What Happened May 30?

A document of escalating conflict in downtown Chicago

Cover photos by Anthony Nguyen

Content Warning: Discussion, images, and videos of police violence.

On May 30, when the car caravans that started at the Cook County Jail and at Trinity Episcopal Church in Bronzeville met up at 2pm with the rally going on at Federal Plaza, it was clear that this was going to be big. Thousands of people marched through the Loop, up Lake Shore Drive, and down Michigan Avenue that day, in protest of the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin on May 25, and the many killings of Black people by police that preceded it.

For more than seven hours on Saturday, social media feeds were flooded with images of protesters confronting Chicago police officers, and of police officers using what many participants and observers described as excessive, unwarranted force to push them back. Taken in concert with images of stores along Michigan Avenue being smashed and looted and police vehicles vandalized and burning, it was, said witnesses both on the scene and watching from afar, chaos.

Once the Loop was on lockdown, looting and vandalism spilled out into the neighborhoods on Sunday, May 31, and continued into Monday, devastating communities on the South and West Sides. Reports have swirled of white supremacists marching in Bridgeport, and of violent conflict between Black and Latinx residents in Little Village, Pilsen, and Humboldt Park. By Monday afternoon, Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker had declared Cook County (along with DuPage, Will, Kane, Kendall, and four downstate counties) a disaster area, and called in the National Guard. Meanwhile, public protests against police brutality and racism have swelled all over the city, drawing crowds as large as 20,000.

On May 30, there were 494 arrests citywide, including for disorderly conduct (373), civil unrest (414), looting (28), and firearms (16). Eighty-five officers reported being injured on duty that day. And between May 29 and June 4 more than 250 complaints were filed against CPD with the Civilian Office of Police Accountability.

Photo by Teddy Wachholz

What happened that Saturday? The Weekly put out a call for first-person accounts from that weekend, with the aim of establishing a coherent timeline of events. Among the more than fifty testimonials we’ve received, the majority focus on a small window of time when an otherwise peaceful protest escalated rapidly into violence, between about 4pm and 7pm on the Wabash bridge and around the Trump International Hotel and Tower, the Wrigley Building, and the intersection of State and Kinzie.

Many protesters in this area report being struck with batons, shoved to the ground, or otherwise physically attacked. A video shot just after 4pm near State and Kinzie shows a peaceful standoff between a police line and protesters escalate drastically when officers rush toward multiple protesters for no clear reason. Other CPD officers rush toward this incident; the crowd appears to panic. A woman screams. A man can be heard asking, “Why’d y’all do this? Why’d y’all hit us?” And then, mayhem.

Confusion, panic, and conflicts were amplified by the raising of the bridges over the Chicago River, starting with the Michigan Avenue bridge. When Mayor Lori Lightfoot declared a 9pm curfew at 8:25pm, and CTA service to the Loop was shut down, anyone still downtown was effectively trapped.

In the evening of May 30, kettling tactics—in which police cordons are deployed to block off streets and force large groups of people gathered into a confined area—appear to have been employed in Chicago, as they have been in New York City, Washington DC, and elsewhere. It is a strategy that makes it impossible to leave, should one want to, and is designed to facilitate mass arrests—and inevitably leads to a ratcheting up of tensions. (In 2012, the city settled a $6.2 million class action lawsuit brought by the 900 or so people detained by kettling during a 2003 protest against the Iraq War.)

There is still much to be unearthed about why this protest broke the way it did, and more stories and more facts to come to light. For example: why this particular location? As Trina Trill noted in her interview, “I think Donald Trump symbolizes what robbing Black and brown folks in this country looks like.”

But what’s known right now is this: Mayor Lightfoot and CPD Superintendent David Brown have both publicly praised the “restraint” of the police department during the protests. But such commendation is sharply at odds with the testimonials, video, and photographs collected by the Weekly and our colleagues at the Invisible Institute. In the pages that follow, we offer a timeline of one brief moment in an ongoing, unspooling, infinitely complicated narrative, drawing on first-person accounts, social media postings, and publicly available data. (In the instances when speakers wished to remain anonymous, we respected that wish, though their identities are known to the Weekly.) In the weeks to come, we seek to collect more first-person accounts of other key incidents in this remarkable moment of Chicago’s history.

4:07pm: State and Kinzie

Andrew Brasher

“I don't know if he’s a sergeant but you see one of the guys in the white shirts go back behind the line and start pointing at the crowd, and then you see them form [another line] a bit behind and that's when, unprovoked, they expanded their line out about ten-fifteen feet. That’s when they hit us all with batons.

