Austin pastor and former Westside Ministers Coalition President Greg Livingston filed a complaint with the Chicago Police Department July 27 stemming from an alleged physical altercation by City Hall police officers during the July 26 City Council meeting on the “Big Box” ordinance, and is considering future legal action against the department.
Livingston, pastor of Mandell United Methodist Church, 5000 Congress Pkwy., filed the complaint with the department’s Office of Professional Standards last Thursday, one day after the alleged incident took place. Livingston was one of the Clergy Coalition pastors invited to City Hall by Ald. Joe Moore, chief sponsor of the ordinance, which passed last Wednesday.
In his three-page complaint, Livingston alleges he was “forcibly pushed in the chest” by a police officer at City Hall shortly before the final vote, around 4:30 in the afternoon.
Livingston claims a group of officers prevented him from returning to the chamber room, located on the second floor of City Hall, shortly after he left the area to go to the outside lobby.
In the complaint, Livingston said he left the Chamber area where he and other pastors were gathered to go to the outside lobby where protestors and the media were located. Livingston said fellow pastor Rev. Robin Hood of Redeem Outreach Ministries on the South Side informed him there was food in the lobby. Livingston, who recounted the incident to the Austin Weekly News on Monday, said he and other pastors had not eaten all day during last Wednesday’s nearly seven-hour City Council meeting.
Livingston said he was told by a volunteer of ACORN, one of the groups there protesting against the ordinance, that the box of sandwiches was for ACORN volunteers only. Livingston said as he returned to the immediate chamber area, an officer stopped him from going back in.
A superior officer, according to the complaint, verified Livingston’s identity. As Livingston walked back to the chamber accompanied by John Paul Jones, director of Community Outreach for the Neighborhood Capital Budget Group, a community activist organization, an officer shouted, “No editorializing,” according to the complaint. Livingston alleges he turned around and told the officer that he was talking to “his friend,” and had his cell phone in his hand. The officer, he alleges, then told him to “Shut up and go on.”
Livingston said he told the officer several times that he can “speak to whoever he wants to.” That’s when, according to the complaint, the officer began pushing Livingston in the chest until he was backed up against the wall. Livingston claims that his hands were above his head in a “surrender posture” the entire time. At this point, a group of officers surrounded him.
Livingston told AWN Monday that he was “shocked” by the police’s actions.
“You would think that in the wake of the Burge [policy brutality] report, that the police would take a ‘chill-out approach’ but I guess that wasn’t the case here,” he said.
According to the complaint, a commander entered the fray as Livingston was still against the wall, and told him he had to leave. Livingston said he headed toward the elevators, and made a call to a head Chicago Police Department (CPD) official whose cell phone number he had, and told the official about what just happened. Moments later, the commander who originally asked Livingston to leave called him back over and quickly escorted him back into the chambers. Livingston believes the CPD official he called, who expressed “outrage” over the incident, called the commander and ordered him the let Livingston back into the chamber.
A change of tone
Livingston said as he walked back toward the chamber, the officers’ heads were down. He said he could have not responded at all when the first officer spoke to him, but he did nothing wrong.
“I could have just said nothing, look down or scratched my head. But then I thought, here we are in City Hall during a very important hearing, and I wasn’t going to let him take away my right to speak.”
The Austin Weekly News contacted CPS News Affairs Monday for a response. A spokesperson said our request was forwarded to CPS News Affairs Director Monique Bond, who as of press time did not return our phone call.
John Paul Jones of the Neighborhood Capital Budget Group witnessed the altercation, and said Livingston was not disrespectful and kept his hands over his head as officers surrounded him.
“They handled it very bad,” Jones said of the police. “One officer told him to get off the phone and don’t make a statement about what’s going on inside here. The guy put his hands on Rev. Livingston to keep him from going inside. They continually tried to shove him out of the council chambers. Clearly, they didn’t want him to be talking on the phone.”
Livingston said he recounted the incident to other clergy members inside council chambers, who were equally disturbed by the event.
“I was not surprised, but outraged,” said Rev. Robin Hood, who alleges he has been involved in similar unprovoked altercations with police. Hood, a volunteer with ACORN and a West Side native, said ACORN has filed two lawsuits against police because of such behavior. None of those incidents, said Hood, was as bad as what allegedly happened to Livingston.
“They’ve tried to push us around several times down there at City Hall,” Hood said Monday. “They pushed [Livingston] about five times and were asking him to shut up, and he was talking to someone else. We want to come out strong against this to put a stop to it.”
AWN called Ald. Moore on Monday. He returned the call, leaving a voice mail message, but the AWN was not able to speak to him prior to this week’s publication. Livingston said Moore called the incident “absolutely disgusting” after he told Moore what happened.
Standing up for his rights
Livingston has spoken with other community leaders about seeking a possible lawsuit against the police. He said Wednesday that he had yet to receive a call from an investigator from the Office of Professional Standards. The entire incident is a “black mark” on otherwise good police, he added.
The majority of police officers are good, Livingston observed, but there are some who are a part of the “Burge” culture, referring to former Chicago police cmdr. Jon Burge, who has been accused, along with other officers, of torturing suspects during his tenure from the late 1970s to the early 1990s.
Livingston also wondered what would have happened if he were not a minister and prominent member of the community, and did not have access to a CPD official’s cellphone number.
“I made a call and was able to get in-they didn’t like that,” he said. “If I was actually doing something wrong, then that’s one thing. But all I was doing was exercising my First Amendment rights. My whole thing was, why do you have to put your hands on me and why push me? I don’t play the race card, that’s not my thing, but would they have done this to a white priest or a white clergy? This shows they don’t care about the activism of the black minister.”
Livingston, who has offered to sit down with the alleged officers involved to talk about why the incident had to happen, added that his actions can serve as a lesson for other men, particularly young black men, who find themselves in a similar incident.
“If I had decided to go ahead and swing, I was outgunned and couldn’t run,” he said. “I could have gotten a lick in, but that would have been nothing compared to what they could have done. I hope that serves as a lesson for other men on how to handle that situation. If I had been with a women and they put their hands on her, that would have been a whole other thing. But I tell you, I practice Jesus’ way of turning the other cheek. I’m trying to represent Martin Luther King, not Rodney King.”