A group of young Chicago students and parents from Near North Montessori School participated in a "Black Lives Matter" and Baltimore solidarity protest Friday morning in the Wicker Park neighborhood.
The protest, spearheaded by Near North Montessori parents organizing under the name Chicago Unity Coalition for Justice, comes in response to the death of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old African-American male who died a week after suffering a severe spinal cord injury while in Baltimore police custody. Gray's death has sparked protests in Baltimore and across the country.
Chicago children and parents rallied at Wicker Park's Polish Triangle, at the intersection of Ashland and Milwaukee Avenues and Division Street, just before news broke that Gray's death has been ruled a homicide, according to prosecutors, and that his arrest was illegal. Six officers are facing charges in connection to the Gray case, Baltimore State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby said Friday.
Toting signs reading, "Enough is enough" and "Racism hurts everyone," the Chicago children and parents marched around a fountain at the Polish Triangle chanting, "No justice! No peace!"
Near North Montessori parent Sarah Ryan was at the protest with her eight-year-old daughter, Sitota.
"It's important to involve our children in this today, because they are very involved with social justice at their schools, and as parents we try to keep them, in an age-appropriate way, informed of what's going on," she said. "It's important for them to help shape the world that they're going to be living in."
Ryan is white, and her daughter is black.
"It's been a very great experience for all of us to be able to come out and really push back against the violence that's happened by the police, who are supposed to be protecting all of us, against people of color," Ryan said. "There are problems that my daughter will have because of the color of her skin that I won't."
Sitota, a second grader at Near North Montessori, held a sign reading, "The people united will never be defeated."
"I feel it's not fair that blacks are not treated the same," she said. "All the people that police have hurt, it's not fair ... They shouldn't have done that."
Another 8-year-old, Cooper Kavanaugh, said he was protesting "because police brutality is not right."
"The police should stop doing it," the second grader added. "The police are here to protect and help us, and not to hurt us."
Here's more from the parents and children at today's protest:
Kara Wright, who has a sixth-grade daughter at Near North Montessori, said, "We're all here because police brutality and the deaths of unarmed black women and men across the country are unacceptable."
"It's time for there to stop being two Americas," she added. "It's time for the police to have a culture of transparency and accountability."
Near North Montessori parent Meredith West attended the protest with her nine-year-old daughter.
"I'm personally here because I recognize the injustice," she said. "When Trayvon Martin was shot, I was one of only a third of the white population who actually thought that was a racial issue, and what I'm trying to do personally is have more conversations about race with white Americans to address that two-thirds of the population that doesn't recognize how pervasive racial issues are in our society."
Friday's protest followed news earlier in the week from the Chicago Police Department that it plans to hold neighborhood meetings with city residents to discuss the issues surrounding the "national discussion" taking place about police department practices. The police department, according to a press release, seeks to "build and sustain trust" with Chicagoans.
Asked about the upcoming listening tour, Wright said, "I think it's a great idea, but when you ask people to engage, then people expect something to come out of that."
"So while it's one thing to do a listening tour, which is wonderful, we encourage that, we also hope there's follow-up and there's things that change because of it," she stressed.