They first pressed them, with both ends in each hand. But after they first struck the crowd, then they pulled them out and started swinging them. The second officer that I made contact with actually swung his baton and hit me. The first one pushed me with it, checked me in the chest, and the other one swung it and hit my arm as I was biking away. And then they just kind of stood there and held a new line that was just a little bit further out. And people were really upset. They arrested a few people and were dragging them. One of the white-shirted officers threw one of their bikes behind the line.

It was primarily peaceful until they expanded the line that they created around the Trump Tower. It was under control where I was. I don't know what was happening everywhere else but when they started moving forward, and you see people getting brutalized ... In those moments, you see people go from preaching peace and ‘don't touch the police’ and you see them start pushing the police and start trying to hold the line.

But up until the beatings started, where I was, people were dispersing. It wasn't in the instant that the police said but people were dispersing and the crowd was diminishing. As soon as you start hearing these bangs and people are running and you're watching the police assault these people, you just can see other people start to break with the protest, and it becomes the riot.”

4:30pm: Michigan Bridge is raised

4:51pm: Wabash Bridge

Robert Ivaniszyn II

"Everything I saw was where I stood and held the line with other protestors on the southbound side of the Wabash bridge where we met the line of cops in riot gear. There was one moment where protestors attempted to put space (after multiple unprovoked attacks by the police line) between us and them with a metal barrier, being very careful to not hit anyone, especially police, with the barrier, only for an officer to yank the barrier, hitting multiple protestors in the head and instigating a melee."

Photo below by Anthony Nguyen

5:00pm: Dearborn Bridge is raised

5:30pm: Wabash Bridge


“We marched around the Loop, eventually making our way near Trump Tower, where we encountered a police line. The demonstrations up until this point were without incident beyond a few instances of graffiti and minor vandalism which would be impossible to control in a crowd that large. I was not at the front at this point but it is my understanding that protesters wished to continue marching peacefully, but the police, with no explanation, refused to allow us to proceed. Several people were arrested before I arrived.

I arrived at the Wabash bridge to find a line of police in riot gear guarding Trump Tower and the Magnificent Mile, refusing to let protesters pass. Again, no order to disperse had been given at this point. Protesters formed several layers of lines, interlocking their arms, opposite the police. Without warning as far as I heard, the police started to advance onto the bridge. When you're on the front line, you have nowhere to go if the police begin to advance, and so people are pushed back forward, again with their arms interlocked, not posing a threat. The police regardless treat this as violence and respond with extreme force, shoving and striking protesters with batons.

One young man, probably around my age, had his hands up when he was thrown to the ground and struck on the head. Several of his friends had to drag him through the crowd away from the police. We helped administer first aid, as he had two heavily bleeding cuts on his face, on either side of his right eye. At this point things calmed down intermittently. The cops had shut off the end of the bridge and continued to advance, but less frequently. This is when the order to disperse was finally given, over four hours after the protest began.

The police had given the order to leave the area, but everywhere we looked the streets were blocked by police. It seems their tactic had been to break off the protest early into smaller groups and corner them in places where there was only one way out before the police instigated any violence. And I can tell you this for sure, at least from what I saw, that there was absolutely no rioting until the police arrived and escalated the situation. We had to walk several blocks to get around the police lines, and then the CTA and the roads had been closed off so the only option to leave the area was to walk four blocks home.”

6:00pm: Wabash Bridge

Trina Trill (a pseudonym)

“The police started going move, move, move, and they started pushing us, and they started using their baton to hurt us. There were police officers who pulled out their batons and just started shoving them instead of having them flat against their chest. They started poking us like in a stabbing motion with their batons and hitting people in the ribs. They started grabbing people by their hoodies and yanking them across the line so that they could get arrested. There was some head butt action that was happening. It was incredibly scary.

Honestly, it felt as if they were trying to incite a stampede because there were hundreds of people out there, and there was no way that they weren't communicating with the people in the middle. It was literally like they were squishing hundreds of people on one end, so that the rest of the people could run and topple over one another, or just generally get hurt. It was pretty scary."

Photos above and below by Teddy Wachholz

6:00pm: Wrigley Building

Sean Anthony Garcia-Kalusa

"We arrived at Federal Plaza to a decent sized group of demonstators and listened to the leaders express their concerns, fears, and the point of this protest.

This is where things became more intense. They had raised the bridge so we were stopped at the Wrigley building. They began taunting protestors. Police on horses arrived.

A group of officers were caught behind a barricade of protestors, but we realized that they were a distraction so the other officers could block us in more from the north side of Michigan Ave.

I saw white people jump to the front line and block black people from the reach of the police. I saw police officers shove protestors aggressively, I saw police officers with blood on their sleeves and protestors with blood coming out of their heads. We had to move again and walk out with our hands up chanting ‘Hands up, Don’t shoot’ to ensure the officers knew we weren’t a threat. This was a peaceful protest until the police arrived in their riot gear and aggressive attitudes.

