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March highlights Boystown tensions [1 July, 2008]

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The Coalition for Justice and Respect organized a “Unity March Against Racism and Harassment” in the Boystown area.  This was the latest such event in Chicago to address the tensions that have pitted youth of color against police officers, condo dwellers, and business owners.

On June 21, approximately 20 people gathered at the Corus Bank parking lot on the corner of Halsted and Belmont to hear brief remarks from speakers.  Marc Loveless introduced the speakers by saying that “this march is not the answer to anything, but the beginning of a conversation and dialogue.  Instead of pointing fingers at African-American trans youth, police should look at the source of the problems facing them.” Andy Thayer, of Gay Liberation Network said that citizens “still had the freedom to assemble.”

Both Thayer and Father Tommy Avant Garde addressed the issue of sex work/prostitution, accusations of which have led residents and police to complain that youth are in the neighborhood only to “hustle.” Thayer suggested that police consider punishing the johns as well because “it takes two to tango.” He added that it was pointless to blame youth for taking on prostitution in an economy that gave them no opportunities or jobs.

Father Avant Garde said that the youth had every right to congregate in Boystown, given that it was their area as well: “As long as there are goal posts with rainbow flags on them, this is Boystown,” and queer youth have a right to be there.  Addressing the charges that youth traveled in gangs to create trouble, he said, “Everyone who wears a hat and baggy pants is not a gang-banger.” Darrell Gordon pointed out that police harassment is “not a new problem; we need to make these figures [statistics on police harassment] available.”

Gregory Norels, of the Bayard Rustin Access Center, planned as a resource center for queer African-American youth, talked about the need for police officers to treat youth with respect.  He also encouraged the youth present to know their rights and to immediately report harassment as it occurred.  Several young people in the audience spoke about the continual harassment they faced from police.  One of them said he”d been taunted with racial sluts, while another said “I was walking at 2 a.m.  and they [police officers] asked me if I was working.”

After opening speeches and a brief performance by Erthe St. James, the crowd walked down Halsted chanting slogans like, “Racism on Halsted”s got to go.”

Originally published in Windy City Times, 1 July, 2008

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