One of Austin’s most prominent and activist pastors is calling for more diversity in the Chicago Police Department following a recent traffic stop with a white 15th District police officer who allegedly hurled profanities at him.
Rev. Ira Acree of Greater St. John Bible Church says he was harassed by the officer, accused of texting while driving — which he denies doing — and called an expletive during the stop.
While driving home the evening of June 7, Acree was flagged down by the officer while headed toward Roosevelt Road and Austin Boulevard. Acree says his phone buzzed with a text message. When he checked to see who it was while stopped at a red light, he says he heard the blaring sound of a car horn and blue flashing lights in his rear window.
Acree says what he heard next shocked him.
“I look up and it’s the police behind me and the guy screams, ‘Pull that car over mother f*#ker,’— it kind of catches me off guard,” Acree said.
The traffic stop occurred at around 8 p.m. Acree spent that Saturday earlier running errands and attending various events. He said he was eager to see the text message, thinking it was his wife who was out of town. Acree maintains he did not reply to the text while stopped at the light.
Not wanting any “drama,” Acree complied with the officer and pulled over. But drama still ensued, Acree says, when the officer questioned him about texting and then proceeded to interrogate him about his day.
“I said, ‘Since you are dying to know my whole agenda for the day, I’ve been to a couple of prom send-offs, been to a graduation and a birthday party,'” Acree told the cop.
Acree said he informed the officer that he was not texting and offered for the cop to check his phone. According to Acree, the police officer declined, but wrote him a citation for using a phone while driving. Acree said he refused to sign the ticket and that’s when the police officer allegedly threatened him with arrest.
“It just blows your mind when a police officer talks to you like that,” Acree said, adding that he felt “humiliated” by the “condescending fashion” the officer talked to him.
“It is very painful, [but] it’s time that we do something seriously about this overt racism that slaps us in the face,” Acree said.
Acree has filed a complaint with the Independent Police Review Authority (IPRA), which handles complaints regarding police misconduct.
IPRA spokesperson Larry Merritt would not comment on this case with Austin Weekly News. He said, however, that the department encourages people to come forward and “not sit on information” when an officer’s treatment is less than respectful or violates police policy.
Acree said he plans to contest the ticket, which he hopes will be thrown out based on the officer’s actions. Acree, whose church is located at 1256 N. Waller, said he also contacted 15th District Commander Barbara West about the incident.
Calls to West from Austin Weekly News were not returned by deadline.
The also paper requested racial demographics of its police force from the CPD but the information was not provided. But in an emailed statement, the department stressed that it is committed to diversity.
“The superintendent believes it’s important for our department to be reflective of our community as a whole, which you can see through our efforts to partner with the community during last year’s police recruitment campaign.”
The statement continued: “All new officers are hired based on the police entrance exam. Prior to last year’s exam, officers partnered with organizations to ensure residents were aware of the opportunity, attended community events in neighborhoods across the city, worked with high schools to get information to students, and conducted an advertising campaign.”
Acree has previously called for more diversity within the police department, especially among rank-and-file officers. Still, Acree has worked to improve relations between the community and the police department.
The Austin pastor is a member of the 15th District’s Ministers’ Alliance. Acree also offered the $2,000 reward for information in the shooting of 15th District officer Clifton Lewis in 2011. Lewis, 41, was killed during a robbery attempt at an Austin convenience store where he was working security part-time. The suspects were later arrested, tried and convicted of the crime.
Acree believes his recent run-in with police would have been different if the officer was black. And such an incident, he added, would not be tolerated on the North Side if a black officer used such profanity toward a “middle-age white guy.”
The pastor underscored his stance on diversity by recalling a police roll call near his church during Mayor Emanuel’s “Faith and Action Night,” an event meant to rally the community against potential gun violence over the Labor Day weekend. Among the 40 officers on roll call, only one was African-American, Acree noted.
“I’ve been for years making the case that the Chicago police department should reflect the diversity that the city demographics have. I’ve been telling that to three superintendents; this one now and the two previous ones,” Acree said.
Having more black officers who live in the neighborhoods they patrol, he added, makes sense.
“I’m not saying the Chicago Police Department is corrupt. I think most police officers on the force are good. But I think the standard could be raised immensely if there were some diversity,” Acree said. “I think that would actually improve community relations.”