Chicago police Superintendent David Brown said Monday that officers will wear full protective gear when assigned to future protests after “agitators” hijacked a protest Friday at the Christopher Columbus statue in Grant Park, injuring 49 police officers.
Brown and Belmont Area Cmdr. Daniel O’Shea also urged people to seek out “both sides” after activists at Friday night’s protest said this weekend that officers’ actions left many in the crowd injured as well.
Among them was activist Miracle Boyd, who describes herself as a “dedicated freedom fighter,” who held a news conference Monday, saying she was hit in the face by a Chicago police officer during the skirmish in Grant Park, knocking out at least one of her teeth.
The superintendent didn’t directly address a video of that confrontation widely circulated on social media but stressed the importance of showing the clash as police saw it.
“What began as a peaceful protest at Grant Park Friday evening devolved into a very dangerous situation in which mob action deliberately sought to injure officers, provoke retaliation and damage property. Forty-nine Chicago police officers were injured. Forty-nine,” Brown said. “Eighteen of whom were sent to area hospitals for their injuries.”
The morning police news conference began with overhead video taken by city cameras, in an effort to show that some in the crowd of thousands that had marched toward the Columbus statue in Grant Park had planned an attack on police officers. It appeared at least a dozen people used umbrellas to shield people in the crowd who changed into all black clothing; distributed frozen water bottles, rocks, and explosive devices that were thrown at officers; and used sharpened PVC pipe as a weapon, O’Shea said.
“I want to point out that we’ve had multiple protests at the statue prior to this event that were all peaceful, and we respected everyone’s First Amendment right to protest peacefully, but this was not — what you’re seeing here is obviously an ambush on police officers,” O’Shea said. “They had multiple, multiple restocking of items to throw at the police — weapons, basically.”
Brown said “criminal agitators” were responsible for the fireworks and other items thrown at officers, adding that 12 people were arrested on charges of mob action, battery to a police officer or criminal damage to property.
“If the statue was successfully toppled, likely members in that mob that would have been seriously injured or killed by the toppling of that statue,” Brown said. “This cannot stand. We cannot be a city that thinks mob action of a crowd is acceptable behavior.”
He said the police response to the chaotic confrontations in Grant Park diverted much-needed police resources from other parts of the city where shootings took place at the start of another violent weekend in Chicago. Tribune data show at least 71 people were shot over the weekend, 12 of them fatally.
Brown said officers now must be prepared for the possibility that any protest could turn into an attack.
“It’s a sacred right to protest in this country and we don’t want to now assume peaceful protest might turn violent,” Brown said.
Brown said he has fielded questions about why officers weren’t wearing full protective gear as they stood near the statue, putting them immediately on the defensive when projectiles flew toward them. He said that while most protesters are peaceful, the department no longer has the luxury of assuming that those in the crowd won’t want to hurt officers.
“I have ordered all of our officers to wear any and all protective gear when protests appear. … Because of these mob actions, we must protect our officers,” Brown said.
No permit had been issued for the march that preceded the conflict in Grant Park, Brown said, suggesting leadership was fractured. Brown also warned that those who participate in protests should be aware that this type of violent clash might be more common in the future and to be careful, particularly when bringing children to events.
“These peaceful protests have been hijacked and that’s one of the things I think people need to consider,” he said.
When asked whether the police investigation has shown that the protest organizers were working with the agitators, Brown said, saying: “God I hope not. But it sure looks like it.”
Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Monday didn’t mince words, decrying those who hurled projectiles at police as “a group of vigilantes” who came to Chicago “for a fight, not a peaceful protest.” Brown also said there was some preliminary evidence, such as out of state license plates, that suggested some might not be local.
Lightfoot said the video played at the police news conference “shows these people before they got to the Columbus statue, kneeling down, dressing in all black, with goggles, forming a phalanx with umbrellas and with shields around them, and then pummeling the police with projectiles.
“That’s not peaceful protest. That’s anarchy. We are going to put that down. We’re actively investigating and we will bring those people to justice,” she said.
Though she condemned the actions of the instigators, during the weekend Lightfoot also mentioned “several reports of excessive force by the police.” She called them “unacceptable” and said she has spoken to the director of the Civilian Office of Police Accountability, which will investigate the complaints.
On Sunday, that office said it received more than 20 complaints against Chicago police officers resulting from the protests in Grant Park.
Ephraim Eaddy, a COPA spokesman, said the complaints included allegations of excessive force, unnecessary use of chemical spray, denial of counsel and “operational violations.”
“Preliminary investigative steps led to the review of widespread video shared via social media, body-worn camera, (third) party video, tactical response reports and other materials,” Eaddy said in a statement. He said these investigative steps also apply to the widely distributed video purported to show Boyd getting punched in the face by an officer.
In her first public comments 18-year-old Boyd addressed a crowd of more than 100 people who gathered at the George Washington statue, 5531 S. King Drive at the entrance to Washington Park, to show their support for her.
“There is no way I should have left a protest bruised and battered for exercising my freedom of speech and freedom to assemble,” said Boyd, whose event took place at the same time as the police news conference.
Her dedicated activism led state Sen. Robert Peters to offer Boyd an internship last week, Peters said at the news conference.
This weekend the group shared a photo of Boyd on social media that shows the teen with a cut lip and missing teeth.
“There is no reason that Miracle should have left a peaceful protest with her teeth missing, traumatized mentally, emotionally and scarred by CPD,” Norwood said.
Throughout the hourlong event, the crowd showed support for Boyd, who stepped to the microphones to chants of “We love you.” An emotional Boyd started crying during her remarks as she discussed the backlash she has suffered since Friday.
“My life has been threatened, I have received several hate messages and racist messages,” she said.
“I will not allow the public to tear me down and humiliate me. I am not a menace, a hood rat, nor a rebel. But a dedicated freedom fighter.”
The crowd became boisterous after reporters asked questions about a video showing Boyd berating police officers, including as they apprehended a protester Friday.
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“What this officer did was target Miracle because she was expressing her opinion about the police department with lethal force,” Sheila Bedi, an attorney representing Boyd said.
Upset with the questions, Norwood grabbed a megaphone and addressed the media.
“We have to stop this culture of trying to blame victims for the abuse they’ve dealt with,” she said. “There is no excuse for a grown man to use excessive force on a 5-foot tall woman. There is no excuse regardless of what she said, regardless of what her stance is on CPD, for that man to have hit her.”
The Chicago Tribune’s Claire Hao and Madeline Buckley contributed.