23 Arrested in Woodlawn Mental Health Center Protest

Eleven of the 23 were released without charges, police said

About two dozen workers, patients and supporters protesting the closure of a South Side mental health clinic were arrested early Friday.

The group barricaded themselves Thursday behind steel gates and cement inside the Woodlawn Mental Health Clinic at 6337 S. Woodlawn to protest Mayor Rahm Emanuel's plan to close six of the facilities. About 75 people demonstrated outside.

Protesters said they would remain inside the clinic until the mayor agrees to keep all of the city's 12 public health clinics open and fully staffed.

"These people with schizophrenia, bi-polar disorder, depression, serious depression, they're willing to barricade themselves in their own clinic to not only send a message but to try to find a way to keep that clinic open," a supporter told NBC Chicago.

The group, Mental Health Movement, said they demanded public hearings on the closures. Dr. Bechara Choucair, Commissioner Chicago Department of Public Health, said in a statement the administration has met with the group more than a dozen times.

"The closure of mental health clinics is not a budget issue," said Toussaint Losier of the Mental health movement at a 10 a.m. news conference. "It's not a policy issue. For us it's a matter of life or death."

"We did this to send a clear message. Rahm Emanuel, are you listening?" said Calvin McCloud, a supporter who was arrested Friday morning and released.

The Northwest Clinic in Logan Square and the Northtown Clinic in Rogers Park closed last Friday, Mental Health Movement officials said. Clinics in Woodlawn, Auburn/Gresham, Back of the Yards and Beverly/Morgan Park are scheduled to close April 30.

Police arrested 23 people, mostly women, starting around 1 a.m. Friday. Officers used chainsaws to cut through the barricades.

Eleven of the 23 were released without charges. Charges are pending against the others.

"Our primary concern last night is the well-being and safety of the individuals inside the facility as well as those who need to receive care at this facility this morning," Choucair said.

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