By now, most of Evanston knows about the group of people who showed up on Lighthouse Beach yesterday, hung their confederate flag (towel) along the fence behind them, and sunbathed while exposing what have been reported were antisemitic, racist tattoos.
Many of you have also watched the video LaShandra Smith-Rayfield--the only Black person on the beach
--filmed as she single-handedly, deftly, and courageously took a stand on the sand and confronted the group (she has since taken the video off Facebook).
LaShandra had heard rumblings about the group and the flag, and immediately drove with her children from South Evanston to Lighthouse Beach to find out if it was true.
But lots of folks haven't heard "the rest of the story:" a woman in the group telling LaShandra they weren't racist; a beach-goer who told LaShandra to just let it go and "move on;" and the Evanston residents who, upon seeing the situation unfold on social media mobilized, headed to the beach with Black Lives Matter signs and stood in solidarity with LaShandra against hate and bigotry.
Thank goodness for LaShandra and the other upstanders.
I asked LaShandra and Heather Heuman Sweeney, who arrived at the beach shortly after LaShandra had left, to tell us what happened yesterday.
They pick up the story here:
The idea of a confederate flag in Evanston, to LaShandra, went against everything she envisioned when she moved back three and a half years ago.
Her town was liberal, inclusive, and safe.
Horrifically, it was true.
A group at Lighthouse Beach had hung a confederate flag towel on full-display along the fence. One was wearing confederate flag swim shorts, and a number of people had racist and anti-semitic tattoos and flag designs on their shirts that some have associated with the backlash against the Black Lives Matter movement.
An educator, LaShandra went "live" on social media. A member of the towel-wielding group asked if she had a problem.
Torn between her outrage and her desire to use this as a teaching moment, she told the group that they were hanging a symbol of hate.
When members of the group told her they weren’t racist, LaShandra told them that their actions had meaning.
One of the men in the group took the flag/towel off the fence and covered his confederate-designed shorts with it. He told LaShandra that he was just there to relax (not cause conflict) and that he was not a racist.
In response, LaShandra offered to pay for the flag/towel and dispose of it. He declined her offer.
A woman in the group said she was uncomfortable with being filmed. LaShandra pointed out that it was actually she who should be uncomfortable, and told the woman that the symbol that made her feel unwelcome and unsafe.
LaShandra and her family were the only Black people on the Evanston beach. After she confronted the group, they seemed to dismiss her powerful words and barely engaged with her.
A man sitting nearby defended the group and walked over to shake one of the group member’s hands (during a pandemic). This seemed to embolden the group to stay on the beach.
A woman, who clearly did not feel the sting of the confederate symbol, intervened and defended the group by telling LaShandra to "move on."
Finally, a lifeguard called to report the incident, probably to the police.
Soon after LaShandra left, an all-white group arrived at the beach with Black Lives Matter signs. They had a different experience at the beach.
Interesting how privilege shows up.
As they placed the signs near the beach entrance, the lifeguards thanked them for being there. The guards said they had looked into a way to get the confederate-towel group off the beach, but there is nothing in the rules/law that says hate symbols are illegal (see below: action item for City Council – the LaShandra Ordinance).
They maintained that as City employees they had to stay neutral unless a law was being broken.
As the group with BLM signs walked onto the beach, a woman tried to convince them to take into account how cooperative the racist group had been--taking down the towel and covering the bathing suit--but her argument about politeness failed to address the crux of the matter: the symbols’ meaning and their affront to the community.
The group with Black Lives Matter signs proceeded and stood in front of the racist group, and, after a few minutes, the group packed up their things.
As they left, a woman from their group insisted that they weren’t racist. She said she grew up in Evanston and went to high school and college here, and that her children, now 20 years old, were born at Evanston Hospital. She said was in town visiting her parents with her kids, who, she said, enjoyed coming to this beach to relax every year and had never experienced anything like this before.
Her children both sported what appeared to be racist tattoos. She denied knowing what the tattoos meant. She added that, considering their age, she had no way to control what they wore or the kinds of towels they bought or carried.
The woman also denied intending to start anything. Instead, she focused on the fact that they had taken down the towel with the confederate symbol. She repeatedly talked about being upset that "the Black woman" had filmed them earlier.
The group with BLM signs responded to all of these comments, including that the confederate flag is a violent and threatening symbol, and pointed out that intent is irrelevant and impact matters.
The group went further, noting that taking down the towel was a small gesture and that they needed to recognize the harm of owning such a towel, swim suit, and tattoos.
They explained that LaShandra's anger was legitimate and that her response was reasonable and more than justified given the symbolic violence they had perpetrated; and they also called on the group to use this as an opportunity to examine the impact of their actions.
After the racist group left, at least three people on the beach approached the BLM group and said they should take their BLM signs to the south and west side of Chicago where, they implied, the real problem was Black residents killing each other. That exchange went nowhere and some people left hoarse.
After LaShandra left, she recorded another video: her call to white Evanston, “Don’t tell me you’re sorry. Get up and do something!”
Heather and LaShandra offer this action step:
"Write to Mayor Hagerty and City Council members and demand they take earnest action so that defending public safety is not only on the backs of community members, they say.
This could include looking into creating the 'LaShandra Ordinance,' which would expand on ideas from the US Supreme Court decision Virginia v Black, which discusses prohibiting hate speech and symbols with an intent to intimidate."
In this instance of assault on public safety, it was not the mayor, the beach staff, the police, or immediate bystanders on the beach who supported Lashandra's right to stand against racism. Rather, LaShandra and Heather say, they and beach staff tried to police LaShandra's reaction to violence.
It was LaShandra who defended and restored the public's sense of safety when she drove to Lighthouse Beach to speak up, and a group of n
eighbors who arrived to demonstrate.
-LaShandra Smith-Rayfield and Heather Sweeney
NOTE: LaShandra has removed the Facebook Live. If she re-releases it we'll post it.