In pro-Palestinian rally, group calls for action ahead of DNC


Outside the 18th District Chicago police station, a group gathered Sunday afternoon waving Palestinian flags and wearing kaffiyehs in the first of many actions ahead of the Democratic National Convention being held in the city in August. In a contentious election year, the rally encapsulated a growing feeling of discontent with the political establishment.

The protesting coalition — which draws from many organizations across Chicago, from an antiwar committee to mothers who say their children have been wrongfully convicted — has a list of demands for politicians, but its main organizing principle is to stand in solidarity with Palestine and end U.S. aid to Israel.

“Our communities are diverse. Our strategies are diverse, but our goals are clear and we are steadfast,” said Amira Sohail, a recent graduate of the University of Chicago and co-chair of the Students for Justice in Palestine, which set up an encampment on the main quad of the campus. “We demand an end to the genocide. We demand an end to U.S. aid to Israel and we demand that the U.S. and Chicago stop investing in these systems that oppress us.”

Israel launched its bombardment of Gaza after Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on southern Israel, where the group killed some 1,200 people and took 250 hostages. Since then, more than 34,000 Palestinians have been killed, according to the Gaza Health Ministry.

Several speakers during the rally outside the on the Near North police station emphasized an interconnectedness between struggles, asking that politicians including Gov. J.B. Pritzker take action “from Chicago to Palestine.”

Nick Sous, a member of the U.S. Palestinian Community Network, called for the freedom of prisoners in Illinois and across the country who have been wrongfully convicted and for the freedom of prisoners in Palestine.

Darien Harris, whose murder conviction was overturned in December after spending 12 years behind bars for a fatal shooting at a South Side gas station — in which an eyewitness who identified him turned out to be legally blind — spoke of the frustrations he experienced during his trial and his time in prison.

“We just want to be treated equally as humans,” he said. “We got to start holding these lawmakers accountable for the things that we’ve gone through in jail, and in life as well. Because at the end of the day, the system should be put in place to help us but the system is against us.”

Organizers also played a voice message over the megaphone from Rico Clark, who is serving a 55-year prison sentence for a 2006 murder. Clark contends he did not commit the crime and has filed a post-conviction petition as witnesses have recanted their statements.

Protesters yell while attending a rally organized by the Coalition to March on the DNC near the Chicago police 18th District station, May 19, 2024 in Chicago. (Armando L. Sanchez/Chicago Tribune)
Protesters yell while attending a rally organized by the Coalition to March on the DNC near the Chicago police’s 18th District station, May 19, 2024 in Chicago. (Armando L. Sanchez/Chicago Tribune)

A member of the Anti-War Committee Chicago, Jae Franklin said the March on the DNC coalition is asking the Pritzker administration to stop “dragging their feet” and prioritize signing hundreds of pending clemency petitions.

“This system is unjust. It’s not for the people; it’s focused on profits,” Franklin said. “This city has spent billions — with a ‘B’ — billions on the Chicago Police Department so they can intimidate students, Black and brown communities, people without homes. (They) show up in riot gear in the middle of the night and arrest students who are peacefully protesting. Billions of dollars to arrest people on bogus charges, to enact violence upon the communities they pretend to care about. The state of Illinois has sent billions of dollars to Israel, paying for these atrocities.”

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After hearing from the speakers, the group marched eastward on Division Street, flanked by police officers on bikes and squad cars who didn’t allow the group to go past North Orleans Street. The hundred or so protesters then headed south, where police cut them off at Oak Street, forcing them to return west to the police station.

Izet Duranovic, a Bosnian who has lived in Chicago for 27 years, waved a Palestinian flag and, under it, a blue and yellow flag — that of his homeland of Bosnia and Herzegovina. He has attended countless pro-Palestinian protests this year, he said, to show solidarity with the plight of those being persecuted like his fellow Bosnian Muslims, of which Serbian forces killed 8,000 in December 1995.

“Why do police come?” he said, shaking his fist in the air, emotion bubbling up. “People — Jewish, Palestinians — come together, sing.”

He shook his head. The rallies, protests and encampments he’s been to are peaceful havens, he said.

“I want to thank you all, and we’ll be seeing you all in August,” said April Ward, the mother of Micheail Ward, who was convicted of the 2013 murder of 15-year-old Hadiya Pendleton.

Last year, his case was overturned by an appeals court, which ordered a new trial, having found that Chicago police detectives violated his rights by continuing to question him after he invoked his right to remain silent. The case has made its way to the Illinois Supreme Court as prosecutors are asking that the last ruling be reversed.

“I have to say to these Democrats and these Republicans that your time is here,” his mother exclaimed. “We are going to get justice for all.”

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