Lollapalooza is an annual music festival in Chicago that has always been a very diverse musical environment, hosting bands like Pinegrove and the Front Bottoms on the same bill as Ellie Goulding and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. It is also a place for a different kind of division. The police presence at Lolla is always fairly heavy, but this year in particular with recent current events (and Malia Obama being in attendance), the CPD was out in full force. Roaming around the festival grounds there were uniformed cops on almost every corner, along with SWAT teams patrolling in golf carts armed with assault rifles, donned in full camouflage fatigues. This was along with other CPD bomb squad units and the normal third party private festival security.
The place the police force was felt most heavily, however, wasn’t near all of the artists busses or in the backstage areas, but rather at the Vic Mensa set. This isn’t to say that extra troops were placed at the set, but that Mensa highlighted their presence. One of the very first songs Mensa played was “16 Shots”, lamenting the shooting of Laquan McDonald by CPD and calling for more law enforcement and city government accountability.
[For those that don’t know, the Laquan McDonald shooting was not only heinous for the incident itself, but also because it took more than a year for the details and footage of the event to be released. This was more than just a localized coverup within the station. The mayor Rahm Emmanuel himself has been implicated along with the State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez and police Superintendent Gary McCarthy. Out of these three, McCarthy was actually fired for his role.]
Mensa was born and raised here in Chicago, and thus this event was very personal to him, making the song much more powerful. The song opened with flashing red and blue lights filling the stage as police sirens blared. Then dozens of actors dressed in all black riot gear engulfed Mensa on stage. Throughout the song, they stood behind him in a solid line. On occasion, they would aggressively push forward to halt his movement. The performance culminated in all of them lunging forward attacking him with billy clubs, then finally miming gunshots at him with their hands. As he lay on the ground, the outro of the song played, an actual narration of the Laquan McDonald dash-cam footage lasting well over a minute and a half.
In a festival environment such as Lollapalooza, with a majority of attendees concerned only in having as much fun as possible (and trying to make it to the end of the night without passing out), political statements of this caliber were few and far between. Needless to say it was a very powerful performance, and not all in the crowd were happy about it. I actually happened to be standing next to the son of the Deputy Chief of CPD at the time. Throughout the duration of the “16 Shots” performance, he stood rigid with his lips pressed tightly into a scowl confronted with the at-times sinister nature of the organization that so many hold dear; an organization that would rather protect its own members instead of protecting the principles it was created to uphold. He left after another two songs.
Vic Mensa opened his set by saying that he wished the festival was free and not so far north, so that kids in the Southside could come see him perform. The Deputy Chief received 4 free passes to the festival.