Area residents gathered in Naperville’s Cantore Park in the afternoon of May 31 to honor George Floyd, the most recent nationally-recognized victim of police brutality. The protest, which began peacefully at the site where a recent act of racially-insensitive vandalism occurred, took a violent turn as it continued on to an Aurora police station where police used tear gas and protesters began looting.
Floyd died on May 25 in Powderhorn, Minn., after police officer Derek Chauvin held him down with his knee on his neck for over eight minutes. Three additional officers watched Chauvin restrain Floyd until he eventually became unconscious. Floyd was confronted by police for suspicion of paying with a counterfeit $20 bill at a grocery store. Whether or not the bill was actually counterfeit has yet to be determined.
In response to this, protests and riots have broken out across the country to fight police brutality and demand that all involved officers in Floyd’s death are charged. As of now, Chauvin has been charged with third degree murder while the officers observing the situation have not been charged.
At Cantore Park from 1:15 to 3 p.m. various people spoke out against racism inside and outside of the community and encouraged citizens to join the fight for equality. Speakers included Dana Michelle, TV host of “Dana Being Dana,” former Black Panther Party member Stan McKinney, former presidential candidate Andy Williams, Jr. and Aisha Oliver, executive director of Root2Fruit Youth Foundation.
“There are so many things that bring us together, but we are in a society that focuses so much on what our differences are,” Michelle said. “That creates fear, that ignites insecurities, that creates power struggles, and that is what we are here today to talk about.”
The park was vandalized last Sunday when the phrase “White Pride” and gang signs were spray painted on a wall dividing the park from Welch Elementary School. Protesters came together to combat this type of hateful thinking.
“I came here to take a stand against this system that has been built on the white supremacy of our country, and I am here to dismantle that,” protestor Victoria Price said. “It is encouraging to see all these people out here in Naperville, especially after the terrorism that was done in this park near all these schools and homes. It is encouraging that there are people here of all different colors that want to see change.”
The event then continued at the Aurora police station where a march began. Initially, the protests were peaceful as hundreds of people marched through the streets with signs up chanting slogans such as “No justice, no peace” and “Black Lives Matter.” Many cars honked in support, and some even joined in the march as the group made its way toward downtown Aurora.
Many students from Naperville Central attended the march and called it uniting and powerful.
“It was extremely empowering to be able to experience the energy of the protest,” 2020 graduate Jaeden Howell said.
Senior Iva Glogovac agreed.
“It brought everyone together to fight for change and gave me an opportunity to do something about a situation that needs to be recognized and heard,” she said.
Mellissa Zhang, a 2020 graduate, also appreciated the community aspect of the event.
“I loved seeing the diversity of people at the protests: various religions, various ethnicities, various cultures. But everyone was coming together,” she said.
Upon approaching the downtown Aurora area, protesters were met with police officers with riot gear. Individuals among the crowd insisted on keeping the protest peaceful and took moments of silence for not only George Floyd, but also the thousands of other black Americans who have lost their lives because of police brutality. Protesters begged the police to take a knee to show that they were on the protesters’ side, however, the officers all stood guarded.
As the protest continued, it took a violent turn. As protesters began throwing water bottles and objects at the police, officers responded with tear gas and rubber bullets. Chaos ensued. The windows of buildings were smashed and businesses were looted, including Happy Daze smoke shop, Colima Jewelry, Aurora Jewelry and the First Midwest Bank. Police used more tear gas to disperse the crowd. Shortly after a police squad car was set on fire.
Mayor Richard Irvin declared Aurora to be in a state of emergency and set a curfew from 8:30 p.m. Sunday to 6:30 a.m. Monday.
Central senior and protester Angela Pan reflected back on the day and the efforts of the protests and how going was very important to her.
“People of color are dying and feeling scared and unsafe in their own community by the very people who swear to ‘protect and serve,’” Pan said. “The only way for society to change is for us to use our voices and to join the fight for justice.”
“We aren’t out here because we want to be,” he said. “We are out here because we need to be.”