West Siders push for reform at police board meeting

October 24, 2017
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West Side residents and activists demanded stronger community policing in Austin and more police accountability at this month’s police board meeting Oct. 19, a day before the third anniversary of the notorious Laquan McDonald shooting.

“We are all mindful of the fact that we are on the eve of an important milestone in our civic life history,” Lori E. Lightfoot, president of the Chicago Police Board, told more than 50 people who gathered on the South Side to speak against McDonald’s shooting and what they say are worsening tensions between police and residents in many neighborhoods.

The circumstances under which McDonald was shot, and the videotape the public later saw, “profoundly affected all of us,” Lightfoot said at the beginning of last week’s meeting, adding she is aware of the anger and frustration at these “intense, difficult times.”

Somebody in the crowd shouted “murder” when McDonald’s name was mentioned.

Lightfoot reminded speakers to have “respectful conversations” and keep their comments to two minutes.

Still, a dozen community members who signed up to speak did not mince words when directly addressing the senior management of the Chicago Police Department; a group of activists chanted outside the police station in protest of the handling of the teen’s shooting death.

“Too many young men of color in the city have been murdered, tortured and framed by the Jason Van Dykes,” Austin resident Jeffery Baker, 22, a member of the Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression (CAARPR), said referring to the police officer facing murder charges in McDonald’s death.

“Nothing has changed,” Baker told the police board, deputies of Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson and representatives from the Civilian Office of Police Accountability. “Because the people of Chicago still have no power over the police.”

McDonald, 17, was shot 16 times by officer Van Dyke on Oct. 20, 2014. The dash cam video released a year later showed McDonald walking away from police with a knife in his hand, which largely contradicted the police’s account of the shooting.

An investigative report issued by the U.S. Department of Justice earlier this year revealed a “culture of excessive violence” and “code of silence” in the police department.

“It’s terrible what the Chicago Police have done,” Baker said, calling the mayor’s appointed police board “unelected, undemocratic and ultimately unaccountable.”

Three officers involved in the shooting have been charged with conspiracy for covering up for Van Dyke, while four officers were assigned earlier this year to desk duty after being stripped of their police power, according to the Chicago Tribune.

Baker and others from the CAARPR denounced police supervisors for being “ineffective” in investigating and holding accountable officers involved in police shootings.

“Rahm Emanuel must start the firing process of Jason Van Dyke and the four officers,” said Nataki Rhodes, executive co-chair of CAARPR.

“Nobody here can come back to work and do paperwork who have already covered up at work,” she said. ““You all have heard the tape.”

The group proposes that a Civilian Police Accountability Council, which would be an elected, all-civilian police accountability board, replace COPA.

COPA, a newly formed agency charged with investigating police misconduct, just replaced the former Independent Police Review Authority.

There’s been little progress in restoring the relationship between police and civilians in Chicago’s predominately African-American neighborhoods, said members of the Central Austin Neighborhood Association (CANA), who demanded stronger community policing in Austin.

“In my community, community policing is a failure,” longtime Austin resident Serethea Reid told the police.

She said there’s lack of commitment and effectiveness in the loosely organized CAPS meetings and community policing services.

There are no metrics or mandates to make sure residents who are most affected by violence receive adequate and timely assistance, she said, adding most continue to live in fear and frustration.

“It’s residents in the most distressed communities like Austin feeling they are on a treadmill trying to reach a basic sense of security,” Reid said.

The shootings and violence in Austin have only gotten worse, said Austin resident Ron Reid, also with CANA.

“There were two shootings and murders this past Monday,” he told the police board. “We need to assist our blocks.”

It wasn’t the first time the couple has demanded changes in the community policing strategies in Austin, he said, adding the officers’ interaction with the community needs to be measurable and documented, with clear objectives.

“Austin residents receive little services,” he said. “And ignoring our strategies should be a shame.”

While the police department has increased its efforts to address problems in the use of force and community interactions over the past two years, community policing is more of “philosophy” than concrete human resources, acknowledged First Deputy Superintendent Kevin Navarro.

The ongoing police reforms include increased training in proper use of force and concepts such as sanctity of life and de-escalation, Navarro told the crowd. He noted that every patrol officer will be wearing a body camera by the end of this year.

“We will make sure that there’s transparency of their use of body cameras,” he said but added “challenges cannot be addressed overnight.”

Systematic reforms and change of leadership are needed in Chicago’s police department, West Side resident Kathy Cummings said during an interview before last week’s meeting.

She joined about 100 others Thursday night in the hours-long protest outside 3510 S. Michigan Ave. against Superintendent Johnson’s decision to place four officers involved in McDonald’s shooting back on the city’s payroll.

“We stick together and expect justice that the police stop killing people of color,” said Cummings, a Humboldt Park resident and court observer with CAARPR.

“Shooting people 16 times in the back used to be unheard of,” she said. “They should be fired and convicted.”

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