CHICAGO (AP) — Charges will not be filed against the man who fired a gunshot into the air near pro-Palestinian demonstrators outside an Israel solidarity event in Chicago’s northern suburbs, prosecutors said Monday evening after determining that he acted in self-defense.
About 1,000 people had gathered Sunday evening at a banquet hall in Skokie to show solidarity with Israel, according to event organizers. Several hundred pro-Palestinian protesters had rallied outside, according to police and organizers.
Witnesses told the Chicago Sun-Times that a man drove his car toward the group. Lincolnwood Police, who were called to assist Skokie Police, have previously said in a statement the 39-year-old man fired a shot into the air before officers took him into custody.
A witness told the newspaper that the man's car had been covered in Israeli flags.
After reviewing surveillance video and witness statements, Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx's office said in an emailed statement that prosecutors will not file charges against the man who fired the gun. His name was not released.
Officials determined that the man “acted in self-defense upon being surrounded by a crowd and attacked by some of those individuals,” the statement said. "No charges will be filed in this case.”
The prosecutor's office added that the man holds a valid firearm owners ID card and conceal carry license, and had no criminal history.
Also Sunday at the protest, another man coming out of the banquet hall wearing an Israeli flag as a cape pepper sprayed the crowd before he was arrested, the newspaper reported. No one was seriously hurt, but the pepper spray hit several protesters, a Chicago police officer and a Sun-Times reporter.
The state’s attorney office did not address inquiries Monday on whether charges would be filed against the person who pepper sprayed attendees.
“It’s a travesty of justice that this guy is not charged,” said Hatem Abudayyeh, national chair of the U.S. Palestinian Community Network, which organized the pro-Palestinian protest alongside the Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression. “We want them to reconsider.”
Abudayyeh said the group was demonstrating to push back against Israeli aggression, and people were packing up and heading to their cars when he heard a gunshot, then saw someone attack the crowd with pepper spray.
“Nobody knew if he was going to be firing into the crowd," Abudayyeh said. "People were running and screaming and very, very afraid.”
Abudayyeh, who lives in a Chicago suburb and is Palestinian American, said he is concerned about the safety of Palestinian communities across the country.
“We’re hearing all kinds of horror stories from people in schools, and in workplaces, and in grocery stores, and in the neighborhoods,” he said. “I am super concerned for my kid.”
He accused pro-Israeli political leaders in the U.S. of inflaming tensions, and allowing people “to do whatever they want with impunity.”
The Simon Wiesenthal Center, a Los Angeles-based Jewish human rights group, organized the banquet hall event where “sadly, things escalated out of fear,” said Alison Pure-Slovin, director of the group’s Midwest regional office.
The group “had no direct knowledge about the shooter or his intentions," Pure-Slovin said in an email on Tuesday.
The event was organized on private property “so that we could come together as a community. It was disturbing that pro-Palestinian/Hamas demonstrators blocked the roads, hindering access to those who came in peace," she said.
Police in U.S. cities as well as federal authorities have been on high alert for violence driven by antisemitic or Islamophobic sentiments as the war between Israel and Hamas continues.
In Minneapolis, police said in a statement that witnesses reported Sunday that a vehicle drove through a rally held in support of Palestinians in Gaza. The Anti-War Committee released a statement saying that a “hostile driver threatened protesters with his car and a box cutter” and video circulating on social media showed protesters kicking and hitting a car before the person inside drove away.
Minneapolis police Sgt. Garrett Parten said Monday that police were still investigating and trying to “figure out what was true and what was not.” Police said that no injuries were reported and there were no arrests.
Sunday's rally in Skokie was a little more than a week after a landlord in Plainfield, Illinois, was charged with a hate crime after he was accused of fatally stabbing a 6-year-old Muslim boy and seriously wounding his mother. Police said he singled out the victims because of their faith and as a response to the war.
Savage is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.