‘Be brave for 30 sec­onds’

Evanston protest calls out si­lence to­ward dis­play of Con­fed­er­ate flag at beach

Chicago Sun-Times - - CHICAGO SUN TIMES - BY CLARE PROC­TOR, STAFF RE­PORTER cproc­tor@sun­times.com | @ce­proc­tor23

Just as prob­lem­atic as the Con­fed­er­ate flag towel at an Evanston beach Wed­nes­day, LaShan­dra Smith-Ray­field said, were the beach­go­ers who didn’t speak up about it.

“Me speak­ing out against ha­tred does not make me anti-pa­tri­otic,” Smith-Ray­field said at a protest Fri­day. “It ac­tu­ally makes me pa­tri­otic . . . . Ev­ery per­son on that beach walked past it. In my video, you can see peo­ple walk on past it. Why is it OK to walk on past it?”

Fri­day, more than 300 peo­ple cir­cled around Smith-Ray­field, gath­er­ing at a protest out­side Light­house Beach in North Evanston on Fri­day. Smith-Ray­field and other or­ga­niz­ers called out other peo­ple at the beach Wed­nes­day who didn’t take ac­tion when a white man at the beach hung a Con­fed­er­ate flag towel on the fence, as well as peo­ple who stay silent in the face of racism.

On Wed­nes­day, a beach­goer set up camp at Light­house Beach and hung a towel dis­play­ing a Con­fed­er­ate flag on the fence. Photos of the towel hit so­cial me­dia, and when Smith-Ray­field saw it, she got in her car, drove to the beach and called the man out, de­mand­ing he take down the Con­fed­er­ate flag. She streamed the en­counter in a video on Face­book Live. The video also shows an African Amer­i­can man who en­gaged in the ar­gu­ment and iden­ti­fied him­self as a vet­eran.

The man, who asked to re­main un­named out of fear for his safety, told the Sun-Times he didn’t get to fin­ish what he was say­ing in the video. He said he served in the mil­i­tary so peo­ple could have a “right to have a dif­fer­ent opin­ion.” If the men with the flag would have started at­tack­ing Smith-Ray­field, the man said he would have de­fended her as well.

The man said he dis­agreed with the sym­bol and even in­ten­tion­ally sat next to the group with the Con­fed­er­ate flag, hop­ing to have a con­ver­sa­tion with them about why the flag is wrong.

“I was go­ing to do it dis­creetly,” he said. “All I did was de­fend their right to have a dif­fer­ent idea.”

He said they even­tu­ally agreed to re­move the flag at his re­quest; one can be seen shak­ing his hand in the video.

Smith-Ray­field deleted the video Thurs­day be­cause of in­ter­net trolls call­ing her a ter­ror­ist and mak­ing threats, she told the Sun­Times on Fri­day.

At the protest, Smith-Ray­field told white at­ten­dees they need to “be brave for 30 sec­onds” and call out racism when they see it.

“We’re all ca­pa­ble,” Smith-Ray­field told the Sun-Times. “I’m not dif­fer­ent from any­one here.”

Smith-Ray­field, who’s been an ed­u­ca­tor for two decades, said she and oth­ers are pre­par­ing a cur­ricu­lum to send out to bet­ter ed­u­cate the com­mu­nity about racism and how to be anti-racist. In the year 2020, she said, there shouldn’t be a “white beach” any­more, a rep­u­ta­tion some say Light­house Beach has.

Khari Ray­field, 19, one of SmithRay­field’s four chil­dren, spoke at the protest, call­ing out the un­just deaths of Tamir Rice, Ge­orge Floyd, Bre­onna Tay­lor and oth­ers at the hands of po­lice. Ray­field said these peo­ple all “fit the de­scrip­tion” sim­ply be­cause of the color of their skin. So do her broth­ers, sis­ter, mother, fa­ther, cousins, Ray­field said.

“I fit the de­scrip­tion,” Ray­field said. “I don’t want to be the next hash­tag. I don’t want any­one over here to be the next hash­tag.”

Atena Dan­ner closed out the rally by singing “Feel­ing Good” by Nina Si­mone, a civil rights ac­tivist. Dan­ner told the Sun-Times that she chose the song be­cause the racial in­jus­tices “suck the life and joy out of you.” With her song, Dan­ner said she wants to help reen­er­gize their joy. Peo­ple then marched on the beach in groups of 50 in protest.

Evanston Mayor Steve Hagerty, who came to the protest af­ter it started af­ter at­tend­ing a pan­demic task force meet­ing, first posted on so­cial me­dia call­ing the in­ci­dent “fake news” be­fore he saw SmithRay­field’s

video and walked fur­ther down the beach to find her ac­count to be true. He posted a sec­ond time apol­o­giz­ing and prais­ing Smith-Ray­field’s brav­ery.

City lawyers are look­ing into or­di­nances that could pro­hibit dis­play­ing any sign of hate on pub­lic prop­erty, Hagerty told the Sun-Times.

“We don’t want to hin­der speech,” Hagerty said. “But we don’t want hate speech on our pub­lic prop­erty.”

Jiana Bel­ton, 45, has lived in Evanston for 23 years. As a Black mother, she at­tended Fri­day’s protest be­cause there is still sys­temic di­vi­sion in the schools and neigh­bor­hoods, Bel­ton said.

The racism goes far­ther than the beach, Bel­ton said, man­i­fest­ing in un­equal pun­ish­ment of stu­dents of color at schools and racism in polic­ing.

“We’re ex­hausted,” Bel­ton said. “We want the same thing white peo­ple want, for our fam­i­lies to be able to en­joy a day at the beach.”

PAT NABONG/SUN-TIMES PHOTOS

Peo­ple at­tend a racial jus­tice rally at Light­house Beach in Evanston on Fri­day.

LaShan­dra Smith-Ray­field

PAT NABONG/SUN-TIMES PHOTOS

ABOVE: Peo­ple at­tend a racial jus­tice rally Fri­day at Light­house Beach in Evanston. LEFT: LaShan­dra Smith-Ray­field tears up while speak­ing at the rally.

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