Flossmoor Police Chief Tod Kamleiter was aghast at the video of George Floyd’s murder by Minneapolis Police.
“There isn’t a cop I know that could look at that and say it wasn’t wrong,” he said in an interview.
Still, the Flossmoor chief struggles to see any racial incentive behind former officer Derek Chauvin’s decision to kneel on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes, three of which were beyond the moment he became visibly unconscious.
For some Americans, the systemically racist piece of the police brutality puzzle remains elusive — cloaked in a mysticism that, apparently, only the most left-leaning factions of our communities can understand.
With this, it can be reasonably assumed that the June 7 protest from Patriots Park through the east side of Homewood was populated by more than a hundred members of a more historically informed Homewood-Flossmoor.
Nineteen-year-old Declan Cawley, a Flossmoor resident, toted a sign emblazoned with “ACAB,” an acronym that has been popping up at protests across the nation.
“ACAB, ‘all cops are bad,’ stems from the fact that police institutions are inherently not there to protect people. They initially started from runaway slave patrols designed to protect property. Police are here to protect the ideals and wishes of the ruling class, not the rest of us,” the teenager explained.
Historian Sally Hadden unearths a similar finding. According to the website for the Law Enforcement Museum, Hadden writes that historically, police were the ones taxed with maintaining the status quo during the enslavement period: “The history of police work in the South grows out of this early fascination, by white patrollers, with what African American slaves were doing. Most law enforcement was, by definition, white patrolmen watching, catching or beating black slaves.”
Today, both local and national news coverage has amplified the rallying calls of peaceful protesters across the globe .
Like Cawley, young leaders of the Black Lives Matter movement are calling for widespread reform of a police force that they find terrorizes its citizens. In Massachusetts, New Jerseyand Minneapolis, citizens’ demands to defund and reform police are being met by policymakers.
While Cawley represented Generation Z’s look toward a reimagined tomorrow, older generations at the protest remained captivated by a nightmarish past.
As residents exalted the names of slain Black children, parents and activists — loved ones whose lives mattered — former Homewood-Flossmoor High teacher Steve Altman used his voice to pull at the bloodied thread connecting present and past.
“Emmett Till!” Altman exclaimed. And then, “Fred Hampton!”
That Altman chose to speak these names gnaws at the part of us that is lulled back to sleep by propaganda and fiction. Many of us, possessed by fear and alleged powerlessness, seek comfort in the American narrative that unarmed Black men are killed by police due to their own ill doings.
Alas, a 14-year-old Emmet Till, found brutalized beyond recognition after being falsely accused of whistling at a white woman in Mississippi in 1955, subverts this narrative of inherent criminality and guilt. When contrasted with the name of Black Panther Party leader Fred Hampton, assassinated by police while asleep in his Chicago home, a clearer historical picture emerges.
Regardless of age or geographical region; regardless of child-like innocence or armed, political activism, Black people in this nation have been hunted by the state since its inception.
Conversely, the leader of our nation seems to lack historical awareness.
Last month, as national protests swelled with disrupters, President Trump invoked the 1967 legacy of former Miami Police Chief Walter Headly, notorious for his violation of civil rights, with his tweet “When the looting starts, the shooting starts!”
Homewood resident Margaret Brady says it is the president’s words that incite violence in the people, not the other way around.
Brady carried a sign on June 7 animated with a photo of President Trump, shrouded in her demand to “STOP BIGOTRY.”
“There is a direct line between his hatred and his vile, inflammatory bigotry and speech, and what we see happening today,” she said. “The awful wound of racism is being reopened and we are all, finally, after 400 years, feeling the pain of what we’ve done to others.”
Indeed, as the communities of our nation have glowed orange and red with fiery rage at the systematic refusal to protect American citizens and prosecute corrupt police, Homewood-Flossmoor residents have declared their official position: “Black Lives Matter.”
But there was something more than heady talks of structural change at the June 7 protest that left residents feeling jubilant and hopeful. Their signs and spirits personified the dynamic humanity, creativity and brilliance erased by the institutions that may confine Black people, but shall never define us.
H-F graduate Rachel Altman carried a sign with words from Maya Angelou’s 1969 poem, ‘Caged Bird’: “‘The caged bird sings with the fearful trill of things unknown, but longed for still. And his tune is heard on a distant hill, for the caged bird sings for freedom,’” Altman read.
For her, Angelou’s freedom song is more relevant than ever. At this moment in history, Altman finds, the pursuit of freedom is not specific to those who have known the shackles of institutional enslavement. It is specific to those with a liberation of the mind.
“I read online that for change to come we need a critical mass, with more and more people being aware to create the solutions. This seems different than other times. People are really listening and learning. I’ve seen a lot of my friends, white friends, online sharing things they never knew before. They are reading, they are learning. There is always more for us to learn and know, but it seems different this time.”
“I think this is awesome,” she said, taking in the scene of the Homewood protest. “It’s not just in the big cities. There are a hundred people out here, from all different backgrounds. This is something.”