Chicago: #RiseUpOctober, Janelle Monae, Wondaland, and Families of Victims of Police Terror

Crying Out for Justice

August 18, 2015 | Revolution Newspaper |


From readers:

Monday, August 17—The Cloud Gate sculpture at Millennium Park reflects the downtown Chicago skyline like a giant bead of mercury in the shape of a bean three stories tall and more than twice as long. It is a popular destination for people visiting the city from all over the world. Word was out that Janelle Monáe, joined by other artists from the Wondaland label, would join an action against police terror promoting #RiseUpOctober at “the Bean”—and as the clock ticked into the afternoon the crowd around the Cloud Gate began to change. Younger, Blacker, hip styles. A group of young Latinos with “fight for 15” on their T-shirts sat at a long table in front of the Bean. Three young Black women had come down from Milwaukee because the issue of police brutality was just that important to them. Some young people could be recognized from the protest on April 14.

Poster boards were being passed around – face down. Peeked at like the hole card in a game of poker, they bore the names and pictures of people murdered by the police. The sun was blistering in the open plaza, and people began to gather under the Bean in its shade—the crowd growing in size as more people filtered into the plaza.

Chicago August 17

On signal, people in the crowd raised signs and the event was on. Photo:, used with permission.

Then the word went out and the signs came up—signs that named, remembered and honored those whose lives have been stolen by the police. Signs flashing the hashtags #RiseUpOctober and #HLYTB (for Janelle Monáe and the Wondaland crew's powerful song "Hell You Talmbout") and signs demanding to know “Which Side Are You On?!” The mother of Justus Howell—a 17-year-old Black youth killed by police this April in Zion, Illinois—was in the crowd with other relatives holding a poster of her son. The Stolen Lives banner and a giant poster for the October 24 protest in NYC went up. The press was there and the event was on.

The speak-out was co-MCed by Grant Newburger and Iggy Flow—members of the Revolution Club in Chicago who each face seven years on trumped-up felonies from last fall’s protests against Murder by Police. Speakers addressed the gathering preparing for the artists' arrival, and  included Tio Hardiman and Ameena Mathews of Violence Interrupters, Raymond Richards of Brothers Standing Together, LaCreshia Birts from the Black Youth Project 100, and Gregg Greer from SCLC. Ameena Mathews challenged everyone to bring five people to NYC October 24.

Chicago August 17

At one point Geneva Read-Veal spoke—her daughter Sandra Bland died in police custody in Texas after she was stopped for a minor traffic violation, brutalized, and arrested. Photo:, used with permission.

They called on people to be part of O24 and called on people to take part in activities against police terror and calling for justice leading in to October. When people called out “Rise up October,” the crowd responded “Which Side Are you On!?” as they waited for the Wondaland artists—chanting, singing and shouting people’s names that were murdered by police.

When the Wondaland artists arrived, the crowd parted and the artists stood behind the families of people whose lives were stolen by police. Each Wondaland artist spoke to why they were there. They said they wanted to take a stand against police terror and brutality. They were bringing their creativity and emotions to bear on their brand new song: "HELL YOU TALMBOUT! Walter Scott—say his name!...Michael Brown—say his name!…Sandra Bland—say her name!...” The crowd was right with them shouting people’s names.

At one point Geneva Read-Veal spoke—her daughter Sandra Bland died in police custody in Texas after she was stopped for a minor traffic violation, brutalized, and arrested. Geneva said, “My baby is gone and we still don’t know what happened to her. We still don’t have all the information. I ask all of you that are with me to stay with me…Sandy’s life matters. Black life matters.” She wasn’t sure she was going to speak but then with all the emotion and intensity of this moment, she went into the middle of the crowd and spoke. The crowd of people just loved it, with her spirit and refusal to let the system sweep her daughter’s death under the rug. There was so much beauty, love and strength.

Chicago August 17

Latoya Howell, mother of Justus Howell cried out for justice for her murdered son, and for all victims of police brutality. Photo:, used with permission.

People chanted “Say her name!” People sang, people cheered and they signed up to be a part of O24. Pluggers for O24 and quotes from Bob Avakian were out in the crowd.

As Janelle Monáe said about "Hell You Talmabout": "This song is a vessel. It carries the unbearable anguish of millions. We recorded it to channel the pain, fear, and trauma caused by the ongoing slaughter of our brothers and sisters. We recorded it to challenge the indifference, disregard, and negligence of all who remain quiet about this issue. Silence is our enemy. Sound is our weapon. They say a question lives forever until it gets the answer it deserves... Won't you say their names?"

When Latoya Howell was crying out for justice for her murdered son and all the victims of police murder, Janelle and Wondaland were singing "Hell You Talmbout" in the background. At first, Latoya Howell, whose 17-year-old son Justus Howell was shot twice in the back by police, was not going speak at the rally. But she was visibly moved by the presence of Janelle Monáe and the Wondaland artists, and when Ameena Matthews led the crowd to include Howell’s son’s name in the chant "Hell You Talmbout," she grabbed the mic and expressed her pain and frustration over the senseless loss of her child.

Find out more about Rise Up October/Which Side Are You On!?

Rise up October

Janelle Monáe and the Wondaland then led a march out of the plaza singing “Hell You Talmbout” and naming names. As the artists went to get ready for their concert in the evening, the rest of the crowd, still singing, turned the other direction down a main artery of Chicago’s downtown “loop.”

The cops had been buzzing around in their bikes, and now they were trying to keep the protesters corralled. When the police blocked the intersection of State Street—the famous shopping street—there was a question of whether they would attack. They did try and busted a young woman, but the crowd pulled her away from them. Protesters held State and Randolph Street for about five minutes, shutting down this major intersection. The march proceeded to City Hall, where a short rally and die-in was held. Then before you knew it, the crowd disappeared back into the city. It was amazing and inspiring and brought out many people that need to be in NYC O24.

Later that evening hundreds of people lined the street waiting to see if they were getting into the concert Janelle Monáe and Wondaland were performing. For at least six blocks people were  packed on the sidewalk.


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