Photo by Jermaine W.

City Rescinds Chicago Freedom School Cease-and-Desist Order

During George Floyd protests, city investigators came to the school after it ordered pizzas for activists

On Friday Rosa Escareno, the commissioner of Chicago’s Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection (BACP), rescinded the cease-and-desist order investigators issued to the Chicago Freedom School after it sheltered protesters on May 30. 

Last week, the school filed a lawsuit alleging that the order was issued as part of “an illegal raid” conducted “in retaliation” for the school’s support of young people who were protesting the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

“We’re happy that the order has been rescinded,” said Jacqulyn Hamilton, the nonprofit’s wellness coordinator. “We hope that this provides encouragement for individuals or organizations that experience similar kinds of intimidation tactics, especially in light of the announcement by Chicago police that they will be targeting young Black people this weekend.”  

On May 30, as protests swirled about the Loop, CTA service was largely suspended, bridges over the Chicago River were raised, and Mayor Lightfoot issued a citywide curfew order, trapping hundreds of protesters downtown. That weekend, Chicago police arrested more than 2,100 people, over seventy percent of whom were Black, according to a Reader analysis. 

Chicago Freedom School in the South Loop opened its doors and sent word via social media and community networks that it was a safe space where youth could shelter while arranging rides home. Then the school ordered pizzas for the protesters.

That night, BACP investigators, accompanied by two Chicago police officers and a Department of Buildings inspector, arrived and demanded entry. “This was all while people are running [past the office], things are breaking, it’s very chaotic, very hectic,” Tony Alvarado-Rivera, the director of youth programs at CFS, told the Weekly at the time. “And they were not moving from our door. They definitely wanted to gain entry and wanted to see if we were housing protesters.”

After inspecting the premises, investigators issued an order that accused the staff of operating a retail food establishment without a license and ordered the school to “CEASE AND DESIST conducting the business or occupation of preparing and serving food on premises not described on license for which a Retail Food Establishment license.”

After news of the raid spread, the BACP was flooded with hundreds of messages of support for the school, according to an email log obtained by the Weekly. 

A CPD spokesperson told Block Club Chicago that an officer observed a “large congregation” at the school and initiated a “premise check,” which led to the BACP visit. 

According to a BACP report on the investigation that the Weekly obtained, the complaint was communicated to them by CPD’s Summer Operations Center (SOC) “regarding the occupants of 719 S. State St. providing shelter and food for protesters participating in the ‘George Floyd Riots.’” 

The SOC, which began operating on May 28, is staffed by employees from several city agencies, including BACP. Its mandate is to reduce murders and shootings during summer weekends.

In its lawsuit, the school sought an injunction for the cease-and-desist order, as well as monetary damages against the City, BACP investigators Joseph W. Sneed and Ira Navarro, CPD Superintendent David Brown, and the accompanying police officers, who were not identified in the suit. 

The BACP report said the officers who accompanied inspectors were “P.O. Doherty (Star 18527)” and “P.O. Kourtev (Star 8095).” The Weekly could find no record of a CPD officer with badge number 18527, and determined that the report likely refers to officers Brian Doherty (Star 14725) and George Kourtev. According to the report, a Buildings inspector also accompanied the investigators and issued citations. Isaac Reichmann, a BACP spokesperson, told the Weekly that while a Buildings inspector did accompany investigators, the report was “mistaken” and he did not issue citations. 

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Kathy Fieweger, the director of public affairs for the City’s Department of Law, said In a statement to the Weekly that the cease-and-desist order “was rescinded based on information provided in the court filing indicating that the School was not preparing or selling food.”

Fieweger added that the City reached out to the school “multiple times” to schedule a meeting and could have rescinded the order if CFS “provided information to indicate that they were not preparing or selling food.” She said the school never responded. 

At a press conference announcing the lawsuit, Joey Mogul, an attorney for the school, said that BACP Commissioner Rosa Escareno had not responded to the school’s written request to rescind the cease-and-desist order, prompting the litigation. The remainder of the lawsuit remains unresolved.

“We hope young people stay encouraged, that they continue to advocate for themselves,” Hamilton said. “We also hope that the City doesn’t make a habit of making bogus claims to intimidate young people who are organizers and activists.”

Full disclosure: Jim Daley’s spouse is a former employee of CFS. She was the school’s operations coordinator from September 2017 to May 2019.

 

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