GARY — Standing on the windy stairway to Gary City Hall, a demonstrator called out to the crowd, “Because racism means?” The crowd chanted replied, “We have to fight back.”
Fifteen organizations gathered Saturday afternoon in Gary to join under the banner, “United Against Racism,” a coalition that has recently formed to target issues like racism, injustice, police brutality, deportation and to advocate for those who are vulnerable amid the pandemic.
After meeting at Tolleston Park, the group marched to Gary City Hall where several members spoke about a myriad of issues, from police brutality to immigration deportations happening at the Gary/Chicago International Airport.
The demonstrators were from various backgrounds, from local school staff members to young environmental activists.
The group also called for justice for those who died in police-involved shootings, such as Breonna Taylor. Among the names written on protesters’ signs were those of local residents such as Rashad Cunningham, Melvin Bouler and Jamal Williams. Patrice Patterson-Davis held a sign with a photo of her son, Jamal Williams, who was shot and killed by a security guard on June 16 at Community Hospital in Munster.
“But we are here for justice for Jamal Williams and justice for all lives, black lives, that have been taken by police brutality and all the racism we are experiencing,” Patterson-Davis said. “But let me say this: black lives won’t matter unless they matter to black people. That must be the core of us experiencing this. Black lives have to matter to us and we have to show other people that black lives matter to us. It must start at home. We must start with each other.”
Sixteen-year-old activist Dani Sipp took the mic, speaking on environmental activism and the importance of voting in November.
“What I am asking today is if you could just please vote,” Sipp said. “Vote for the right people, do your research. Because at the end of the day, you’re not just advocating for yourselves and for your family. You’re advocating for future generations. You’re advocating for your children and your children’s children. Please think of us. Think of the future. Black lives matter.”
Kim McGee, of Black Lives Matter NWI-Gary, called for the creation of a civilian review board for the Gary Police Department, something she said her group has advocated for since 2015. In June, Gary Mayor Jerome Prince signed an executive order creating a police use of force commission, which will include civic and business leaders, community activists, faith leaders and community organizations. However, McGee said that while a member of her organization is on the committee, there is still much to be desired from the initiative.
“It’s been a long-term project and we suspected it would be a long-fought battle,” McGee said. “But the commission now only is able to give recommendations and look into areas of potential study, the group doesn’t have any real power. We want an oversight civilian review board.”
The organizations that make up United Against Racism include BLM NWI-Gary, NWI Resist, Gary National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Progressive Democrats of America Calumet Region, Progressive Labor Party, Just Transition NWI, NWI Stands in Solidarity, Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, NWI Indivisible, NWI Solidarity, NWI Environmentalists Support Racial Justice, Northwest Association of the United Church of Christ, Urban League of Northwest Indiana, NWI NOW and NAACP LaPorte County.
Ruth Needleman, an organizer for United Against Racism, said it took a lot of work for the organizations to converge, but she said she believes this is needed now more than ever.
“Because right now, uniting against racism is absolutely necessary,” Needleman said. “We are facing a rising threat of fascism and violence.”
Needleman said the group will hold demonstrations and continue to seek different ways to put action behind their message of anti-racism.
The group will reconvene for another caravan and protest on Oct. 24 in East Chicago at Nunez Park. Organizers said more information will be announced this upcoming week.
James Lenoir Williams
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