Several pro-Palestinian messages were written in chalk at Port Clinton Square in downtown Highland Park on Friday. | Photos provided to Lake and McHenry County Scanner

Pro-Palestinian chalk messages at Port Clinton Square in downtown Highland Park on Friday sparked tensions amongst the public, with some asking the city to take more action.

The City of Highland Park said in a statement that individuals on Friday were using non-permanent chalk to write phrases on public right-of-ways in downtown Highland Park that “community members have reported as inflammatory.”

The chalkings were made at Port Clinton Square, which is near 2nd Street and Central Avenue.

“As is the case with the messages that were chalked by children and community members in celebration of Independence Day, the City does not prohibit non-permanent chalking on public right-of-way,” the city said.

“As with all chalking on public rights-of-way, the chalking will be removed during regular maintenance operations,” the city added.

A city official told Lake and McHenry County Scanner that the city’s practice toward non-permanent chalkings is to leave them in place until they are cleaned up as part of the regular maintenance.

“Additionally, public areas such as sidewalks in Downtown Highland Park are cleaned by adjacent property owners to supplement regular City maintenance,” officials said.

“The City strongly encourages community members to avoid engaging with individuals who are writing messages that may be inflammatory, and to be respectful of law enforcement officers on scene who are monitoring for unlawful and criminal activity,” officials said.

“Police were on-site to monitor for any potential unlawful criminal actions,” officials added.

Lake and McHenry County Scanner has spoken to several people involved in Friday’s incidents, including witnesses and a man who wrote the messages.

A man uses chalk to write “272 DAYS OF GENOCIDE” on the sidewalk at Port Clinton Square in downtown Highland Park shortly after noon on Friday. | Screengrab: Simona

At around 12:30 p.m. Friday, Highland Park resident Simona, who wishes to be identified by her first name only, witnessed a man writing messages on the sidewalk with chalk and began taking video, which she provided to Lake and McHenry County Scanner.

She said that multiple community members were concerned about the man’s actions.

Simona said the man became verbally aggressive with her and she started to take video.

The video showed the man writing “272 DAYS OF GENOCIDE,” referring to the days that have passed since the Israel-Hamas war began on October 7, 2023.

Simona and the man both verbally exchanged words.

“Why are you in Highland Park? Do you live here?” Simona asked the man.

“Because I’m a resident here. Why are you in Highland Park?” the man responded.

“I live here, this is my neighborhood,” Simona said.

“Well I live here too, and I also pay taxes, what about you?” the man said.

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“I pay taxes, I’m a homeowner in Highland Park. We don’t want this in our city, especially on the anniversary of the shooting,” Simona said, referring to the two-year anniversary of the Highland Park Fourth of July parade shooting.

A man who wrote pro-Palestinian chalk messages at Port Clinton Square in Highland Park on Friday is confronted by residents, video showed. | Screengrab: Simona

Simona and the man continued the verbal exchange before the man took out his cell phone and began filming Simona back, calling her a “Karen.”

“She’s not a Karen, you’re a d–k,” a woman walking past the chalkings told the man.

Another man is then seen walking up with a bucket of water and a brush and beginning to wash the chalking away.

Simona said that nearby business owners, residents and members of the Chicago Jewish Alliance (CJA) also came out to wash the message away.

A man uses a bucket of water and a brush to clean off a pro-Palestinian chalk message at Port Clinton Square in downtown Highland Park on Friday. | Screengrab: Simona

Lake and McHenry County Scanner spoke to the man who wrote the messages. He wishes to remain anonymous but said he is a Highland Park resident and a Highland Park High School graduate.

The man provided photos of several messages he wrote on the steps at Port Clinton Square.

“VETERANS AGAINST GENOCIDE,” “NEVER AGAIN MEANS NOW,” “NO MORE $ FOR GENOCIDE, and “END THE OCCUPATION AND 4EVER WARS,” the messages said.

One of the messages said “HIND RAJB,” referring to the reported killing of 6-year-old Palestinian girl Hind Rajab, which gained widespread media coverage.

Several pro-Palestinian messages were written in chalk at Port Clinton Square in downtown Highland Park on Friday. | Photos provided to Lake and McHenry County Scanner

“I wrote these very agreeable messages earlier on, never invoking any violence or harm against Jewish people as some characterized it as,” the man told Lake and McHenry County Scanner.

The man said he was out writing messages in downtown Highland Park from around 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday.

“A few people either tried to step on my chalk or my hands. Even to do so much as to stand less than a few inches from me and wipe their feet as I wrote,” he said.

The man said he comes out to downtown Highland Park occasionally to write messages with chalk and said he experiences “terrible racist pushback” every time.

He said he has also visited other towns in the North Shore like Glencoe in 2020.

“The people are just violent. But the young are very supportive and sometimes join in,” the man said.

The man also spoke to several veterans, who he said were “very kind.”

Simona said that Highland Park Police were called multiple times.

“I told them repeatedly that the chalk was anti-Semitic and they said it was his right to be on public property using chalk just as any child would be allowed to,” Simona said.

