IT was one of the bloodiest riots in US history – sparked by a black teen who accidentally floated into the so-called “white” side of the beach.
His mistake proved fatal – and the 17 year old was brutally stoned to death by a mob of angry white swimmers.
100 years on, the Chicago race riots are illuminated in a series of haunting photographs that show the extent of the violence and the open racism prevalent at the time[/caption]
Days of rioting, bombings and more stonings followed, leaving 38 people dead, 500 injured and over a thousand – mainly African Americans – homeless.
Now on the 100 year anniversary of the riots, Chicago is still living under the shadows of their dark legacy – with segregation, racial inequality and a deep distrust of police among the black community still blighting the city today.
While Chicago is known for its high levels of gun violence, around 80 percent of those shot in the city this year were black – including Austin Rogers, 15, who was fatally shot as he walked home from the corner shop last month.
Life expectancy, which tops 90 in some affluent white Chicago neighbourhoods, is as low as 60 just a few miles away in black communities such as Englewood – while police in the city are 14 times more likely to use force against young black men than young white men, according to recent figures.
Some experts in the city believe unless something is done to address the startling inequality both in Chicago and across the US – a repeat of 1919 “is not that far away”.
‘PEOPLE DON’T LIKE TO TALK ABOUT IT’
“1919 was really one of those flash point moments that really does powerfully impact Chicago up to the current moment,” Liesl Olsen, a historian at the Newberry research library, told Sun Online.
“That moment has had ramifications in all different spheres of life in Chicago now – including how neighbourhoods are organised and segregated, how there’s segregation in housing and education and selective policing.
“It’s also one of those super difficult moments that people don’t like to talk about – even a lot of Chicagoans don’t know this history very well.
“So 100 years ago, it was a very hot day and there were many people at the beach. A group of African American boys had made a a homemade raft and were floating in the water on a public beach and they floated over to what was tacitly understood to be a white beach.
STONED TO DEATH
“A group of white guys started throwing rocks at the boys on the raft and they probably didn’t know how to swim very well.
“One of those boys Eugene Williams was just 17 and he basically was stoned to death, fell off the raft and drowned.
“The police arrived but refused to arrest the white man. And it was that refusal to act that really spawned the racial violence.
“What followed was a whole week of violence, looting, arson – 23 black people died and 15 white people died.”
One of the solution to the riots – which had to be quelled by Illinois National Guard – was to further segregate communities by race, and this segregation was worsened over the decades by a succession of discriminatory policies such as redlining which prevented many African Americans from getting mortgages.
Today, many of those communities remain segregated and as well as poverty, poorly performing schools and high unemployment, these areas – most located on the south side of the City – are blighted by drug gangs and gun violence.
Just this year, 1465 people have been shot and 281 murdered, according to Chicago Tribune figures. The majority of these are young black men.
‘I’M MISSING A PIECE OF MY HEART’
Lola Rogers’ 15-year-old son Austin was shot dead last month as he walked home from the corner shop with his pals after playing basketball.
This week Lola and other family members held a vigil march in his memory, which was tragically interrupted when Austin’s suspected killer showed up brandishing a pistol.
“He was the one kids who never gave me no trouble,” she told the Tribune.
“He had confidence in who he was and was always cool, laid back and bright.
“I’m missing a piece of my heart right now.”
Such stories are sadly not uncommon. Just days before Austin died, Chicago suffered its worst weekend of the year with 52 shot and 10 killed in what cops described as “despicable levels of violence”.
Many of the shootings are gang-related, but like Austin many are just innocent children caught in the crossfire or in the wrong place at the wrong time – such as six-month-old baby Jonylah Watkins, who was shot five times as her dad changed her in his car, back in 2013.
The same year Hadiya Pendleton, 15, who performed at President Barack Obama’s inauguration a week earlier, was shot in the back in a park while she celebrated the end of her exams with her friends.
Little Amari Brown was shot to death aged seven in the chest by a drive by shooter in 2015. The list goes on.
Chicago has also faced many instances of police brutality against black people.
Just last week four city police officers were fired for an alleged cover up in the aftermath of the fatal shooting of black teenager Laquan Mcdonald by police.
Laquan was shot 16 times by police while walking away in 2014. The release of dashboard footage ignited many protests at the time.
The Chicago Police Department is also been sued for wrongful death after an officer shot a dad-of-two Maurice Granton, 24, last year.
The city has had to pay millions in compensation to black victims for decades of torture at the hands of cops – including to some men who were electrocuted or forced to take part in mock executions in a bid to get them to falsely confess to crimes they didn’t commit.
“One area in which you can really see a legacy line tracing all the way back to the riot is racial disparities in policing and criminal justice,” Professor Adam Green from the University of Chicago told Sun Online..
“In 1919 a decision was made by the police leadership to essentially deploy the police in a way that would contain the black community within itself.
“So instead of stopping whites from going into the black community or going to where the violence had happened – they basically circled around the black community.
“Then there were something like 500 arrests made but two thirds of these were African American. Two thirds of the people who were injured were also African American. So you have a race riot in which two thirds of the arrests are blacks but two thirds of the casualties were black – and that obviously doesn’t add up.
“I would say that this is really the first instance, but of course it’s not the last where you see a movement, a pattern towards racially disparate policing.
“From that you begin to get more and more aggressive policing against black communities.
“I would say that that crisis of trust of everyday African Americans in the police, is at a lower point now as arguably it ever has been with maybe the exception of a couple of years here and there.
“And if you spoke with city leaders, including people in the police department, they would say that repairing that trust is one of the most important challenges that the city faces right now.”
‘IT COULD HAPPEN AGAIN’
Green believes that another deadly race riot like 1919 “is not as far away as we may think” unless these inequalities are addressed.
“There was a great deal of controversy about whether or not to release the tape of the shooting of Lavon McDonalds in 2015,” he said.
“People had seen that tape already four months before in city leadership and there was a desire to kind of quell and prevent that news from ever getting out on the street.
“Once there was a successful freedom of information request to release it the city administration still fought against it being publicly released, they wanted it only on one TV station and at one time of the day.
“Why? Because they were afraid that another riot would break out and I think there’s a sense that we are always close – given the extreme inequality, the extreme discrimination and the extreme resentment that exists.”
He added: “It’s not that far away that one could imagine some of the conditions that happened in 1919 coming again to the United States, you know, more hot weather, more tensions in relation to a given community where people grow very suspicious of each other and more unwillingness on the part of authorities to intervene.
“So let’s say something like Ferguson, where a black person was shot by a white officer but instead it was a white person shot by a black officer.
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“And let’s say instead it was whites who marched outside in protest and let’s say rather than just protesting in an angry way, they protested while they had arms, what might happen?
“You know that’s the kind of progression of events which one could see happening in the United States in the next year or two.
“That tragically and sadly would replicate exactly the conditions that we saw in 1919. We’re not that far away from it, not that far away from it at all.