CHICAGO – Chicago's police chief agreed Friday to hold monthly meetings with a group of black high school students who had planned a demonstration protesting an officer's fatal shooting of a black man and racist text messages distributed by students at another school.
Superintendent Eddie Johnson met with the group of public school students, the principal of a Catholic school where students distributed the texts and leaders in the Mount Greenwood community on the city's South Side. He commended the students for "forcing" officials to discuss their safety concerns and assured them that if they do decide to protest, police will make sure they're protected.
Marist, the Catholic high school, canceled classes Friday after the group that calls itself Black Lives Matter Youth scheduled a demonstration. One of its organizers, Eva Lewis, said the students' protest was postponed because the school district contacted their parents to warn them about potential threats.
Johnson provided few details about the meeting but confirmed his offer to talk monthly to the group.
"I told them if they created a curriculum and they wanted to come in and speak to members of the (Chicago Police Department), I would facilitate," he said.
The meeting came amid increased tensions in the predominantly white neighborhood that is home to many police officers, firefighters and other city employees. An off-duty police officer fatally shot Joshua Beal, a 25-year-old Indianapolis resident. Police say Beal pointed a gun at the officer during a melee that began when an off-duty firefighter told the driver of the vehicle Beal was in that it needed to be moved because it was blocking a fire station's driveway.
Since then, activists have held at least two demonstrations — both of which attracted largely white crowds that shouted profanity and racially-charged language at the protesters.
At Marist, administrators launched an investigation after media reports that some female students in a group text discussed the shooting and the subsequent protests, with one using the N-word. In a message posted online, school officials said they were "devastated by the incident" and that security at the school had been increased. The school also said that "disciplinary action" had already been taken but they would not elaborate.
Some white residents of the area have said they were merely trying to stand up in support for the many police officers who live in the community. But the scene that was captured on videos showed angry crowds shouting down the demonstrators to go back to their communities and revving their motorcycles to drown out what they were saying.
The alderman who represents the community on the City Council said he was caught off guard by what he saw on the videos of the protests.
"Certainly when something as ugly as we have seen in the last week in my community, I was caught by surprise and I'm saddened by it," Alderman Matt O'Shea said.
The school said in a statement Friday that it called off classes to "ensure safety and limit learning disruptions." School officials have launched an investigation of the students' text messages, telling parents in a message posted online that they were "devastated by this incident" and that security at the school had been increased. The school said that "disciplinary action" was taken but did not elaborate.
In his own message on the Archdiocese of Chicago website, Archbishop Blase Cupich said he supports the school taking "the necessary steps to deal with this situation swiftly and take appropriate disciplinary action." And, he said, "Racism is a sin and has no place in the Church, including the Archdiocese of Chicago."