Helen Quinn Pasin
On the evening of Jan. 7, a large crowd filled the street outside of L!VE Cafe in Oak Park to hold a candlelight vigil. This gathering of solidarity happened the day after a brick attached to a note with racial slurs implying a threat to Black candidates running for village trustee was found outside of the Black-woman-owned cafe.
The immense pain that this hate crime has caused owner Reesheda Graham Washingon was palpable as she took the microphone at the vigil. “There’s been a police car sitting across the street from my business for more than 24 hours,” she said. “I want you to register the damned if they do and damned if they don’t position this police department is in because of who I am. To witness a police car outside of my business all day was jarring for me.”
“There is no place anymore now for me to go. This was my place. This was the place for so many people and somebody took that away from us yesterday,” continued Graham Washington.
This incident occurred during the same time that Black candidates for village trustee, Chibuike Enyia and Anthony Clark, were being unfairly questioned by a white resident about their legitimacy.
At the vigil, Enyia called the community to action, saying: “If you love what Reesheda does for this community. If you love your Black brothers and sisters who have been here for you through everything, continue to show that support when we need you, and the time is right now.”
Enyia connected the hate crime to larger trends in the U.S. and framed Graham Washington as a bright spot in dark times.
“We have people that are hurting from COVID, we have people that are hurting from bricks, we have people storming our state Capitol,” Enyia said. “We have so much healing that needs to be done but we can’t do that healing until we stand together and until we understand what’s at stake. I love this community and I love what Reesheda did for us. She gave us a place where we actually feel like we could accomplish goals and get stuff done, and we don’t want her to feel like this isn’t her home anymore. We want her to feel safe. That is what all of us have been given, a right to feel safe.”
Clark also spoke at the vigil and took a moment to teach the mostly white crowd about how incidents like the hate crime and the killing of George Floyd are direct results of the U.S.’s legacy of slavery. “For some reason, my mind went to ‘commodity and goods,’” when hearing about the hate crime, Clark said. “Since the enslavement of Africans and African Americans through chattel slavery, Black bodies have been viewed as commodities. Something you can buy, sell, use, disregard, and replace.”
Clark continued, “What if I told you that in 2021 Black women, Back men, and Black they (non-binary people) are still viewed as commodities. Because we’re viewed as commodities, we continue to see pervasive police violence across this country. George Floyd, a Black man accused of having a counterfeit $20 bill was murdered, but just yesterday we saw white folk being able to breach the Capitol, break windows, steal items, and threaten and fight police and the response is selfies and ‘I hope you get home safely.’ It’s a difference and I need you to understand. Because we’re viewed as commodities, somebody felt comfortable enough to come by this Black woman-owned establishment and throw a brick at it. Because what they truly believe is that she doesn’t have enough value in this community for someone to care.”
Helen Quinn Pasin is an investigative reporter focused on social justice at Medill. You can follow her on Twitter at @HelenQuinnPasin.
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