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Just after 6 PM on August 15, , the sun was beginning its descent in the gray sky. The air was humid and the pavement, wet from rain, radiated heat. The officers marched in lockstep south on Michigan, many unmasked, wearing the same black bulletproof vests and light blue riot helmets, banging batons on their thick shields. Their boots pounded the pavement in synchrony. They screamed "Move back! The few hundred protesters retreated to the intersection of Randolph and Michigan, three long city blocks south of where they first collided with police.

One organizer chanted into a megaphone. The line of police officers followed. Why weren't they stopping? They stalked steadily, deeper and deeper into the heart of the Loop, insatiable in their pursuit. The maze of tall buildings and narrow alleys were sure to trap anyone who dared to attempt an escape. The protesters reached Randolph and State and were surrounded by bike marshals, those trained to help guide the crowd and keep them safe. The marshals used their bodies and bicycles as a wall between the protesters and the police.

After the crowd journeyed west on Randolph, some turned south on LaSalle. Then it happened. In front of City Hall, the wave of officers solidified, slamming against the protesters, shooting pepper spray on anyone who resisted the tide. The screams bounced off of the tall buildings and echoed through the Loop. Throngs of protesters fell to the ground, many blinded and crying out in pain, while those standing struggled to protect them from being crushed.

Others ran. Kettling is a violent and dehumanizing strategy used to divide and conquer a crowd. To be kettled is to feel like an animal being corralled and subdued. You have no agency over your body. You move with the force or get trampled. I was inside this crowd. I had already put my camera in my bag and pulled my protective glasses onto my forehead as the lenses fogged up. The unusually strong pepper spray had splashed onto my face and hands and seeped through my clothing.

I worked alongside strangers to pick up a protester who had fallen to the ground after being drenched in pepper spray. I remember the screams and the faces of those around me, all of us unable to comprehend what was happening.

My hands were numb from the pepper spray for days after. Some protesters would tell me they could feel the burning for the next week. Since May , I had spent hours reporting on protests across the city. I followed young activists who refused to stay home in a pandemic because they dreamed of a better Chicago. The dozens of organizers, protesters, and journalists I spoke to about the summer said what was happening didn't feel real, like we were in some kind of otherworldly, apocalyptic scene.

So many times, even I thought, this can't be happening again. It's the Reader 's policy to blur the faces of protesters in photos and avoid publishing identifying details in stories. China Smith, Jennifer Nava, and Naira, the three organizers featured in this piece, are well known and consented to being in this story. One year after the uprisings began in Chicago, many are still processing the trauma of the summer. Many are still trying to heal. China Smith's hair is often in long braids done by their own hands. They wear handcrafted jewelry made by themself or other local artists.

The year-old is also a poet who does oracle and tarot card readings. On May 30, they expected the protest in the Loop to be filled with those mourning George Floyd and the countless others who had lost their lives at the hands of police. They traveled north by bus from their home in South Shore with two friends. It felt good to be with people for the first time in months, to be with friends who cared for them and the movement. Downtown was bustling with masked protesters. The first thing Smith noticed was that although there were people of all ages, most were in their teens and early 20s.

They took over streets, squares, and bridges, chanting passionately, making their presence known, and refusing to be overlooked. As they gathered near Federal Plaza, protesters delivered speeches about the fight against police brutality and for liberation.

They held a moment of silence for nine minutes and 29 seconds, the amount of time it took former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin to murder Floyd. Smith remembered one of the poems that was performed. A caravan of cars arrived from Little Village, bringing with it hundreds of protesters who ed the marches on foot. Some cars continued to drive through the streets, honking and waving s from their windows. Smith looked for more friends in the crowd. It had been years since the high school senior started attending protests.

They received guidance and mentorship on organizing from GoodKids MadCity, a Black and Brown youth-led organization which focuses on combating gun violence. Smith was on the front lines and felt the pressure to keep people together as they began to hear about an increased police presence. It was just really intense. I felt that really, really deep need to just protect everybody around me.

