As promised by West Side clergy in an Aug. 14 Town Hall at the Miracle Center Baptist Church, 5634 W. Chicago Ave. (pastor Rev. Shelly Harmon), the ministers came back to the community on Sept. 7 and submitted a written report on an incident involving Chicago police tactics that resulted in a dog being shot.
“We are not attorneys. We are just citizens like everyone else,” said Rev. Ira Acree of the newly formed independent civilian police oversight group, which consists of Rev. Acree, Minister Cy Fields, State Rep. Calvin Giles, Barbara Harmon, Rev. Marshall Hatch, SACCC Executive Director Bob Vondrasek, attorney Stan Willis, Ywain Fields, Rev. Robin Hood and Rev. Calvin Morris. The group talked with various witnesses who live on the block where the 800 N. Parkside incident occurred. The ministers agreed more investigation is needed and have not yet interviewed everyone.
Recapping the Parkside incident: It reportedly took place on Aug. 6, approximately 2:30 p.m. According to the ministers’ report, Special Operations officers from the Chicago Police Department sought to arrest two minors (teenage males) in front of their home on the 800 block of North Parkside. The arresting officers, acting upon alleged suspicion of illegal narcotic-selling, apparently sought to gain entrance into the family home in pursuit of one of the young men by way of the front porch. At that point, the family dog came out of the house, allegedly threatening to attack the police officers. In the ensuing commotion, one police officer, shot the dog in front of the home 4 or 5 times. A stray bullet is alleged to have grazed an innocent bystander, a young lady who was treated at West Suburban Hospital and released.
During the tensions, Officer Craig Williams, the regular beat officer in that community arrived at the scene. A number of community residents gathered to complain of observing physical abuse of the two minor arrestees by the Special Operations officers. One white officer, apparently very upset, allegedly referred to two female community residents as “black bitches,” and an African-American male as a “lazy monkey.” A local pastor observing the scene, described the officer as “out of control.”
Upon their arrival, Police Officer Williams and Sgt. Campbell, both African Americans from the 15th District, heard the allegations of physical abuse. Williams and Campbell reportedly witnessed the continuing use of verbal abuse and racial comments by the white officer, which only enflamed the community residents. The comments were seen as unnecessary and offensive by black officers. The white officer apparently took exception and challenged Officer Williams to a “scrap” or fight. He allegedly pushed Williams and both officers were separated by Sgt. Campbell.
The new Independent Civilian Police Review Board gathered testimonies from residents of Parkside Avenue who witnessed the incident. Following is a sample of summaries published by the board:
Testimony of Rev. Thomas Evans, of Greater First Baptist Church, 751 N. Parkside:
“I came on the scene after much of the drama of the dog shooting and the alleged racial slurs had occurred. But as I came on the scene, I saw the great frustrations of the black officers. They publicly expressed their dissatisfaction with white officers’ continuous disrespect to them without a reprimand. A black female officer screamed, ‘We are tired of it, we’re fed up, and we are not taking it any more.’ It was almost like a standoff. It didn’t matter whether they were rank-and-file or sergeants. The white officers lined up against the black officers. It was unbelievable. The police publicly divided along racial lines. The community at this point had calmed down; the hundreds in the street looked in awe. Initially they were very upset and ready to protect their own neighborhood from abusive police. More than anything, the community seemed to appreciate the black officers standing up for them, especially after feeling they were violated.”
Testimony of Rev. Shelly Harmon of Miracle Baptist Church, 5634 W. Chicago Ave.:
“I saw the police go to the porch of the Parkside house, and they brought a boy out. They handcuffed him. The officers were white. They threw this kid mercilessly against an iron rail. The police were so out of control. One of the officers took his nightstick and while the kid was on the ground, he began to hit him. At that point the father came out and appeared outraged when he saw them beating his son while he was handcuffed. The officer said the dog bit him. I can’t deny that, but I didn’t see it. All I could see is that when the dog came out, the officer panicked, and shot the dog about four or fives times. One neighborhood lady ran in the house. She claimed to have been shot by one of the bullets that missed the dog.”
On Aug. 11, Police Superintendent Phil Cline met with several African-American clergy, including Bishop Larry Trotter, Rev. B. Herbert Martin, Minister Leonard Muhammad and Dr. Mildred Harris. Present from the West Side were Pastor Albert Tyson, Dr. Marshall Hatch, Rev. Lewis Flowers, Rev. Greg. Livingston and Rev. Ira Acree.
In this meeting the Asst. Supt. of Internal Affairs, Debra Kirby, who is in charge of police discipline, informed the ministers that under the current discipline codes, the penalty for racial slurs is no worse than for any other form of verbal abuse. Ministers were vocal in stating that this situation needs to change.
The board made the following recommendations:
1. That Officer Williams be commended for defusing a potential racial riot, speaking up against racist remarks made by a fellow officer, and standing up for the dignity of the community and African Americans in general;
2. That the white officer be suspended without pay for the use of racial slurs in the line of duty to send a message to all Chicago Police Department officers that racism of any kind will not be tolerated;
3. That the CPD institute a racial/cultural sensitivity training for all officers that will include the African-American experience in North America and other communities of color;
4. That the department decrease the use of “special operations officers” and resume the use of beat officers to improve communication between residents and the CPD to decrease crime.
5. That Mayor Daley and the City Council call for reforms to end the culture of racism that exists within the CPD. It should include a stiffer penalty for the use of racial slurs and substitute code words used to promote racist references.
6. That residents who were the direct recipients of racial slurs be sent a personal letter of apology from Mayor Daley and Police Supt. Cline.
7. That Mayor Daley establish a permanent Independent Civilian Police Review Board across the city in order to assure that citizen complaints are justly reviewed (as modeled in other major cities like Salt Like, Minneapolis, Cincinnati, and Baltimore).
The ministers said they would be hand-delivering the recommendations outlined at the followup meeting on Sept. 14, which will also be held at Miracle Center Baptist Church, 5634 W. Chicago Ave. They hope the mayor and superintendent will be in attendance.