During a March 22 Chicago City Council hearing on police-community relations, West Side Ald. Jason Ervin (28th) offered his perspective on a resolution, introduced by Ald. Ed Burke (14th), that is ostensibly designed to improve police-community relations.
Last June, Burke, a former Chicago police officer, introduced the controversial "Blue Lives Matter" ordinance, which have made first-responders a protected class—meaning crimes committed against them could be prosecuted as hate crimes. The ordinance prompted considerable backlash from residents and city officials alike, including Ald. Chris Taliaferro (29th), himself a former police officer. Many of the measure's opponents felt that it was unduly divisive.
This most recent proposal introduced by Burke sets a much more conciliatory tone, but at least one prominent community activist said that it still doesn't get to the heart of why the relationship between the police and the community is broken in the first place.
Burke's resolution calls for all Chicago Public Schools to incorporate the Support Teaching of Principles, or STOP, lesson designed to teach youth how to properly interact with police officers. It also called for the representatives of various city departments to appear before a joint committee and explain what they are doing to mend the broken relationship between police and the public.
Perhaps the most talked about aspect of the resolution is a proposed summit organized by the Chicago Bar Association and called, "The Bridge to Justice: Closing the Divide between Civilians and Police."
During the March 22 hearing, Chicago Bar Association Board President Danny Katin testified that the idea for the summit came from one of his organization's members. Although originally designed to focus on police-community relations, it has since expanded to explore the root causes of violence and the ways to address it.
Currently scheduled for May 19, this all-day summit would involve representatives of city, county, state and federal law enforcement agencies, members of the city council and other governing bodies, religious leaders, community activists and social workers.
"The key, ladies and gentlemen, is that we're only going to focus on solutions," Katin said. "We are not going to ask anyone to waste their breath complaining."
Ervin said that he wants to make sure that members of the ex-offender community, and the organizations that represent them, are invited to the summit as well.
"I think, a lot of times, we like to make broad strokes with the brush. And sometimes, in some respects, we do more harm than good," he said. "I live in the heart of the 11th [police] district on the West Side of Chicago. I see every day the challenges people face and [issues] that breed a lot of violence. I think we need to look at both sides of the issue so that we can come away with the solutions."
"There are some terrific ex-offender organizations," Katin said. "It's important, from my perspective, that [the summit] involves all stakeholders."
Ald. Raymond Lopez (15th) wondered if there was a way to force social media networks do more to curb online taunting and other interactions that lead to violence. Ald. Emma Mitts (37th) proposed a resolution last fall calling for the city council to pressure social media networks to do just that, but the legislation has been stalled ever since.
Katin replied that there were constitutional issues involved, which is why the summit would have legal experts who can address that issue.
Dwayne Bryant, the president of Inner Vision International mentoring program, testified that he started thinking about ways to improve community-police interactions while talking to elementary school students.
When he asked students what they would do if a police officer came to the playground, they said they would run, even though they didn't do anything wrong. A few hours later, he got stopped by a police officer for speeding while on the way to a speaking engagement.
Bryant said that he was nervous, particularly because Sandra Bland's death was still fresh in the news at the time.
"I was thinking, 'Should I back away, or should I run?'" he said. "I, as an educated man, was thinking those thoughts."
But the stop went peacefully. The incident nonetheless made Bryant think about how people's actions can lead to different outcomes, and eventually resulted in a book he authored that not only teaches youth how to best interact with the police, but also how to encourage mutual respect and understanding between the youth, their families and police officers.
Bryant noted that he also wants to make sure that young people understand their legal rights and that they don't hesitate to take officers to court, if necessary.
Barbara West, CPD's Bureau of Support Services chief and former District 15 and District 11 commander, said that the Community Policing Advisory Panel, which includes officers and community members, have been working on revising CPD's approach to community policing.
Some of its major goals include creating community partnerships, teaming up with other city departments to pour resources into communities that are particularly hard-hit by increased violence, making sure CPD has manpower and resources to meet community needs, developing a method to evaluate the impacts of crime and eliminating barriers between police and youth.
While aldermen were mostly complimentary of officials who testified, the only resident to speak, community activist George Blakemore, accused everyone of dodging the real cause of the rift.
"One of the main problems in police violence, in community-police relations, is racism," he said." The police is part of the problem, Children and Family Services is part of the problem, Cook County Court is part of the problem."
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