‘How was she a threat?’ Chicago police attack on Black youth leader Miracle Boyd outrages activists, officials

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Davon Clark/Injustice Watch

Chicago, IL — Miracle Boyd, an organizer with GoodKids MadCity, speaks at a media conference before GKMC’s “Love March” in the South Side’s Woodlawn neighborhood on Saturday, July 11, 2020.

Editor’s note: This article was updated Monday morning to reflect additional statements by police and Miracle Boyd. 

Miracle Boyd aimed her camera phone at Chicago police Friday, during the “Black, Indigenous Solidarity Rally,” in Downtown, where some demonstrators had lassoed a statue of Christopher Columbus with plans to pull it down.

The GoodKids MadCity organizer, recently featured in our Essential Work series about young Black activists, captured cops subduing, beating, and arresting demonstrators in a chaotic police response that included pepper spray and attacks on journalists at the scene. Police allege protestors had attacked them with fireworks, rocks, frozen water bottles, and other objects.

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At one point in the video, a person under arrest screams their name to Boyd as police haul them away. It was likely for safety. Many protestors taken to police stations report cops denying them access to legal counsel. And, historically, activists have wrestled with worse fears in custody than being denied a phone call.

“I got it,” Boyd promised the protestor.

And then, a fair-skinned arm with a colorful tattoo is seen lunging toward Boyd’s camera as another officer looks on. Boyd’s phone falls to the ground. “Get that fucking phone outta here,” a voice says off-camera before the stream dies.

Another video filmed from across the street shows more clearly what happened to Boyd Friday: A Chicago cop struck the 18-year-old Black woman in the mouth with his hand.

‘This is too close to home’

China Smith of GoodKids MadCity, who was also featured in our Essential Work series, said what happened to Boyd is a reminder of the danger Black women face on the front lines of what is shaping up to be one of the biggest social movements in American history. “Black women aren’t protected enough,” she said.

“This is too close to home because she is my friend,” Smith said. “Police officers should not get a pass to be aggressive all of the time. Abolish police, period!”

The Chicago Police Department has not released the name of the officer who struck Boyd, but a spokesperson wrote in an email to Injustice Watch on Monday that the department is investigating the incident.

“We do not tolerate misconduct of any kind and if any wrongdoing is discovered, officers will be held accountable,” read the statement. “Anyone who feels they have been mistreated by a CPD officer is encouraged to call 311 and file a complaint with [The Civilian Office of Police Accountability], who will investigate allegations of misconduct.”

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The arm of a police officer captured on Miracle Boyd’s live stream, lunging toward the 18-year-old activist.

Pictures taken near the scene after the attack show Boyd in tears, nursing scars on and around her mouth, with broken teeth. Injustice Watch recently featured Boyd, a resident of Chicago Lawn, in our Essential Work series about Black youth activists.

At a press conference Monday morning that was streamed live by The Triibe, Boyd emphasized her group’s commitment to defunding police and putting more dollars in Black and Latinx communities on Chicago’s South and West side. She also criticized Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot for the police response at the Black and Indigenous rally on Friday.

Boyd, who is calling for the officer who attacked her to be fired, also said she’s received threats and racist messages, and complained that “there are a lot of people who are trying to make me a criminal,” or make it seem like she deserved to be hit by police Friday.

Boyd’s live stream video recorded her cursing at officers, insulting them, and telling them not to touch her. No footage has surfaced showing Boyd physically attacking officers or throwing objects at them.

“No matter what I said, it doesn’t call for me to be brutally attacked,” Boyd said at Monday’s press conference, according to The Triibe.

Journalists and activists have documented numerous alleged excessive force cases related to protests since May 30, when the national uprising against white supremacy and police brutality exploded in Chicago and across the U.S., fueled by the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and a long list of Black people killed by police. The reports cast doubt on narratives of restraint by police and elected officials and allegations that all those attacked posed a clear threat to police.

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Essential Work: Young Black activists ‘in the middle of history’ confront Covid-19 and racism

GoodKids MadCity youth organizers China Smith and Miracle Boyd reflect on their experiences amid the pandemic and the growing movement against racial injustice. This is the first entry in a series about resilience and resistance by young Black Chicago activists.

South Side Weekly gathered accounts from May 30 protestors who alleged rampant police brutality. An investigation by the Invisible Institute, published by the Chicago Reader last month, compiled video from recent protests and documented more than 80 baton strikes on 32 or more people that appear to violate CPD policies, including officers beating people on the ground.

