On June 14, as nearly 1,000 demonstrators crossed the intersection of Desplaines and Randolph bound for Grant-White Elementary School in Forest Park, Katheryn Jandeska, 71, stood underneath the awning of Pioneer Taps & Liquors and thought about Kent State in 1970.
That’s the year 13 unarmed students who attended the university were shot by members of the Ohio National Guard during a peace rally held to protest the federal government’s actions during the Vietnam War. Four of the students died. Jandeska said that she attended a “big university” at the time and marched in protest against both the war and the government’s violent response to the peaceful protesters.
Sunday’s protest, however, was different, said Jandeska, who lives in River Forest. For starters, there was no violence. And Jandeska echoed the sentiment of every other River Forest resident who was interviewed that day who said this march was the first they’d ever witnessed in their well-off suburb.
“This is also more multidimensional,” Jandeska added. “There are different ages. When I marched on campus in 1970, it was just students and professors.”
“Now, there’s a wide swath of society saying that these injustices can’t go on,” said Katheryn’s husband, Bob Jandeska, 73. “It’s un-American. It tears at the basic fabric of what we believe.”
The killing of George Floyd, who died at the knee of Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin on May 25, has touched off a new wave of mass protest that is gaining ground in even affluent, placid communities and that is powered, in no small part, by supportive whites like the Jandeskas.
Sunday’s protest march — which started at a church in Bellwood and continued along Washington Boulevard before terminating at the Forest Park school named for a U.S. president who once said that slavery was “a stain to the Union” — was just one of nearly a dozen peaceful demonstrations that took place in the west suburbs last week.
In addition to River Forest and Forest Park, citizens marched in Oak Park, Hillside, Westchester and Berkeley, where white people held Black Lives Matter signs and chanted “No Justice, No Peace!” And those demonstrations happened even after multiple demonstrations took place the week before in Oak Park, Maywood and Melrose Park.
Cathy Adduci, River Forest’s village president, said that Sunday’s march was the second demonstration she’s participated in over the last few weeks.
“This is about unity and solidarity with our neighbors and friends, and to show respect and dignity to this movement,” she said while nearing the intersection of 17th Avenue and Washington Boulevard in Maywood. “River Forest does not tolerate hate. We’re trying to work through our bigotry and racism. As we work with our neighbors and friends, I’m hopeful that River Forest is embracing this movement and knows how important it is.”
Adduci walked with other suburban mayors, including Forest Park Mayor Rory Hoskins, in the front of the march as the demonstration’s principal organizer, Maywood Trustee Isiah Brandon, yelled slogans into a bullhorn from several feet away.
“This is an organic social movement,” Hoskins said before the march started. “It’s the community speaking its mind.”
The day before, on June 13, around 300 protesters, most of them from Oak Park and many white, marched down Madison Street from the Oak Park/Chicago border all the way down to Garfield Park.
The march stopped for about 10 minutes at the Chicago Police Department’s 15th District police station, 5701 W. Madison St. As the marchers prepared to have 8 minutes and 46 seconds of silence, some kneeling, some lying prone, Omar Yamini, an Oak Park activist, encouraged everyone to think about what it’s like to have a knee on their neck for that long as they’re begging for their lives.
“Today, we put the end to the tyranny, harassment and oppression,” he said. “You get no more chances. This relationship is toxic. This relationship is over; beat it, I can do better!”
Laurie Freivogal, of Oak Park, said she was no stranger to protests and believes that it’s important to keep a spotlight on injustice.
“We need to stay active until there’s change,” she said. “There needs to be accountability and the change to make it happen. And the police need to be accountable to the fullest extent of the law.”
On Sunday, Brandon said that as he crossed the concrete bridge that is flanked by the Forest Preserve and that separates predominantly black and low-income Maywood and predominantly white and wealthy River Forest, he felt a little of what Civil Rights protestors decades ago must have felt crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala., during the 1965 march from Selma to Montgomery for Voting Rights.
But instead of being greeted by angry white police officers wielding batons and poised to draw blood, he was greeted by sympathetic white people like Allison Jack, 50, and her four young boys who were excited to show marchers their Black Lives Matter signs.
Still, the racial divides — in areas like law enforcement and the economy — are not much different than they were in the 1960s, some demonstrators said.
“I’m so excited about this,” said Jack. “I wish there were more people from River Forest showing solidarity. Even in River Forest, when we drive around and see someone pulled over, so many times it’s a black person. These problems are so deep and I’m hoping they start resonating for people who have been able to not pay attention.”
Hoskins said that the recent deaths of Floyd and other African Americans at the hands of police have also sparked deep conversations in Forest Park. The demonstration, the mayor said, happened in lieu of this year’s annual Juneteenth pool party, which COVID-19 canceled.
“A march for Black Lives Matter or for police accountability is more palatable than a pool party,” he said. “The community planned this, with some input from people who help me plan Juneteenth and I’m really glad they planned this.”