After the bridges were raised and they cut protestors off from each other, the only people who were violent were these masked, hooded instigators and the police handled us like we were destroying the entire city by simply marching."

6:00pm: Wabash Bridge

Brittany Sowacke

“We were peacefully holding our ground, not advancing, when CPD approached with batons out and started pushing them into our throats, smashing people in the face with their shields. I had my hands up already and tried to maneuver a baton out of my throat so I could breathe, and was then snatched by an officer who had his name and badge covered. He said ‘get this bitch’ and multiple officers grabbed me so forcefully I have handprint bruises still (as of Wednesday).

In the scuffle (people behind me were trying to pull me back into the protest crowd), the main officer pulled my book bag open and started dumping items. Among them was my Canon 5D MK IV, a 28mm lens, and a 70-200mm lens. He grabbed them and threw them on the ground behind me. I was then thrown face down and zip-tie-handcuffed, then dragged to sit in front of Trump Tower.”

Photo below by Anthony Nguyen

6:00pm: All trains in the Loop are suspended

6:15pm: State and Kinzie

Steven Arroyo

“It got pretty aggressive about 6:10 or 6:15. There were a lot of thrown objects and a lot of the police just … were not moving together in an organized way. It was a bit of a free for all.

Then, at 6:15, two CPD cars, one of them was a cruiser and one was an SUV, drove through the crowd that was on State. There's a peaceful protest congregation and for whatever reason, those two CPD cars just drove right through the crowd.

At that time before the cars came through, it was loud but peaceful. You can see in the videos that small objects were thrown. Maybe a couple of water bottles, a traffic cone. And as a result of those small objects being thrown, some police officers started just charging the protesters.

Again, it did not seem organized. It did not seem like these officers had control over their actions or their emotions and they tackled some protesters and they beat some protesters with a baton. I couldn't see what it was that they were reacting to. I don't know if they were doing it indiscriminately, or if they were tackling or beating somebody who had thrown an object, or somebody who they thought threw an object, but pretty quickly a lot of people that were standing right next to you one minute prior were on the ground being violently tackled, restrained, and beaten by police officers.”

6:15pm: State and Kinzie


“On State Street is where I personally witnessed police escalation and violence. That is where I witnessed the cop car driving through protesters because they would not move out of the way for the cop car to get through the crowd.

So basically at around 6:15 to 6:30, we were stopped there by a line of police and the crowd that had gotten stopped right after we got off Lake Shore had somehow come back around and joined together again. The police removed their line that was blocking that crowd and continued more towards State Street.

We weren't receiving any direction but we were entirely blocked in by the police and a lot of us were asking them where we should go and we were met with blank faces from the cops.

So, my friend who I was with, since we are white, we decided to stick around and film and make sure everything was okay. That is the time that I took the video of Officer Birdsong going after a protester.

The protestor, from everything I saw was passionate and yelling but he was not being violent at all. And I was also passionate and yelling standing directly next to him (he was Black) and Officer Birdsong went after him with a baton twice. Both times being pulled off by the other cop.

And then the second time, it escalated to a degree that somebody who is obviously in charge of him came over and pushed him and gave the direction to go back behind the line.”

Click here to read an analysis of this event and others from our colleagues at the Invisible Institute.

6:20pm: Wrigley Building


“When the crowd first kind of broke into that police line the police were swinging their billy clubs pretty wildly. There wasn't really any order, it was just people trying to run through and people trying to push back and that was a lot more confrontational. And then once the line forms, people kind of linked up and stopped directly confronting the police, and were just trying to resist the police from moving us backwards. At which point the police continued to hit us with batons. I don't think I was hit, but one of my roommates was hit a lot and had pretty large bruises from police batons on their legs.

I actually had my back to the police—I wasn't facing them, I was turned away—and [one] started shoving really, really hard. My glasses fell off and I ended up falling down to the ground, and then I just felt maybe two or three pairs of hands come out and grab me and grab my backpack and drag me out of the crowd. They dragged my roommate as well. They pulled us both out of the crowd behind the police line and … they kind of threw us down on our stomachs, and they held us there for a minute. I thought we were going to get arrested at that point but they just held us there and then said, 'OK get out of here. Go back to the protest,' in so many words.

We make our way back to the police line where they're still confronting the protesters, but at this point the police have formed a bike wall between us and the protest crowd. And from the other end there's like state riot police and CPD riot police kind of flooding in, so essentially there's no way for us to get back into the crowd. So I start yelling like, 'What do you want me to do? Where am I supposed to go? How do we get back in here? You told me to go back in the crowd!' I was probably a little bit more belligerent than that in the moment but I wasn't being aggressive or anything, I was just worked up and it was very chaotic so I was, you know, yelling. And I hear another police officer shout, 'OK grab her,' and I feel another pair of hands on my back and they swing me around and throw me down on my stomach, and that's when I was actually arrested. I believe that was about 6:20-6:30 p.m.”

