The crowd of protesters was blocked by a police line in riot gear from marching forward along their desired route. A warning signal, from the raised bridge, like the sound of an approaching train, “Ding! Ding! Ding!” rang out. It began to rain, and several protestors put up black umbrellas. Tensions were escalating.
A peaceful protest on August 15th, in favor of defunding the Chicago Police Department and abolishing ICE, ended with 24 arrest charges. Noah Ritchie and Megan Kim attended the protest, along with two other friends.
At 4 p.m., a few hundred protestors showed up at the bean in Millennium Park. The organizers were mostly high school students. They had been given permits to protest and alerted the police of the route they would take.
Protestors began their route walking down Michigan Avenue on what is often referred to as the magnificent mile. Upon reaching the raised bridge to cross the Chicago River, the mass of protestors attempted to turn right along Wacker drive and were stopped by multiple lines of police in riot gear.
According to video evidence, police began to pull out their batons before any confrontation with protestors and began to take umbrellas and bicycles away from protestors. Law enforcement officials began to show in almost equal numbers of the protestors, surrounding the protestors on all sides— a common tactic known as kettling. Giant militarized vehicles were parked shortly behind police lines, and federal officers in camouflage walked around.
Megan began to sharpie people’s phone numbers on her arm and hung back from the front of the line.
“I am small and a woman of color, and I was not prepared for tear gas,” Megan says.
The protestors weren’t violent. They took out umbrellas, seeing they were close to being kettled. “An organized effort to prepare for the worst,” according to Noah. He says that police often try to twist the narrative by claiming that protesters’ preventative measures were taken to prepare a coordinated attack.
Noah was standing about ten feet away when the first officer stepped into the crowd. The officer pushed a woman backward violently and threw her to the ground. Once she was on the ground, the officer hit her with his baton, and conflict ensued between police and protestors.
The police began to spray mace at the crowd. One officer of the Federal government walked to the front of the line and waved his hand high in the air dispersing mace. Noah was hit with the chemical irritant on his back and arms.
“I don’t know how much time elapsed, but a lot of pepper spray did,” Megan commented.
Protestors attempted to regroup and walk South along Michigan avenue— the only direction available to them. As they walked down Michigan, a large group of riot police followed behind, and police rode on the side of the protests in bicycles.
“I started to feel the sense that they were trying to kettle us again wherever they could,” Noah explains, “ Just because there’s no reason ever to have hundreds of police members following a protest of only hundreds of people unless the case is that they’re trying to clash with the protestors.”
Looking back, Noah and Megan could see protestors in the back falling down because the police were pushing at the line of bikes formed to protect the protest. As a result of people being thrown down and hit with batons, the protesters suddenly sprinted away.
Noah, in the sprint, found himself following some other protestors down an alleyway. As he went through the alleyway, police on bikes started creating a barricade behind him, blocking more protesters from escaping down the alleyway. Noah’s friends were stuck behind the police barricade, and he had to leap over a police bicycle in order to get back with them.
This smaller group of protestors, including Noah and Megan, found themselves stuck between police units and a corner of the Chicago board of trade building. They began to chant things like “Hands up don’t shoot” and “We just want to go home.” In vain, Noah and a friend attempted to talk to a police officer for him to let them out.
“There were some officers that literally seemed like they were acting upon bloodthirsty tendencies and then there were some other officers that were not that way,” Noah says, “I started talking to one of these people, and he seemed pretty calm— if anything he seemed a little confused.”
After quite some time, the police allowed protestors out of the kettle, and they were allowed to move forward to the end of the street where there was another line of officers. In order to go free, protestors were forced to empty their pockets and their bags.