For the past thirteen days, the #LetUsBreathe Collective has been occupying Homan Square, the known Chicago Police black site where arrested individuals have been disappeared, tortured, and abused. The occupation began on Thursday, July 21st, following the national #FreedomNow Campaign against police unions and has continued in the style of a block party. #LetUsBreathe activists are feeding the nearby North Lawndale community, providing mental and health care, giving out books, and putting on arts activities for young people.

Kristiana Colón, a poet and the #LetUsBreathe Collective co-director, says that the group is a coalition of artists, photographers, journalists, and activists that came together in the wake of Michael Brown’s death in Ferguson, Missouri in August 2014. The group was inspired by fellow protesters from the group Lost Voices, who occupied a protest area in Ferguson for 47 days, in hopes that Darren Wilson would be indicted. The groups worked together to develop a documentary and theater productions “to catalyze youth activism and build collective consciousness,” according to Colón.

Colón stated that the Freedom Square occupation began in response to the Black Youth Project 100’s civil disobedience at Homan Square on July 20th, where they blocked police cars in the facility by chaining themselves together across its entrance. After a march from 15th and Albany (the site of Rekia Boyd’s death in 2012) all the way to Homan Square, the #LetUsBreathe Collective decided to remain at the square across the street and set up their event called Breathing Room, which aims to bring resources, fun, services and support to those affected by mass incarceration.

“Freedom Square feature[s] free food, free books, music, and a community canvas,” said Colón. “Apart of the visual spectacle included seven tents, each representing the resource areas we believe the city should invest in instead of police: restorative justice, education, mental health, employment, fair housing, arts, and nutrition.”

The excited children of the North Lawndale community asked the collective when they would return, and according to Colón, that question combined with inspiration from Lost Voices, and the anniversary of Freedom Summer compelled the #LetUsBreathe Collective to begin the occupation of Freedom Square.

Colón states that the occupation will continue “As long as we can, as long as we need to.”

The occupation has three demands: 1) that the “Blue Lives Matter” ordinance be rescinded; 2) that the Civilian Police Accountability Council ordinance be passed; and 3) that the CPD releases reports of their killing of Pierre Loury just weeks before the action only blocks from Homan Square.

While the North Lawndale community may appreciate the presence of the occupiers, Colón emphasizes that the occupation means a lot to  #LetUsBreathe Collective as well.

“This occupation is love in action, community organizing in practice, a laboratory in nation building, an art installation of imagining a world without police. Everyone who participates is forever transformed,” she said. 

Photo credits: #LetUsBreathe Collective, Twitter