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“In fact it almost felt like they [police] were protecting him,” she added.

Simona said that the man was in the downtown area for hours and wrote messages with chalk multiple times, even after people washed them away.

“It was clearly organized by someone and they are targeting a Jewish community right on the anniversary of the mass shooting,” Simona said.

The man who wrote the messages said that he “rewrote over what they erased and it only made the message stronger.”

Members of the Chicago Jewish Alliance (CJA) are joined by the public to help clean up pro-Palestinian chalk messages and write their own messages in downtown Highland Park on Friday. | Photo: Simona

The man also wrote messages at the veteran’s memorial at Central Avenue and St. Johns Avenue, which he said was to tell residents “that the veterans they love so much don’t support this genocide.”

“END THE OCCUPATION,” one of the messages at the veteran’s memorial said.

In response, some people brought their own chalk to write pro-Israel messages.

“FREE GAZA FROM HAMAS,” “FREE THE HOSTAGES,” and “DEMAND HAMAS ACCEPT CEASEFIRE,” were written.

“VETERANS FOR ISRAEL” was written over the earlier “VETERANS AGAINST GENOCIDE” message.

“FREE GAZA FROM HAMAS,” “FREE THE HOSTAGES,” “DEMAND HAMAS ACCEPT CEASEFIRE,” and “VETERANS FOR ISRAEL” are written in chalk in Port Clinton Square in Highland Park in response to earlier pro-Palestinian chalk messages. | Photos/Screengrabs: Simona

Later in the afternoon, the man was seen getting into the passenger seat of a Hyundai SUV, another video taken by Simona showed. Two Highland Park police officers were present.

Michelle, who wishes to be identified by her first name only, is seen walking up to the Hyundai to confront the man, saying, “This is America and this is a Jewish town and you can get the f–k out,” before being approached by a Highland Park police officer, the video showed.

“The police advised me not to go there to speak to him. But, I said I can legally walk on the sidewalk,” Michelle told Lake and McHenry County Scanner.

Michelle walked past the officer and approached the Hyundai to confront the man.

“Go to Gaza!” Michelle is heard telling the man repeatedly. The police officer then directs the Hyundai to drive away.

“Until the leadership in this town takes action the Jewish people need to take it into their own hands. This isn’t 1938 Nazi Germany,” Michelle said.

Lake and McHenry County Scanner spoke to the woman who drove away with the man who wrote the messages.

The woman, who wishes not to be identified, said she saw the man chalking the messages and suggested he stop and leave to de-escalate the situation.

The man told the woman that he did not have a ride, so the woman drove him away from the downtown area and dropped him off with a friend.

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“People were honking and screaming at him from their cars,” the woman said.

The woman stated she wanted to do what was best for the community and have him leave for everyone’s wellbeing, adding that the “town has been through a lot since July 4 [shooting].”

A second man, who was earlier seen helping clean up the pro-Palestinian messages and who the woman said was a pro-Israel veteran, helped to also de-escalate the situation.

That man accompanied the two on the car ride.

The woman hoped that future chalk messages would focus more on positivity and is glad that no one was arrested or injured in Friday’s incidents.

Michelle said she helped lead a rally in downtown Highland Park on Monday after dozens of pro-Palestinian protesters gathered outside of U.S. Congressman Brad Schneider’s residence on Woodland Road east of St. Johns Avenue early in the morning last Saturday.

In that incident, city officials said that protesters were carrying banners and shouting pro-Palestinian and antisemitic chants using loudspeakers and drums.

On Thursday, Schneider’s office in Washington D.C. was vandalized.

Michelle is helping to lead a nationwide movement called “We Will Dance Again!” where people gather and dance in support of Israel, hoping the dances gain online exposure.

Approximately 40 pro-Palestinian protesters walk down the roadway near Woodland Road and St. Johns Avenue in Highland Park early in the morning on June 29, targeting the residence of U.S. Congressman Brad Schneider. | Background Photo: Provided; Inset Photo: Woo-Sung Shim / Lake and McHenry County Scanner

The chalked messages have already raised concerns and emotions from the public, with some people taking them up to the city’s Facebook post.

The post has already garnered over 600 comments as of Sunday afternoon.

Many people in the comments criticized the city’s response and asked officials to take more action.

“Translation – Highland Park and the HPPD are going [to] do absolutely nothing about these people just like we didn’t do anything a few nights ago when they were walking through our neighborhoods at 3:30 in the morning terrorizing people,” one person commented, referring to the protests outside Schneider’s residence.

“By reading HP’s cryptic communication, just another anti-Semitic event that is shrugged off by the City of Highland Park, Illinois – Government. Dangerous and shameful,” a person said.

“Why not call it what it is? Jewish hate. Antisemitism. Propaganda. Hate speech. Vile graffiti. What’s with the run around? Who are you afraid of??” said another.

“Please do not compare these hate messages to our children’s drawings,” a person said.

Lake and McHenry County Scanner asked city officials if they are planning to take any further action in response to Friday’s chalking incidents.

“Not at this time,” they responded.