City settles Chicago Freedom School lawsuit after group was cited for offering food to protesters trapped Downtown

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Justin Laurence / Block Club Chicago

Jacqulyn Hamilton, wellness coordinator for the The Chicago Freedom School, announces the group is suing the city at a press conference downtown on June 25, 2020.

This story originally appeared in Block Club Chicago. You can subscribe to Block Club Chicago’s neighborhood reporting by clicking here.

The City of Chicago has agreed to settle a lawsuit filed by the Chicago Freedom School a week after the nonprofit filed suit against the city, claiming they were issued an “illegal” cease and desist order for simply feeding and helping protesters trapped Downtown in late May.

On May 30, the school at 719 S. State St., which teaches primarily Black and Brown youth the fundamentals of community organizing, acted as a refuge to protesters who were trapped Downtown as curfew approached. School leaders knew their members were out on the front lines, confronted with pepper spray and potentially trapped as bridges were lifted and CTA service halted. They offered granola bars, water and free pizza to folks trying to figure out a ride home.

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But just before 11 p.m., however, the city’s Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection “demanded entry” to the school, staffers said, and issued a cease and desist order for “preparing and serving large quantities of food without the proper retail food establishment license” after an “investigative walkthrough” accompanied by police officers.

Last week, a 10-count lawsuit was filed on behalf of the School and it’s executive director Tony Alvarado-Rivera and wellness director Jacqulyn Hamilton seeking an injunctive relief from the cease and desist order and monetary damages. The city, Chicago Police Superintendent David Brown, BACP investigators and unnamed police officers were named as defendants in the lawsuit filed in federal court.

“We believe that the attack on our space was a deliberate attack on the young Black and Brown people in this city who dare raise their voices against police violence and oppression and an attempt to intimidate anyone who supports them,” the group said in a press release announcing the decision.

As part of the settlement, the city agreed to rescind the cease and desist order. The financial terms of the settlement were not provided by either party.

Kathy Fieweger, Director of Public Affairs for the city’s Law Department, said in a statement the city “agreed to resolve a lawsuit,” filed by the Freedom School, saying the city tried to reach out to the school “multiple times,” and could have rescinded the order sooner if the school had “provided information to indicate that they were not preparing or selling food, but we never heard back from the school.”

“The City is disappointed that the School chose to file a lawsuit instead, but is happy to have the matter resolved and looks forward to the Freedom School’s continued presence in Chicago,” Fieweger said.

Joey Mogul, an attorney for the Freedom School, said the nonprofit and several alderman did reach out to the city on the groups behalf to have the order rescinded prior to the lawsuit, but the city responded that they could help the group obtain a retail food license, while ignoring the groups larger claims that the search and order should never have been given.

“We didn’t have the luxury of waiting for them to meet with us over and over again to have the cease and desist order rescinded,” Mogul said, “We needed to bring a lawsuit to prompt this action.”

The cease and desist order didn’t lead to a fine, but the order directs Police Supt. Brown to “arrest any and all agents, and employees of the CFS if found engaging in the business or occupation of preparing and serving food on premises…,” according to the lawsuit.

With the city rescinding the order, the school says it can continue its work without the fear of reprisal from the city.

“The false accusations and bogus searches will cease and we no longer have the threat of arrest looming over our heads,” they said.