The melee unfolded when protesters demonstrated outside an event called to show solidarity with Israel at a banquet hall Sunday evening. Protestors as well as a Chicago police officer and a Sun-Times reporter were hit by pepper spray.
Two people were taken into police custody Sunday evening after one man allegedly fired a shot in the air near a group of pro-Palestinian demonstrators protesting an Israeli solidarity event in the northern suburbs and another man maced the group, which included a Sun-Times reporter.
No one was injured by the gunshot. Another protester was struck in a hit and run, police said, but was not seriously injured.
The melee unfolded outside an event called to show solidarity with Israel at Ateres Ayala, a banquet hall in Skokie near the border with Lincolnwood. The event was held by the Chicago-based Midwest Regional Office of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. More than a dozen organizations took part, including the Mobile Museum of Tolerance, the Anti-Defamation League, the Jewish United Fund, the Jewish National Fund and others. About 1,000 people attended, organizers said.
A separate Jewish group had planned a “peace and prayer” rally in the wake of the Israel-Hamas war in Federal Plaza in the Loop Sunday, but an organizer said it was canceled after the group was threatened. Pro-Palestinian groups had also planned a demonstration for Federal Plaza, but after the Jewish rally was canceled the groups decided to move the protest to Skokie when they learned about the Israeli solidarity event.
Hatem Abudayyeh, national chair of U.S. Palestinian Community Network, said in a statement they moved the protest because the Jewish groups “must be confronted as the racist apologists for Israel that they are.”
A crowd of about 200 pro-Palestinian protesters had gathered about 4 p.m. outside the Skokie event but were kept some distance away from the actual property by police. Shortly after 5:30 p.m., a smaller group of protesters moved south across Touhy Avenue after some protesters said they had been threatened.
“Several disturbances broke out on the perimeter of the event and in Lincolnwood,” Skokie police in a statement.
A man driving a black sedan then drove toward the crowd of protesters, witnesses said. He got out of the car and was surrounded by protesters, according to a chaotic video of the incident provided to the Sun-Times. As protesters surround him and film him with cellphone cameras, a gunshot can be heard on the video. People scream and the crowd scatters, and the man can be seen holding the gun as someone screams, “Get him! Get him!”
Police then surround the man and take him into custody. He could be seen being led away with his hands tied behind his back.
“During the gathering a subject was confronted by numerous individuals in the Lincolnwood Town Center mall across the street from the [Israeli solidarity] event, at which time the subject pulled a firearm and discharged the weapon in the air,” Lincolnwood police said in a statement.
A witness told the Sun-Times the man’s car had been covered in Israeli flags. A Sun-Times reporter saw flags on the ground after they had been torn up by protesters. A piece of white fabric could still be seen attached to the car.
One person — who fell to the ground after the shot was fired — was examined at the scene but police said no one was injured.
Lincolnwood Police did not give additional details of the shooting, but said they are also investigating a separate incident in which a person at the scene was struck by a car in a hit-and-run. The person was not transported for medical care, police said.
After the fired shot, heated words were exchanged as people exiting the Israeli solidarity event confronted the pro-Palestinian protesters. One man, who had an Israeli flag draped over his shoulders, grabbed a Palestinian flag from a protester.
When the protester tried to grab the flag back, the man pulled out a can of mace and sprayed it into the crowd, hitting several protesters, a Chicago police officer providing backup at the scene and a Sun-Times reporter.
Protesters disarmed the man, who was later taken into custody by Skokie police.
Late Sunday, the man was still at the Skokie police station. His brother Josh, who declined to give his last name, confirmed the two men had been at the Israeli solidarity event and said when they left they “were in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
He claimed his brother felt threatened.
“I don’t have any negative messages for anybody. There is a lot of tension ... I don’t think being aggressive is the way to go,” he said.
Skokie police confirmed late Sunday the man was taken into custody but said the incident was still under investigation.
Demonstrators left shortly after the macing incident.
One protester — who like others in the pro-Palestinian group declined to give their names — said the attack took him by surprise.
“We did expect them to come out and say a few disgusting things and to try and scare us; they always do that,” he said. “I didn’t think at any point they’d use pepper spray.”
Another two protesters who were maced told police on the scene they wanted to press charges and inquired about filing hate crime charges.
“It was very scary,” one said. “Honestly I’m still feeling the effects.”
Alison Pure-Slovin, Midwest Regional Director of Simon Weisenthal Center, said in a statement that “this is the United States of America and people have the right to have their voice. I’m just sorry that it disrupted the voice that we tried to create as well.”
One of the protest’s organizers said the groups would continue to show up in support of Palestinians.
“This is not gonna stop us,” he said. “We are going to challenge Zionists everywhere and we’re going to continue to demand that this country stops U.S. aid to Israel.”
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