North Side Meeting on Police Reform

I attended last night’s listening tour on the proposed reforms for  the Chicago Police Department. Chaired by Ald. Joe Moore (49th), who heads the City Council Subcommittee, the meeting was also attended by three other north side aldermen: Tom Tunney (44th), James Cappelman (46th), and Harry Osterman (48th), as well as Ald. Ricardo Munoz (22nd).

The aldermen and the police in attendance were respectful toward those members of the crowd who chose to address them, although the comments were overwhelmingly negative and some bordered on the irrational. The majority of the crowd seemed to support the Civilian Police Accountability Council (CPAC), which would put the entire Chicago Police Department under the control of an elected civilian board representing each police district in the City.

An excellent overview of the meeting can be found in today’s DNA Info.

I think the hearing was dominated by anti-police activists who hold the entire police force accountable for the actions of a few officers. Worse, they blame the Chicago Police Department for all the social ills that afflict our communities. Complaints aired at the meeting and aimed at the police included anger about TIFs, the closing of mental health facilities and public schools, and the lack of trust in Rahm Emanuel.

Some speakers advocated cutting the number of police so that funding would be available for mental health facilities and CPS, one person saying that “[having] too many police officers [drains] money from schools.” A teacher, who was angry that the police account for 40% of the City budget, said the only way to stop police corruption was to stop funding the Department. Another speaker demanded that individual officers carry liability insurance, and said that any officer whose body cam wasn’t on should be immediately fired. No hearing, no excuses like faulty equipment, and clearly no constitutional rights for police officers.

Moving testimony came from Mark Clements, a John Burge torture victim who was freed from prison after serving 28 years of a life sentence for a crime he did not commit. He raised one of the most important questions of the night, asking why no one in CPD thought to call the Department of Children & Family Services when children under age 17 were being interrogated. There was undeniable pain in his voice when he said that his youth had been stolen, and asked how he could get it back.

Some of those with the harshest comments also claimed to be police torture victims, without giving specifics. One woman claimed the St. Louis police department colluded with the Chicago police to torture her by repeatedly ticketing her truck. A young man complained about police stings aimed at men soliciting prostitutes, terming it  “harassment” of sex workers and claiming it served no purpose

One particularly angry woman (Morgan of the DNA report) shouted that “…cops and anyone who stands with them should just wear a sheet,” noting that “it’s all black and white to me” and “I will be policing you, ok?” before giving the cops the finger. If this is an example of her behavior with cops in general, it’s not surprising that she’s as unable to see them as human beings as she claims they are to see her.

Others alluded to the fact that 702 people have been shot by the police in Chicago in the past 15 years, and 215 of them have died. Yet police shootings account for less than 5% of all shootings in Chicago in those years, while the vast majority of the dead have been killed in senseless street violence.

A few years ago my husband and I were driving through Morton Grove. He was a Mexican Indian, very dark-skinned, while I’m very fair. He suddenly tensed, and pointed to a police car that had moved parallel to us; the officer was obviously checking the license plate number. I didn’t understand. He said, “He can’t imagine a Mexican with a nice van like this, and thinks you’ve been carjacked.” I replied that the officer was just doing his job; how, I asked him, would you feel if it were true? The license plate checked out, and the officer waved as he drove off. To me, the wave meant, just doing my job. To my husband, it said, you got away this time. We were never able to reconcile our differing reactions.

I thought about that a lot last night. I have no answers.



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