the holidays.
Others, like Rabiah Muhammad, a second-generation Chicagoan who came downtown for a doctor’s appointment but stopped to watch the protests, admired the persistence and tenacity of protesters’ attempts to draw attention to their cause.
“I was walking down the street, and I saw all these beautiful people of all ages and colors,” she said. “I think it’s a bigger problem than the city of Chicago. It’s an American problem. This kind of brutality? That’s not what our country is supposed to be.”
The Christmas Eve demonstration came one day after protesters targeted the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport and Mall of America in Minnesota and Interstate 405 in Los Angeles over allegations of police brutality. The demonstration in Chicago was mostly peaceful, although about three hours in, some skirmishes arose.
When officers attempted to detain protesters, several instances of shoving occurred. Police officers manning a bicycle barricade on Michigan Avenue took two protesters into custody after a scuffle during which police bikes were overturned.
Some protesters objected to the treatment by police compared with past demonstrations.
“If they got a problem with us we have a problem with them. How can you expect us to be peaceful when your officers are not peaceful?” Widow said. “Don’t get me wrong, there are some officers who are letting us do whatever we want. But there are others who are putting their hands on us and who have an attitude.”
Community leader Jedidiah Brown, who was grabbed by officers before he managed to make his way back into the thick of the protest, added, “It seems when we have a smaller group of people, police want to bully us.”
As in the majority of protests since the McDonald dashboard camera video was released, organizers called for the resignation of Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez. It took 13 months for Alvarez’s office to charge Chicago police Officer Jason Van Dyke with murder, while Emanuel’s administration fought release of the video of the shooting.
Gregory Livingston, a member the Coalition for a New Chicago, said protesters would keep the pressure on.
“Our goal was to affect the revenue on Michigan Avenue, and I think we’ve been very successful,” Livingston said.
Chicago Tribune’s Tony Briscoe, Matt McCall and Grace Wong contributed.
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