CRYSTAL LAKE – More than 100 Black Lives Matter activists marched south on Walkup Avenue with signs while chanting the names of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and others as a brigade of Back the Blue Ride motorcycles and vehicles approached east from Route 176, turned right and drove to the Crystal Lake police station.
As the two sides converged on the corner of Walkup and Route 176, Black Lives Matter protesters screamed, “Say her name,” while some drivers tried to drown out the voices by laying on their horns.
Saturday’s convergence in Crystal Lake was mostly peaceful – with many from both sides giving thumbs up and peace signs – but reminded Black Lives Matter activists why they gathered in the first place.
“We can’t keep doing what we’ve been doing and expect something different,” said Crystal Lake’s Tony Bradburn, one of the demonstration’s organizers. “We can’t sit comfortably.”
The protest marks continued effort by Black Lives Matter activists since the police killing of 46-year-old Black man George Floyd in Minneapolis.
The purpose of Saturday’s Black Lives Matter demonstration, according to organizers, was to assert three clear messages: that Black Lives Matter and Black Lives Matter in McHenry County; systemic racism exists in nearly all facets of society; and that systemic racism exists in the police force, so it is important to have public discourse regarding defunding the police.
“Systemic racism exists within the police, and we have to educate ourselves and have a dialogue about what defunding police means,” said Crystal Lake’s Natasha Teetsov, a 2005 Prairie Ridge graduate and instructor at Loyola University Chicago.
Black Lives Matters demonstrations in Woodstock and McHenry to counter-protest the Back the Blue Ride also were planned Saturday.
Former Crystal Lake resident Joe Alger and Woodstock Harley-Davidson owner Doug Jackson organized the Back the Blue Ride in light of protests surrounding the killing of Floyd. Alger has stated that he doesn’t believe systemic racism exists.
“What they’re asserting is that there’s no such thing as systemic racism, which is not true,” Bradburn said. “Racism is pervasive, it’s in every aspect of our society. If there’s someone, a white man, denying stories and realities of fellow citizens of color, then that’s a big issue.”
The demonstration started by sharing how attendees can further Black Lives Matter.
These ways include joining the Activists for Racial Equity group on Facebook, signing online petitions to promote racial equity and inclusion in Crystal Lake Districts 155 and 47, vocalizing concerns at the next McHenry County board meeting July 2 and registering to vote in the next election.
“I don’t know about other people’s experiences, but I only had white teachers,” Teetsov said. “It didn’t prepare me for the diversity of the city I went to for school [Milwaukee].
“Communities of color have to see that they’re represented in both staff and administration. We have to make sure that our students are educated to have conversations about race in the world.”
Pastor Pat Brennan from Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington offered a blessing before the demonstration, and pastor Josh Boldman from Willow Creek Crystal Lake said an opening prayer. Bradburn reminded everybody to remain peaceful and not retaliate to any acts of violence.
“I got the finger a few times, I’m sure you all did, too,” Bradburn said. “But, I also saw a lot of peace symbols, too. For me, it’s a good reminder. The thing that we do, the power that we have, it does make a difference.”
Bradburn applauded the Crystal Lake police and park police for their help in providing a safe space.
DC Smith, 18, of Crystal Lake, who helped organize previous Black Lives Matter demonstrations in Crystal Lake, spoke to the crowd at the end of Saturday’s demonstration.
“I hate being up here,” Smith said. “I hate being the center of all change. It’s just, I’m at a point where I can’t go home, and rest my head until I know things are being done. At the end of the day, I can’t escape it. There’s no turning it off. It’s something I’ve always had to deal with.
“We are part of this problem. Systemic racism affects us all because we are all a part of the system.”
Bradburn said he thought defunding the police felt too extreme until he learned more about the why.
“The concept isn’t policemen and policewomen are bad,” Bradburn said. “The concept is maybe there’s a better, more effective way to serve and protect our community than continuing to send people with guns to every issue.
“If there’s a 14-year-old considering suicide, sending an officer with a gun might not be the best situation. Maybe you need to send a counselor or a social worker.”
Bradburn continued to asked, “If not now, when?”
“[Police] make mistakes,” Bradburn said. “And the mistakes, at that level, when you have a gun in your hand affect the world. If we go home and do nothing, what happened in Elgin with Decynthia Clements, who got killed and murdered by a white police officer two years ago, it will happen here.
“It’s just a matter of time. It will happen if we don’t ask for the changes that we need.”
Amanda Hall, one of the organizers of the Woodstock protest, said racism is here and prevalent in McHenry County.
“We needed to come together to say that it does exist and to stand with all of our neighbors,” Hall said.
The protest gave people a chance to see that they are not alone in thinking that racism is wrong, Hall said.
“It seems like there is so much hate right now,” Hall said. “But to see people come together and say ‘We stand against this,’ I think that’s powerful for everyone here.”
Huntley resident Daniel Hornfeldt held a sign saying “Defund the punishers, Re-fund the helpers.”
“This speaks to how the police, the military have taken on the symbol of the punisher,” he said. “The idea of the punisher is kind of a weak and broken character. “
Hornfeldt said in situations, such as car accidents and arguments people with guns aren’t needed.
“There’s a lot of things we could be doing better on,” he said, explaining that in some situations, support, and not enforcement, is needed.
During the Woodstock protest, some of the members of the Back the Blue Rally came up to protesters, and said “All Lives Matter,” leading to a heated exchange between the two groups.
Tomas Soto-Garcia, of Woodstock, said while it is true that all lives matter, there are Black lives being lost.
“You cannot say that ‘All Lives Matter’ when you are taking away ‘Black Lives Matter’ from the equation,” Soto-Garcia said. “When they say that ‘All Lives Matter,’ they are denying the fact that Black lives matter.You have to care about the lives that are being affected by racial discrimination, by racism, by police brutality.”
Soto-Garcia spoke about his experiences as a Black and Hispanic man during the protest, such as walking inside the post office, and watching people see him and then leave, “Like they saw the devil,” and being mistaken for a janitor at the school district where he teaches.
Woodstock resident Adriana Carbajal, who has lived in the city her whole life, said she is tired of police brutality and racism against people of color in this country.
“There is a lot of racial tension in the country,” she said. “This is a country of diversity, immigrants, not just one race, so it should be a country for immigrants and people of color.”
• Reporter Cassie Buchman contributed to this report.