Trauma center protesters march from proposed Obama library site

“You’d better build a trauma center now.”

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This Tuesday, approximately 65 people marched from one of the proposed Barack Obama presidential library sites in Washington Park to the house of University of Chicago President Robert Zimmer, protesting for a Level I trauma center at the University of Chicago Medical Center (UCMC). The announcement made earlier that day that the library would be built on the South Side attracted press attention to the University and the area surrounding it; the event’s organizers hoped to use this attention to publicize their cause.

There was substantial media presence at the event, including members of the local and national press.

At a press conference before the march set out, Veronica Morris-Moore, a member of Fearless Leading by the Youth and an organizer with the Trauma Center Coalition, said that, in the view of herself and the coalition, the newly announced library was “great” and will add “great prestige to the University of Chicago and the city.” But she went on to say that “people whose lives are being lost on the South Side due to gun trauma, due to economic violence, due to police violence, will not be able to find much life-saving value in the presidential library.”

“Rob Zimmer and Mayor Rahm Emanuel moved mountains to have this Obama presidential library be secured for Chicago. We are saying that Rob Zimmer and Mayor Rahm Emanuel need to move mountains to place a trauma center on the South Side, so that lives—so that black lives—can and will be saved,” Morris-Moore said.

Page May, an organizer with We Charge Genocide, an anti–police brutality organization, also spoke before the march set off. “If you are an institution that wants to be responsible for your community—if you want to be a part of making black lives matter—you’d better get rid of the UCPD off of my block and you’d better build a trauma center now,” May said.

The march featured many of the same chants—“U of C is wack; bring the trauma center back” and, “What do we want: trauma center; when do we want it: now”—that have marked the almost half-decade of protests objecting to the absence of a medical center on the South Side. The route of the march went through parts of the UCMC and the University.

There was a noticeable police presence throughout the march. Two Chicago Police Department SUVs crawled between the stream of marchers and the UCMC as it moved down Cottage Grove Avenue; two more police vehicles parked outside of President Zimmer’s house. Police officers asked Morris-Moore to move the protesters off of the street both as they traveled down Payne Drive in Washington Park and at the march’s destination at University and 59th where traffic, including a Central shuttle and two buses, were backed up for a block. Morris-Moore encouraged participants in the march to avoid interactions with the police, but to record them if they occurred. The protesters moved onto the sidewalk for parts of the march and eventually at their end destination.

The march dispersed after about an hour and a half with a chant asking Zimmer to “come outside.” Earlier that day, a handful of people affiliated with the coalition had protested outside of the presidential library announcement at a youth center in the Grand Crossing neighborhood after being denied entry to the event. The day before the march, Students for Health Equity, a University of Chicago student group, also tried to link its advocacy for the trauma center with the announcement of the presidential library through an hour-long Twitter campaign that paired pro–trauma center messages with the hashtag #DearMrPresident.

A statement by the University of Chicago News Office said that there has been “far-reaching enthusiasm” for the library. Regarding the trauma center, a March statement from the News Office said, “Building an adult level 1 trauma center on the South Side is not something the University of Chicago Medical Center can undertake alone…. A universal solution has yet to be found.”