Video showing a Chicago police vehicle blaring the song “Sweet Home Alabama” during a “Black Lives Matter” protest Saturday on Chicago’s West Side left some protesters questioning if the move was racist or a possible show of sports pride.
Photographer Gabriel Michael said demonstrators were near the intersection of Pulaski and Monroe at the end of the march when the unmarked squad car rolled by loudly playing the Lynyrd Skynyrd anthem.
“I realized the music was coming from a cruiser, I just couldn’t believe it,” he said.
That’s when he began recording.
“My brain couldn’t process,” he said. “They were playing this song at a protest for black lives—Mike Brown, Eric Garner. A song co-opted by conservative southern bigoted groups as a kind of rallying cry for Confederate and racist values.”
The controversial 40-year-old song is an ode to Alabama and a retort to Neil Young's "Southern Man," a song about racism in the south. It has also been the target of criticism over the years for what some interpret as support for former Alabama governor and segregationist George Wallace, which Skynyrd's singer Ronnie van Zant called a misinterpretation.
Michael noted that the University of Alabama played Missouri on Saturday and the song is often associated with the team, but said no matter the reason, playing the song during the march may be an example of the distance between police officers and the community.
“It made me think of how desensitized these cops were to think it was funny to be playing that,” Michael said. “I’d like to know what their explanation is, why they did it.”
Chicago Police said Monday they are aware of the incident and are conducting an internal investigation.