While the notion of unity was very much alive in spirit that day, the protests were divided across the Loop. Complicating matters even more, phone al was spotty. Protesters would occasionally see a post on social media or get a message from a friend, but it was nearly impossible to keep track of where people were and the size and intensity of the police. Smith said something felt strange. A mob of officers would stand nearby, observing and following protesters. Then suddenly they'd leave. Then, in another part of the Loop, they would appear and watch and follow other protesters.

They hunted like this the entire day. The protesters eventually convened near the Trump Tower. Police created a perimeter around the skyscraper and the neighboring buildings. Months later messages surfaced revealing that Eric Trump thanked Mayor Lori Lightfoot for ensuring the protection of the tower. The officers closed in on the hundreds of protesters on the bridges leading up to the tower.

Once again, the crowd was splintered into smaller groups. Smith was pushed and grabbed. They lost their footing as they wrestled with police officers to break free. In that moment, Smith came to a painful realization: the officers looked like them. It really struck deeply," they said "Because we're out here fighting for the movement, we're trying to defund CPD, and I'm just looking at people who look like me.

It was like another fire was already lit under me. The police officers pressed forward, forcing protesters off the bridge and farther away from the tower. In only a matter of minutes, the situation had intensified. The officers who hours before were only observing were now kettling protesters, hitting them with batons and pepper spraying them.

Those whose phones weren't dead and had al received a notice that CTA was shutting down. For months, when discussing that day, you would get the question: How did you get out? How was anyone supposed to get out? It was utter chaos.

Smith panicked and scrambled to find their friends. The looting began. Police cars were everywhere. This is the life that you're living. This is how life is, this is reality, and it was just so sad, because we're fighting for something good. And we were being harassed and tortured.

While escaping proved to be nearly impossible, simply being idle was also dangerous. They would eventually contact a teacher who picked them up, but as Smith waited for a rideshare driver to accept their request, their conscience weighed on them. They had friends who had been arrested and they didn't know where they were, and they were still in pain. Jennifer Nava began organizing in middle school, when she fought to have a playground built in the empty space outside her school and to remove police and school resource officers from the building. But if you had told the year-old that she would be among the mass of young protesters who were brutalized for attempting to remove a statue of Christopher Columbus , a symbol of America's racist roots which had sat in Grant Park since , she might have laughed at you.

On the hot evening of July 17, Nava and hundreds of others gathered around Buckingham Fountain in Grant Park for the Black and Indigenous solidarity rally, organized under the hashtag DecolonizeZhigaagong. There were whispers that the Columbus statue would be taken down. A naturally welcoming person, Nava cautioned friends who wanted to protests because of her deep-seated distrust of the police. No, you're just not gonna grab any at all. You're not going to trust any of them. A stage was constructed in the space between Columbus Drive and the fountain.

The march began south on Columbus behind a collection of banners, some nearly six feet tall and spanning six or more bodies, with the messages "Defund CPD," Black Lives Matter," and "F12" which translates to "fuck the police". Some laughed as they moved their bodies to Megan Thee Stallion's "Savage. The swath of protesters turned left off of Columbus and into Grant Park. They moved as one unit, playing music and chanting, and ascended the hill to the statue, which had been cloaked in a protective tarp since the end of June, for "protection" and to " discourage vandalism. Nava knew what was coming next.

The police would not allow them anywhere near the statue. We are leaving when things escalate. A group of protesters broke through the large banners and rushed up the hill. Others swarmed a shopping cart filled with cans, and threw the projectiles at the police officers guarding the statue. In retaliation, the police officers began hosing down protesters with pepper spray. The fumes were inescapable.

Even those who weren't hit directly choked on the airborne particles, which penetrated face masks. Nava couldn't see or breathe. Everywhere Nava turned she saw people her age and younger writhing on the ground gasping for air. There were far too many injuries for medics to treat.

When the police relented, protesters seized the moment and climbed up the sides of the statue and wrapped it in ropes. Lines of protesters grabbed onto the ropes and pulled together. But the control over the statue was short-lived. The of officers had grown in the minutes since the protesters arrived in the park. Police scanners spread warnings of "mass arrests. Nava frantically searched for her friends.

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