When police used an unmarked “bait truck” stuffed with expensive shoes in Chicago’s Englewood neighborhood earlier this month, it struck a nerve in the community. As news spread, local activists opted to put their own spin on the operation with a fleet of four “anti-bait trucks” filled with donated sneakers and school supplies that opened Sunday morning at the West Englewood Community Center.
Rapper Vic Mensa spearheaded an effort with his SaveMoneySaveLife Foundation to collect brand-new sneakers to give away to those in need. When Mensa announced the event, his foundation had a goal of purchasing 5,000 shoes. Organizers also prepared backpacks filled with notebooks and binders to give out. When it kicked off Sunday, the group had managed to secure 10,000 pairs of shoes, with more still on the way.
To distribute the goods, SaveMoneySaveLife worked with Assata’s Daughters, an organization for Chicago’s young Black women, and Good Kids Mad City, an anti-violence youth group that formed in response to the shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School. A security detail was provided by the Nation of Islam. Attendees estimate that nearly 15,000 people came to get shoes and supplies for the new school year.
“It’s a miracle, I can’t believe we pulled it off,” says Kofi Ademola, an adult mentor with Good Kids Mad City. “There were no fights, no shootings, and little police presence.”
Bait trucks like these are a common law enforcement tactic to draw out potential criminals. Police will fill decoy trucks with with computers, cell phones, bikes or clothing, and wait for someone to make a move. The truck in Englewood was placed there by the nearby Norfolk Southern Railway and the Chicago Police Department as a part of an investigation dubbed “Operation Trailer Trap.”
The rail company said in a statement the truck was placed in response to a number of thefts from locked containers and trailers in the area. Three men were arrested for taking boxes from the truck, and the charges against them were dropped. Norfolk Southern Railway later apologized, but the truck had already added tension to an already strained relationship between the Chicago police and the community it serves.
“When the bait truck situation happened the community felt betrayed,” Damayanti Wallace, a local activist, told VICE News. “To have a bait truck with things that people need, especially around this back to school time, shows how they are intentionally trying to rip families apart and traumatize youth.”
Lines began to form at 8 a.m., despite the event not beginning until 4pm and temperatures rising up to 95 degrees. Organizers had to move quickly to set up and keep people hydrated. Some attendees reported a person in line who passed out due to the heat. But those who waited say it was worth it.
Toria Rather, an employee of Butler College Prep, told Wallace that many of the students she sees day to day don’t have the resources for new shoes at the beginning of the school year.
“I love that the kids are getting these boxes of shoes, this is amazing,” she said.
But as the line grew, there were concerns that there would not be enough merchandise to go around.
“People were getting upset and frustrated,” says Maya Barber, a youth organizer. “Of course you don’t want to deny anybody, but that was the reality we faced around 4 p.m.”
Luckily, Barber says that there are still shoes coming in. As of this morning, she says they have enough to fill two more bait trucks, and the groups plan to do another giveaway on Tuesday.
“This speaks to the need,” says Ademola. “For people that were willing to endure the heat and the long lines, I can only imagine that this event was very important for them. That opened my eyes to see the physical manifestation of marginalized folks who get erased and ignored who can’t provide for their children.”
Cover: Members of Good Kids Mad City prepare to unload the anti-bait trucks. (Photo: Kofi Ademola)