The Teen Activist

Young and restless: The lightning-fast life of Lamon Reccord

Written by Jacob Wittich
Edited by Cameron Kelly
Feature photo by Kris Lathan

 

Lamon Reccord is young, but for him, there’s no time to waste.

The 17-year-old first realized there was a problem when he was 13 and a trip to the grocery store turned into Reccord’s first protest. While running an errand for his mother, Reccord saw a crowd of people wearing orange and protesting on the same block. Out of curiosity, Reccord joined them and learned they were rallying for an end to gun violence; a young woman had been shot fatally in the neck the day before.

“I was young,” Reccord says. “I just joined even though I didn’t know what was going on, but that was kind of my introduction [to activism].”

Reccord says he grew more passionate about ending racism against the black community throughout high school.

“I want black communities to be unified—to come together and collectively say we are rising up and raising awareness for not just political issues, but community issues,” Reccord says. “City issues, people issues, relationship issues—we are rising up about all these situations that are making our lives seem like they’re not worth it anymore to people.”

Reccord says he followed the protests in Ferguson, Missouri and Baltimore, Maryland in the news following the deaths of 18-year-old Michael Brown and 25-year-old Freddie Gray, who were both killed by police officers. He joined in Chicago’s Dyett High School hunger strike in August 2015, protesting what many believed to be racism-fueled school closures. Reccord grew frustrated as he saw more and more instances targeting black people make national news, giving rise to the Black Lives Matter movement.

Then, in November 2015, a Cook County judge ordered the Chicago Police Department to release the dash-cam video of a Chicago police officer fatally shooting 17-year-old Laquan McDonald 16 times.

Lou_Foglia
Reccord protests in November after the video of the police shooting death of Laquan McDonald was released. Photo courtesty of Lou Foglia.

“When I first saw the video, I was very frustrated,” Reccord says. “When I saw Laquan drop after the first three to four shots, it literally had me thinking that it honestly could have been me, and this can’t happen to any more young people. There can’t be any more Laquan McDonalds.”

Reccord has become a defining figure of Chicago’s Black Lives Matter movement and is a junior at Olive-Harvey Middle College in Chicago’s far South Side. Striking images of the teen staring into the faces of Chicago police officers during protests have been printed and broadcast locally and nationally, from the Chicago Tribune to the New York Times. His methods are aggressive but meaningful, and have drawn both praise and criticism. Including from Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly, who called this tactic “inappropriate.” To his critics, the photos are a sign of delinquency. To Reccord, they symbolize resistance—a fearless refusal to cower in front of the police even though they have a badge and a gun.  

Reccord has dedicated every morning, night and weekend to Black Lives Matter activism. Sure, he faces the typical pressures of most teenagers, like maintaining good grades, graduating high school and applying for college. But—just as when he’s staring an officer in the eye—he shows no signs of backing down.

“I’m shaping the world that I’m soon going to be [graduating] into,” Reccord says.

Reccord was born and raised in Chicago’s Englewood neighborhood. He first engaged with his community at seven years old, asking neighbors to shovel snow or rake leaves for money. As he grew older, Reccord began volunteering with Chicago Votes, a nonprofit organization that encourages Chicago youth to participate in local elections. In 2013, Reccord began attending Chicago Vocational Career Academy, a high school in the South Side’s Avalon Park neighborhood. Reccord then became a freedom fellow with the Chicago Freedom School, a nonprofit organization that provides leadership training and education for youth who want to be civically engaged.

Reccord says he often endured racist attitudes from others while growing up. In fact, he recalls one instance that he says could have resulted in him being the victim of police brutality.

When Reccord was 16 years old, he and a couple other boys got into a fight at the 69th Red Line station after school. According to Reccord, two police officers were nearby witnessing the fight but did nothing to intervene until after the fight had broken up and the boys Reccord was fighting had fled the scene.

“That’s when they started telling us to leave and not giving us a chance to talk about what happened,” Reccord says.

He and his friends left the CTA stop like the officers asked, but they followed him outside, continuing to argue with the children. Reccord says that’s when one of the officers withdrew her gun and pointed it at them.

“I completely lost my mind,” Reccord says. “There was no physical contact by us, but I was going off on her at the mouth.”

Reccord says he would have understood more if the officer had pulled out a taser to subdue the fight he and his friends were in. But since they waited until the fight was already over and pulled out a gun without any sign of violence, he was angry.

G-Jun_Yam
Reccord protests the police shooting death of Laquan McDonald. Photo courtesy of G-Jun Yam.

“My spirit and my emotions were on a whole different level,” Reccord says. “That moment, I went so crazy. I didn’t know whether I was going to get killed or shot because of what they could say was self-defense. It went from a fight to a police officer pointing a gun at us, and I was afraid for my life.”

Reccord says that same year, he was targeted by police officers again at the Roosevelt Red Line Station. Reccord was encouraging people to get registered and go vote by placing stickers throughout the city for Chicago Votes. When he placed a sticker on the CTA turnstile at the Roosevelt station, a nearby police officer accused Reccord of defacing public property. Reccord says the officer immediately rushed him, pushed him up against the gate, and handcuffed him to it. Reccord says he tried to explain he was with Chicago Votes and asked to get his supervisor, who was just up ahead, but the officer wouldn’t listen. Reccord was then put in a paddy wagon and taken to the police station, where he was process and charged.

“Just from those experiences, I’m now fearless of the police,” Reccord says. “But at the same time I’m fearful of the situation. That’s why I joined the movement, to make a change there.”

That fearless mentality is one that Reccord carries with him into his protests. It serves as his driving force when staring police officers right in the eye.

Reccord says the first time he did that was the day that the Laquan McDonald video was released—a moment caught on camera by most major news organizations.

“Staring right into that guy’s face and looking at his badge got me thinking about what the police department is really about,” Reccord says. “It’s me telling them, ‘I want you to know that badge doesn’t mean as much as you think it does, because you’re still a human being, and we all deserve equitable respect. Period.’”

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