Purge Burge! In the wake of the Burge Report one would think there would at least be a higher level of sensitivity among some of Chicago’s Finest as it concerns America’s congenital problem with race, even though it may be short-lived. My personal account below shows that the matrix-a womb that grows and protects a culture of dehumanizing brutality-from which Jon Burge emerged, is yet aborting the reputation of an innocent majority of Chicago police officers as they try to perform their difficult and dangerous jobs on a daily basis. Chicagoans, as a community of diverse individuals, must become unified in our diversity by continuing to raise the awareness and accountability of our city and those sworn to serve and protect it.
As part of a clergy coalition advocating the “Big Box Ordinance” led by Ald. Joe Moore (49th Ward), I presided over a prayer vigil and march around Chicago’s City Hall from 9 to 10:30 p.m., Tuesday night, July 25. Cmdr. Keating was on duty and present at this event (I also led a daytime march concerning the same issue with Cmdr. Keating being on duty and present as well).
Wednesday morning at 8 a.m., clergy, including Rev. Michael Pfleger, Rev. Robin Hood, Rev. Steve Greer and myself, joined Ald. Moore in the room behind City Council Chambers. Cmdr. Keating was again present and on duty and asked Ald. Moore if he was going to take responsibility for our presence. Ald. Moore jokingly responded, “Of course.”
We all stayed in the room waiting for the vote on the Big Box Ordinance which finally began that afternoon. At approximately 4 p.m., Rev. Hood informed me there was food in the elevator lobby. I had not eaten all day and decided to check it out.
OK, no problem
As I walked to the elevator lobby I spoke to the officers who were leisurely posted at the juncture of the lobby and the hallway leading to the Council Chambers. I found out the food was only for the ACORN workers and turned around to go back to my previous location. A white male officer whom I had spoken to less than a minute before (he didn’t speak back) told me I could not reenter. I told him that I had just walked past him and asked why I could not reenter. I reiterated that I had just walked past him (in my opinion there was no heavy foot traffic. I did not see many big black men like myself circulating at that time). He asked me for I.D. I showed him my Illinois State I.D. He told me that was no good-he needed to see City of Chicago I.D. I told him I was not a City of Chicago employee.
The officer said once I was out, that was it. I asked him if it would be OK if I got someone to vouch that I belonged back in Council Chambers. He said no. I told him I was working with Ald. Moore’s coalition on this very important issue, and I needed to go back in. Again the officer told me no. I told him OK, no problem, and I was sorry to have troubled him. He was very stoic with no response (didn’t even care if I had to retrieve any of my belongings and there was no notice or warning of prohibited reentry).
I needed to get back in the Council Chambers, so I decided to call one of my church members who also happens to be a commanding officer with CPD, to see if she could speak to the officers and vouch for me that I was indeed with Ald. Moore so I could get back in. She contacted Sgt. Kipka who eventually came down and told the officers to let me in. (Please note: while I was waiting, I took notice that there were white people, non-blacks, moving freely back and forth across the same place I was prohibited to cross. I even noticed the officers loosely huddling with their backs to the area, and non-blacks trafficking unchecked. I saw some of the black ACORN workers being directed upstairs but I wasn’t even offered that option.)
I said thank you, walked past the officers and saw one of my colleagues. He and I shook hands and begin to walk toward the Council Chambers starting a conversation. Suddenly I heard someone behind me say, “No editorializing!” I turned around and said, “Huh?” Again he said to me “No editorializing!” In a calm voice I told him that I was talking to my friend. At this point my cell phone rang and it was CPD brass calling to ask me if I had gotten in yet. I didn’t really have a chance to answer her when Officer Woods (according to his name tag) told me to “Shut up!” I told him that I can talk to my friend if I want. He again said to me, “Shut up!” I told him that I can talk if I want to, and again he told me to shut up. Again I said I can talk to whoever I want as long as I want. Officer Woods then told me I had a bad attitude, and I said I can talk when I want, too. Officer Woods then shouted at me that I was speaking to him in a disrespectful tone and that I was being disrespectful. I then told him that he was being disrespectful.
OK, we have a problem
That’s when Officer Woods put both his hands on my chest and pushed me backwards. I raised my hands in the air in a surrender posture (my cell phone was in my hand and the line with the CPD brass was still open and she told me later because she heard me stating repeatedly that “I can talk if I want to”) and tried to maintain my balance. He pushed me in the chest with both hands again. He pushed me in this manner two more times and on the fifth push he stepped into it and slammed me (back first) against a wall that blocked any views from the elevator lobby. My hands remained in the “surrender” position during this whole episode.
At this point Sgt. Kipka stepped in between Officer Woods and myself and pointed a finger in my face and told me that I was given a “direct order to shut up!” I said to Sgt. Kipka that I can talk when I want to. I looked over his head and saw that I was semi-circled by the other officers (there was another tall white sergeant in this circle and some other patrol officers. I seemed to be surrounded by at least six or seven Chicago police officers, all Caucasian-other than Officer Woods-like I had just committed some heinous crime).
