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'There's a change in the air' Protesters rally, march through Hinsdale to 'shed light' on injustice

People gather Wednesday at Burlington Park in Hinsdale as part of a Black Lives Matter protest.
People gather Wednesday at Burlington Park in Hinsdale as part of a Black Lives Matter protest.

HINSDALE – Maiwen Amegadjie asked people gathered around her to lie down for nine minutes and remember George Floyd.

As more than 100 assembled Wednesday in Hinsdale, many of them young people, lied face down in front of the Hinsdale Police Station, only the sounds of the "Amazing Grace" gospel chorus cut through the silence.

"Nine minutes," Amegadjie said. "It's longer than a basketball quarter. It's longer than it takes for me to run a mile. George Floyd's neck was down on the ground for nine minutes as he died. We have the privilege to get up. He did not. Let's use our privilege for the good."

Amegadjie and those who joined her believe they did just that. A recent graduate of Hinsdale Central High School, she led a Black Lives Matter rally in her community that was like so many other peaceful protests that have swept the country this past week. It's in the wake of Floyd's death May 25 in Minneapolis when an arresting white police officer, Derek Chauvin, pressed his knee to Floyd's neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds.

Bhokore Wassira, speaking to the assembly on the steps of the police station, thanked those gathering in peaceful protest for creating change and "doing it the right way."

"I don't care if you're Christian, Muslim, atheist, black, white, a cop, we all have a value for life," Wassira said.

The Hinsdale Climate Coalition had originally scheduled a rally for Wednesday, but Amegadjie said it was shut down by Hinsdale businesses and police who feared the potential for violence and looting. A rally Monday in Naperville turned violent, but similar events in Glen Ellyn and other suburban communities have remained peaceful.

Despite posts on social media that the rally was canceled, more than 100 gathered in Burlington Park, then marched through the streets of downtown Hinsdale and ended at the Hinsdale police station.

"I decided I'm not going to let someone take away my First Amendment rights to come out here and protest," Amegadjie said. "I feel it's my duty to shed light on injustice."

Many Hinsdale businesses boarded up their windows as protesters marched by to chants of "No justice no peace" and "I can't breathe." Several residents and police silently looked on.

"Business people are scared that people from outside are going to cause trouble. It's cowardly to think that people are going to come and loot and riot. That means they are not looking at the important part of the movement," Amegadjie said. "We are not a people who loot and riot in Hinsdale and Western Spring and Burr Ridge."

Amegadjie said she has been frustrated that too much of the focus of the last week has centered on the violence and looting, and not on why so many people are rallying in the first place.

"All I see on the news is looting and riots and it's taking away from the fact that three officers that were complicit in George Floyd's murder are still out there and free today, which is not OK," Amegadjie said. "Black people have a tendency to be seen as criminals and thugs and animals and it only perpetuates the stereotype."

Amegadjie said living in the suburbs, with an outgoing personality, she's fortunate that people have never acted overtly racist to her before. But her family has been touched by it, she said.

A year after moving to Hinsdale, her brother Kiran went to a football game and someone wrapped in the Confederate flag called him the N-word.

"And he was in the eighth grade. He was scared," Amegadjie said. "He's going to Yale now, playing football. People don't understand that the year before high school he was being called a racial slur."

Claire Sullivan, one of many white people joining the Hinsdale rally Wednesday, said it's important for a town that is predominantly white and "sheltered" and isn't faced with racial injustices to be exposed to this.

She admired the high school students for organizing the event and exercising their right of assembly and free speech.

"If something makes you uncomfortable, it's really important to examine why," Sullivan said. "In this case, especially as a white person, we feel a lot of discomfort around this issue, and I think we should, and I think we should use that to educate ourselves and stand with our black brothers and sisters."

Wassira said it was a good feeling to see all of the people, black and white, young and some like Sullivan older, out in force.

He attended Elm Elementary, Hinsdale Middle School and Hinsdale Central High School growing up, before going on to Penn State. He knows what it's like to be the only black kid in the neighborhood, the "token black kid," the only black person on student council.

"What this does is it allows the .3 percent of us to unify with the other 99.7 percent to show that we are in this together," Wassira said. "We can do a lot more together than we do apart. It's beautiful to see this. It sucks that it has to be for this reason, but if it did have to happen it's beautiful that it happened this way."

The rallies and protests have become an international phenomenon, with massive gatherings across the United States and even Europe, much more so than after previous similar incidents involving black people and police.

"It's a myriad of things I think," Sullivan said. "All of this is happening against the backdrop of coronavirus. Maybe it's people are more exposed to these videos now. I think part of it is we watched a man die on camera, watched him there for nine minutes. You can't ignore it anymore."

"It's in the air. There's a change in the air," Amegadjie said. "People are sick and tired of the racism. I'm not saying all cops are bad people, but we are tired of the few bad apples in the police being let out. It's not just black men, it's black women. My whole life black men and women have been targeted."

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