Angry, frustrated and just fed up is what many in Austin feel following a long string of police brutality cases in Chicago and recent incidents in New York City and Ferguson, Missouri.
That frustration was on display at a community meeting, Dec. 4, at Greater St. John Bible Church, 1256 N. Waller.
About 50 showed up at Greater St. John a day after a New York City grand jury chose not to indict Officer Daniel Pantaleo in the death of Staten Island resident Eric Garner. A husband and father, Garner was put in a choke-hold by the officer on July 17 and died as a result after repeatedly telling officers at the scene that he could not breathe.
The New York decision came 10 days after a grand jury refused to indict Ferguson officer Darren Wilson in the death of Michael Brown, who was shot by the officer on Aug. 9. As the nation dealt with the deaths of these two black men by police in the days after, Westsider Cynthia Lane would endure her own similar nightmare. Her son, Roshad McIntosh, was killed by police in North Lawndale on Aug. 28. Lane said her son’s hands were in the air when he was shot.
She was also at Greater St. John, too emotional to talk very much. But others did speak up for her and other victims. Austin resident Maurice Robinson, 28, said he fears sending his young son to school because he might end up suffering the same fate.
“It’s a shame that I have to look at my son and sometimes not know if I’m going to see him the next day when I drop him off at school,” said Robinson, who’s also running for 29th Ward alderman next February.
Activist Wendy Pearson said what happened in Ferguson and New York is nothing new and it’s time for the community to hold the police, and the politicians who haven’t stopped police brutality, accountable.
“If we’re going to be outraged, it should have started right here in our city. There should have been mass protests a long time ago,” she said passionately, to the applause and cheers of those in attendance.
“What I want you to understand is that I am at the point where I truly believe we need to start talking about a new strategy, and that strategy has nothing to do about marches because they’re not listening to us,” Pearson said. “They don’t hear us. But we need to start taking this further and we need to take it to the United Nations because anytime something happens in a foreign country, it goes to the United Nations, and when it goes to the United Nations something changes. We need to tell them that something’s wrong with this picture. We are foreigners in a foreign land. The president is talking about immigration policy — are we not immigrants in our own land?”
Other speakers were just as passionate and upset — and ready for action. Robinson said he plans to organize a peaceful march on Dec. 23 on the Magnificent Mile to “shut down Michigan Avenue.”
The community meeting was organized by activist Tio Hardiman, former executive director of CeaseFire. Along with raising voices, the meeting was also meant to create an action plan, Hardiman said.
The community needs an independent civilian board to review police misconduct, said Rev. Marshall Hatch, one of the speakers. The city’s Independent Police Review Authority, he said, investigates police misconduct allegations but does so in secret.
Hatch said he and other community activists wanted an independent body to review police misconduct but one that operates openly and transparently.
“The challenge here in Chicago, all of us know, is that we got the same Ferguson-like conditions in Chicago. We got the same Staten Island-type mentality here in Chicago. And so, we are also on the same powder keg with the city government. And all of us now are calling for an independent civilian review board. Not this ‘Independent Authority,’ which is appointed by the mayor,” Hatch said.
The community needs an independent anonymous tip line to report the “bad officers,” Hardiman said. He also said a meeting is needed with Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Police Supt. Garry McCarthy, though many at Greater St. John contend what the community really needs is a new mayor and superintendent.
The meeting with Emanuel and McCarthy may or may not happen, Hardiman said.
Acree stressed that the focus is on ridding the department and community of “bad officers,” but for many in the community, the police have been mostly bad and never if ever good.
“The police have been disrespecting our neighborhood for a long time,” said one 64-year-old resident.
“We’ve been fighting with them to patrol our neighborhood the same way they patrol the neighborhood up north — we still haven’t gotten it. We’ve been asking them when they come to our neighborhood, stop at the light unless they’re on an emergency call — we still haven’t got that,” the resident said, adding that there have been just as many bad black cops as whites.
Some at the meeting referred to the police as an “occupying force” in the community, and that “Protection Under the Law” doesn’t seem to apply to blacks. But Hardiman and others said the community is equally outraged about “black-on-black” crime. Acree noted that all races are impacted by crimes mostly committed by members of that same race.
But Pearson insisted that so-called black-on-black is a made-up myth.
“When we start talking about black-on-black crime, I don’t believe it. Crime is crime and we don’t hear white folks talking about white-on-white crime. We don’t hear about Puerto Rican-on-Puerto Rican crime. You don’t hear that.”
On Dec. 7, Greater St. John hosted a peaceful march in the community for the families of Brown and Garner following their morning service.