By Dermot Connolly
Two Orland Park sisters organized a protest march on Saturday afternoon against police violence and racial inequality on Roberts Road in Palos Hills that drew a small but vocal group of counter-protesters.
The march from Stagg High School, at 111th and Roberts Road, to the corner of 103rd and Roberts Road, was the third event sponsored in recent months by Janet Martin, 24, and her sister, Jennifer, 20, through their new organization Beyond the Borders, which focuses on racial justice and equality. They were already running a non-profit charitable organization called Beauty and Brains. Janet is a medical student at Cornell University, while Jennifer is a student at Southern Illinois University.
The other marches they sponsored were in Tinley Park and Chicago’s Mount Greenwood neighborhood.
Bill Beaulieu, a member of Southsiders for Peace, one of many groups involved in Saturday’s march, said Palos Hills was chosen this time, in part because of the ongoing protests against Palos Township Trustee Sharon Brannigan. Until the COVID-19 crisis, large groups of protesters had been rallying against Brannigan at the monthly meetings of the township board because of comments about Arabs she made on social media. A court case against several protesters is underway, and many of them were at the march on Saturday, which passed the Palos Township office at 10802 S. Roberts Road.
The women’s father, Pastor Jeffery Smith, invoked the names of civil rights leaders Georgia Congressman John Lewis and the Rev. CT Vivian, both of whom died last week, before sending the marchers off with a prayer.
“We honor their legacy by our march today, continuing their fight and struggle. This is historical. We are right in line with those who have fought for what we are fighting for today. In this march, we have to be strong and courageous. There will be people against us. Let’s stay focused on what we are about, not what the others are about,” he said.
Because there were counter-protesters waiting across 111th Street, Janet Martin asked that white people in the diverse crowd march on the outside to act as a buffer against any possible racial attacks.
There were plenty of Palos Hills and Palos Heights police stationed along the route to ensure safety, and there was no physical interaction or threats made.
But as soon as the main group crossed 111th Street led by a brass band, about a dozen people carrying Trump 2020 signs began marching alongside, shouting pro-Trump slogans and “All lives matter” in response to the first group’s chants of “Black lives matter” and “No Trump, no KKK, no racist USA.”
One man wrapped in an American flag walked in front the whole way to 103rd Street.
“I support everyone. I support America,” said the man, who would not give his name. He repeatedly recited the Pledge of Allegiance.
Onlookers supporting one or other of the groups lined much of Roberts Road as well. One white man supporting the main group told the Trump supporters they may as well be shouting “White power.”
When the group reached 103rd Street, they knelt or sat for 8 minutes and 46 seconds of silence, in honor of George Floyd, who died after a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for that amount of time. His death on Memorial Day set off the latest round of protests nationally and internationally.
Counter-protester Scott Nemoth, carrying an American flag, berated the group during the moment of silence, calling them hypocrites for not having an additional moment of silence for fallen police officers.
The main group did not respond. They just turned around and marched back to Stagg High School.
“I think it went very well. We didn’t let what they were saying bother us,” said the Rev. Smith afterward. “We here because they are there.”