In an emailed statement about the Friday protest that didn’t detail Boyd’s incident, the police department gave its own account of clashes with protesters. According to the police department, “a large group gathered at 301 S. Columbus for a protest,” about 4:20 p.m. on Friday, before moving into Grant Park. Police, the statement reads, were there “providing security and protecting their First Amendment right to peacefully assemble.”

Davon Clark/Injustice Watch

Chicago, IL — Miracle Boyd, an organizer with GoodKids MadCity, poses for a portrait before participating in GKMC’s Love March in the Woodlawn neighborhood on Saturday, July 11, 2020.

As activists approached the Columbus statue, the statement said, “some members of the crowd turned on the police and used the protest to attack officers with fireworks, rocks, frozen bottles, and other objects.” Police said they arrested a dozen people who could face felony charges, including battery to a police officer and mob action. Police first reported that about 18 officers suffered injuries in the incident before updating the number to nearly 50 earlier this week.

Before the clashes began Friday, Boyd spoke in support of Indigenous Americans and called for Chicago to spend less on police and more on addressing the poverty she said underlies the city’s gun violence problem.

‘How was she a threat?’

GoodKids MadCity/Block Club Chicago

Miracle Boyd was injured by a Chicago Police officer, according to GoodKids MadCity.

Boyd has a substantial history of activism and leadership that predates the moment. She has spoken out against school closings and lobbied against the city’s plan to spend more than $100 million to build a new police academy on the West Side.

Last weekend, she helped lead a march against gun violence on the South Side. Boyd has also helped spearhead GoodKids MadCity’s push for a “Peacebook” ordinance that would tackle community violence by diverting some police funds toward mental health services, restorative justice practices, and community leaders willing to work closely with gang members to stem the violence.

Anthony Clark, a teacher and nonprofit leader who heads the group Suburban Unity Alliance, said he often collaborates with GoodKids MadCity and described Boyd as “a wonderful young black woman leader.” He is collecting donations via GoFundme to support Boyd’s recovery and has raised more than $83,000 as of Monday afternoon.

“Not only is she going to need physical support, in regards to the medical needs, but she’s also going to need some mental support, just based upon what she’s experienced,” Clark said.

Commenting on the video of Boyd’s attack, Clark said: “The white officer basically just punched her dead in her face. She was retreating, she was not engaging, she was not aggressive. How was she a threat? We need to have that officer identified.”

He also drew a direct connection between demands to defund police and what happened to Boyd, a recent Chicago Public School graduate who has fought school closings, called for more investment toward public schools, mental health services, and other resources in marginalized Black and Latinx communities.

“We literally have a physical representation of what we’re funding, state-sanctioned violence against the public, and who we’re not funding: young black leaders preaching peace, preaching for progress, and preaching change,” he said. “If you think about the movement we’re mobilizing calling for defunding of the police department, where are we asking that money to go?”

Boyd said at the press conference Monday that some of the proceeds from the fundraiser would go toward supporting the Peacebook initiative and helping youth who are experiencing homelessness.

South Side Ald. Jeanette Taylor, whose daughter is a close friend of Boyd’s, said she was distraught, “feeling pure hate and anguish,” and tired after hearing about what happened to the teen. She described Boyd as “5’1, 100 pounds, gentle when she can be but tough when she needs to be: she’s like what’s on her shirt: good kid, mad city,” said Taylor, who was a community organizer before being elected as alderman of the 20th ward.

“You’re talking about a kid who not only will get down and be in her neighborhood feeding people and doing marches to bring peace and awareness to young people, organizing young folks, but is also willing to write legislation, but she ain’t even 21,” said Taylor.

Taylor had this message for other young Black community organizers:

“Keep on fighting the good fight,” Taylor said. “They can’t silence us all. If they could, they would have a long time ago.”

Her comments echoed Boyd’s own words in an audio piece produced as part of Injustice Watch’s Essential Work series, in which she reflected on her activism since the coronavirus pandemic hit Chicago:

“The most important thing that I’ve learned over this time is that no matter what the dream is or the goal is, is to always go for it. Fight for it,” Boyd said. “With this whole defund CPD [demand], we’re still working. We’re still going to put that work forth to go out there and stop what we think is wrong.”

Injustice Watch intern Adam Mahoney contributed to this report.

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