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  • Demonstrators protest outside the Homan Square facility on the city

    Demonstrators protest outside the Homan Square facility on the city's Westside on February 28, 2015. | Photo: AFP

Published 27 July 2016

Activists first pitched their tents in protest against the acquittal of Dante Servin, a Chicago police officer who shot Rekia Boyd in 2012.

Anti-police brutality activists have been occupying Homan Square, dubbed Freedom Square, in a six-day block party to demand greater accountability in the Chicago Police Department, build political awareness and experiment with community policing.

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The camp is on a vacant lot, but it faces a police “black site” that, according to a Guardian investigation, tortures and disappears those detained for interrogation without access to lawyers or public notice, with over 82 percent of them being Black people.

Activists first pitched their tents after a protest last week against the acquittal of Dante Servin, a Chicago police officer who shot Rekia Boyd in 2012. Ten were arrested after they chained themselves to the intersection of Homan and Fillmore.

The #LetUsBreathe Collective and the Black Youth Project 100 intend the occupation to serve as a police-free zone to challenge policing in a more permanent, constructive way than one-off actions. The camp gives out free books, food, clothes, music and “political education from local resource providers” to over 200 people, according to its website, “to imagine a world without police.”

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On Wednesday, Homan Square demonstrators “cop watched ... as police harassed Black elders occupying a lot;” hosted a play by Free Street Theater; spoke against a proposal to make anti-police violence protests a hate crime—dubbed “Blue Lives Matter;" and mourned with the family of Jonathan Mills, a young professional basketball player who was shot on Monday two blocks away from the camp.

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Local media reported that Mills died from gun violence after leaving a nearby corner store, but reporter Zach Strafford tweeted that he was leaving the camp. He was the 2,292th victim of gun violence in Chicago, which is seeing one of its most violent years on record.

The #LetUsBreathe Collective was first created to fundraise supplies for a similar action by Ferguson protesters, some of whom have visited the Freedom Square.

The Chicago location is important, says the collective, because they are also demanding the defunding and divestment from the Homan Square detention center and of all “police and legislative systems that are violent toward Black communities.”

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced Friday a new series of meetings to brainstorm police reform with politicians, officers and local residents. He had previously said he would build a Community Safety Oversight Board and added Friday that its creation would be led by community organizations to make sure it “reflects the voices and interests of the community.” Demonstrators from the Freedom Square are prepared to attend.

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