If Labor Day travel at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport is hairy today, that’s the intention. A protest aims to block interstate traffic near the airport, the third-busiest airport in the U.S., to draw attention to the violence and lack of opportunity in the city’s West and South sides.
The timing of the protest is surely no coincidence. Labor Day weekend is especially hectic in terms of travel, with some 16.5 million Americans expected to hit the skies, up 3.5% from last year. And the trial over the police shooting of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald, whose 2014 death is a flashpoint in the city’s long history of gun violence, starts Wednesday.
A group led by Rev. Gregory Seal Livingston is planning the protest near O’Hare. He’s shared a list of demands including more resources and opportunities for black residents and neighborhoods, as well as the resignation of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
Livingston’s enmity with Emanuel isn’t new, but it was galvanized in 2014, when Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke, who is white, fatally shot 17-year-old Laquan McDonald, who is black. Van Dyke shot McDonald 16 times as the teenager was walking away from him, and the city administration delayed the release of dashcam footage of the incident for more than a year, until after Emanuel had won re-election.
“I’ve always had issues with him in terms of his policy. I’ve always felt it was not the policy for the challenged and the disadvantaged, and he could care less about them,” the preacher told Rolling Stone. “It doesn’t mean we exclude those who are thriving, but we just can’t forget the least of these among us. But to [allegedly] cover up this murder for the purposes of getting reelected, a conspiracy to conceal and defraud, that’s huge! It’s unacceptable.”
The police officer’s murder trial begins Wednesday, nearly four years after the shooting. Van Dyke faces charges of first-degree murder, official misconduct and 16 counts of aggravated battery, one for each time he shot McDonald. And the city continues to be plagued by violence. The Chicago Police Department reported a murder count of 368 through August of this year. That’s 20% less than the 460 killings from January to August last year, but during a recent weekend, 12 people were killed and 62 were wounded in shootings in the city.
The release of the dashcam video of McDonald’s killing spurred Black Friday protests in Chicago, which have now become an annual tradition. Livingston’s organization, Coalition for a New Chicago, is working with other community groups to organize the demonstration on Labor Day on Monday, which aims to block the Kennedy Expressway (Interstate 90) that runs to O’Hare starting at 11:30 a.m. today.
Illinois State Police spokesman David Byrd said authorities had offered protesters alternative venues for the march and will not allow the protest to interrupt traffic. “We are prepared for all contingencies,” he told USA Today.