At this point Cmdr. Keating stepped into the fray. Because we had just been together the night before, I thought he was going to tell them that he knew me and that he had walked me into the Council Chambers’ back room with Ald. Moore that morning. However to my dismay, he treated me like a stranger, telling me that he told Ald. Moore that Moore had to be responsible for his clergy coalition and because I went to check on some food, I could not go back in. I asked Cmdr. Keating if he would let Ald. Moore know I was out here.
Cmdr. Keating told me that Ald. Moore was gone (I knew that wasn’t true because the vote on this “hot” national issue had not yet been taken, but I was not going to argue this point). Cmdr. Keating told me that I had to “get out.” I told the Cmdr. that I really needed to get back in. He told me I had to “get out.” I said OK, no problem and proceeded to walk toward the elevator banks. As I’m walking out of the space outside the Chambers, Officer Woods is alongside me and says to me, “What’s your name?” and I said, “Gregory Livingston.” Then he said to me, “We know who you are!”
I try to practice what I preach and teach to my congregation, so as I was leaving I spoke to Officer Woods and told him that I don’t know what just happened, but I meant him no harm in defending my 1st Amendment right of free speech, whether I’m in a private conversation with my colleague or in the pulpit. I offered to shake his hand but he threw his hands up in the air and stepped away from me like I was a leper and disdainfully told me to “get out, just get out.” Wow!
My cell phone line to CPD brass was no longer open, so as I walked toward the elevator banks, I called the CPD brass I’ve already mentioned to find out how much she heard. She asked me if I was able to get in. I informed her that Cmdr. Keating told me I had to “get out.” She informed me she couldn’t overrule a Cmdr. I told her OK, no problem. I knew then who I would call next.
Appealing to a higher authority
As the former CEO of the WestSide Ministers Coalition, I have hosted monthly meetings attended by persons like Supt. Phil Cline and First Deputy Supt. Dana Starks. I decided to call up the ladder as high as I could possibly go. I got a CPD boss on the line and asked if he had a minute. He told me he was in a meeting but to go ahead. As I begin to tell him what had just occurred and he responded in absolute shock. He told me that he would take care of this, and we ended the phone call.
An old friend of mine had just stepped off the elevator, and we had just started a conversation about a minute after my conversation with CPD brass when Cmdr. Keating called across the floor, “Rev. Livingston come over here. Let me take you back in Council Chambers.” He must have received a message on his Blackberry from a CPD boss because his tone and attitude totally changed toward me. He was friendly, chipper and smiling (Wow!).
As I walked back, the other officers had their heads down and would not look at me. Cmdr. Keating then told me that he thought I did a really good job at the aforementioned prayer vigil the previous night(!). This was so befuddling-he was like Jekyll and Hyde. As I was following him through a hall into the chamber, and there was no one around, he turned to me, shook my hand and said, “I want to apologize to you for my officers being overly aggressive.” (Overly aggressive on a high-profile media day in City Hall, no less!) He took me to the back of the gallery seating area, but when my clergy colleagues down front, off to the side of the mayor, saw me, they beckoned for me to come down front. As we were walking out to go down front I saw Sgt. Kipka leaning against the wall with his head down shaking his head when he saw me. I stopped and shook his hand and told him that I didn’t know what just went down, but I never meant anyone any harm in defending my right to talk.
Once I was in the private chamber room, I recounted my story to Rev. Steve Greer, and he said was it a “[particular ethnicity]-looking fellow that was pushing you?” Surprised, I told him yes. Rev. Greer told me he was pushed by a guy who fit Officer Woods’ description this morning. Then Rev. Robin Hood told me he was pushed around in a similar fashion last month!
I recounted this same story to aldermen Isaac Carothers (29th), Moore and Ed Smith (28th). They were all flabbergasted. My colleague saw everything.
I am still reeling and not believing what happened to me in Chicago’s City Hall on the 2nd Floor in front of the Council Chambers doors. I cannot even begin to comprehend such levels of unbridled aggression, brazenness and racial hatred.
Knowing they can get away with it
When Officer Woods was pushing me and as the other officers began to envelope me, my mind was racing and the thought that kept occurring was, “What is it, or how is it that Officer Woods knows that he will get away with pushing and verbally assaulting me? How can Officer Woods be so confident in his attack upon me?” Why didn’t any of the other officers attempt to stop him? As a black man, I knew better than to even try to resist him. I wanted to shout out something like “Jon Burge! Jon Burge!” just to draw attention. But again, as a Chicago-raised black man I knew better.
These officers and the public must know that this type of behavior is unacceptable. I had no interaction with Officer Woods. I didn’t even notice him until he shouted at me from behind. I made no scenes. I’m a public minister. I was dressed in a suit and tie. I’m relatively well-spoken with a resonant voice that carries. Was my crime for these seemingly “throwback cops” being an “Uppity Negro?”
I work closely with CPD and help facilitate between the police, the church and the community. I believe that 99 percent of Chicago’s Finest are absolutely awesome. What actions must be taken so that the twisted 1 percent will think twice before mistreating pastors, their parishioners and the public? I would love to sit down and have a conversation with these officers, not to vent or browbeat but to work from an understanding that “the great tragedy of humanity is not how bad we are but rather that we are not striving to be the infinitely awesome persons God has designed us to be.”
Rev. Gregory Seal Livingston is the pastor of Mandell United Methodist Church in Austin.