A video apparently showing a Chicago police car blasting the song “Sweet Home Alabama” during a recent protest against police violence has sparked a CPD investigation.
Gabriel Michael, a Humboldt Park resident, said he was at the West Side protest Saturday to take photos, but started capturing video once he heard the song coming from what appears to be an unmarked car in the police escort following the marchers.
“Some of the lyrics in themselves aren’t racist … but I know it’s also been co-opted by groups, maybe bigoted groups, as an anthem of Southern pride and those Confederate-type values,” said Michael, 30. “That’s what was so jarring to me. To hear that playing from a police car at the end of a protest against police brutality and the murder of African-Americans, it was just jarring.”
The anti-police-violence march was one of several in past weeks after recent announcements that white police officers who killed Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., and Eric Garner in New York City—both unarmed African-Americans—will not face charges.
Michael said he has not turned his video over to the police; he received a voice mail from the CPD after the video surfaced but his return call has not yet been returned.
Chicago Police confirmed its investigation in a statement provided to RedEye on Tuesday.
“This matter is under investigation. As a Department, we are committed to community policing and fostering stronger relationships, based on trust and understanding, with the communities we serve,” the statement reads in part.
Michael said that because most of the protesters were marching ahead of the police escort, he’s not sure how many heard the song, but people have echoed his concerns after the video surfaced.
“It’s been positive and supportive,” Michael said of the reaction. “[People] kind of empathize with me. It’s a pretty disgusting thing, it’s really shocking, and we just want to know what [police have] been thinking and get an explanation.”
“Sweet Home Alabama” has been “a kind of neo-Confederate anthem” for years, according to Mark Potok, a senior fellow at the Southern Poverty Law Center, a civil rights organization. The 1974 song by Lynyrd Skynyrd was written in response to Neil Young’s song “Southern Man,” which has lyrics about racism and slavery.
Potok dismissed the theory that police were playing the song in support of the University of Alabama football team, which played that day.
“It certainly does look like the officers were taunting the marchers,” he said. “I suppose there’s a tiny chance that these officers were huge University of Alabama fans, but I kind of doubt it.”
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