Photo below by Joshe f6

6:30pm: All buses in the Loop are suspended

7:00pm: Trump Hotel


“I spent the next two hours on the curb in front of Trump Tower. Around 7 to 7:30—there was a big group of people on the Wabash Bridge—and they declared that a riot. They brought out the big speaker that was saying this is an unlawful assembly, and they just needed to kind of beat everybody back. It seemed like there was a lot of brutality on that bridge. And then they opened up the bridge and I know multiple people who had belongings that they lost on that bridge. Somebody I was arrested with had, like, an $8,000 camera that the police ripped off of her and threw to the ground on that bridge and it seems like it was most likely just dumped in the river when they opened the bridge up.

They pulled the bridge of maybe around 8. That seems to be when a lot of the bridges started to go up around the Loop. People were essentially locked into the loop. I definitely saw them do that and do that to a crowd like very intentionally fight them off of the bridge so that they could open it up and block protesters from moving from one part of the Loop to the other. We left Trump Tower around 8:30. They walked everybody down to a prison bus that was parked at Kinzie and State. They took about sixty of us onto it; I wish I had gotten the name of the county sheriff who was driving it because he was terrible. Before we got on the bus he checked everybody’s zip tie cuffs and tightened them up as much as he could to make them very uncomfortable.”

7:00pm: Illinois and Wabash

Peter Meyer Reimer

“We started going towards the protests. And we got down to Illinois and Wabash, something along there. And there were cops coming down north of us on Wabash, and it looked like they were starting to kettle the protesters. They started shouting, and so everyone scattered at that point. I don't know what happened afterwards. It looked like they were going to end up being kettled, and that was going to be bad news for everyone involved but I didn’t witness that. There were a lot of cops not wearing face masks and I would call that escalation in this context. One thing I was very impressed by is that everyone in the entire protest was wearing face masks but the cops weren't.”

7:00pm: Illinois and State

Mathilde Geannopulos

“I would say that the majority of the protest was very peaceful. Less than twenty percent of people were instigating some sort of reaction from the cops, and any time someone did the cops started charging toward the entire group (and it was usually for petty reasons, frankly, like throwing a half empty bottle of water). The cops were acting increasingly aggressive as the day carried on, and refused to ever engage/respond to any of the protesters' questions.

They started circling us from all sides of the intersection at Hubbard/Illinois/Grand and State around ~7pm after having closed off every single bridge except the one on Wabash. Eerie sight. While there was definitely some looting going on, any fear I felt during the day stemmed from police instigation/reaction, rather than any of the looting that was happening on the side.”

Photo below by Teddy Wachholz

7:00pm: Wrigley Building


“People started throwing things, but it wasn't really violent per se. There was no fire, there was no looting. We'd seen graffiti and stuff as we were walking down the mag mile, but it was activism focused. It was combative because activism is combative by nature, but it wasn't hateful. But that's when things started getting scary. People started throwing things and the police response was very ... it felt serious and it felt … interjectory. They had lined up against the buildings, like facing out towards us, and I immediately realized that their goal wasn't to make sure we were safe or anything like that, but just to protect the buildings. At that point, no one was interested in looting. No one was interested in property destruction, but seeing the police prize this random building over the lives of people protesting and the lives they are protesting for, it made you upset. We were standing facing the line of police against the building and then some police officers on bikes came in behind us to try to break the line that was facing the police. That was when I first saw, not violence from the police, but they were shoving people. They were moving people out of the way, and at that point, my group decided to leave, because that was a turning point.

Every street either had a pretty heavy police presence or the bridges were up and closer east, they would have bigger groups of police and further west they would just have the bridges up. We weren't super panicked about getting out until we got further and further and further west and still couldn't find a way back south across the river. We eventually got to Adams and that was the first bridge we found that was down. … We were able to cross Adams at about 7:30. It was 7:20 specifically, I remember I put it on Snapchat for anyone who was trying to get out. But as we came over the bridge, they had technicians, people in the yellow vests who were operating the bridges, walking up toward the bridge saying that they wanted the bridge to close. And I heard one of the guys speculating, they want to keep the protesters there. So that was like the first indication that they were intentionally shutting people in.”

7:13pm: Wabash Bridge is cleared and raised

8:00pm: All bridges are reported to be raised except LaSalle

8:20pm: Mayor Lightfoot issues 9:00pm-6:00am curfew