Several West Side and Oak Park churches spent their Palm Sunday staging a protest at the Chicago Police Department’s 25th District police station, where they demanded the city pass an ordinance that would abolish the Independent Police Review Authority (IPRA) and establish an auditor’s office within the department.
The protests were part of what was called a city-wide Palm Sunday Takeover. The March 20 demonstration was organized by the Chicago Community Renewal Society (CRS), which over the past several months has called for churches all over the city to “occupy” all of Chicago’s police stations and call for the passage of the FAIR COPS ordinance.
The auditor’s office would provide oversight over IPRA and the city’s police board. It would also audit practices to ensure that they comply with existing policies dealing with the use of excessive force, pedestrian and traffic stops, searches and the use of deadly force, according to CRS’s website.
The ministers, however, interpreted the ordinance somewhat differently, noting that it would completely replace IPRA.
“Let’s face the facts of the matter — IPRA is a joke,” said Rev. Marshall Hatch, pastor of the New Mt. Pilgrim Missionary Baptist Church in West Garfield Park. “It’s neither independent nor it does it have much authority, and I think people here want for this farce to end.”
He specifically cited the aftermath of the officer-involved shooting, last December, of Quintonio LeGrier and Bettie Jones as a major example of IPRA’s ineffectiveness. Hatch said the crime scene was contaminated and the officers on the scene gave contradictory testimonies.
Jennifer Nordstrom, an interim minister at Third Unitarian Church in Austin, said that an earlier action t the 15th District police station was called off and that the congregations would be joining the demonstration at the 25th District station, instead. Rev. Alan Taylor, an Oak Park minister, said the cancelled demonstration might have had something to do with street closures from sewer work on Madison.
“We decided to join a larger action,” she said. “It’s part of being in solidarity with the folks on the West Side. Our congregation is very excited to be in solidarity with West Side churches.”
Rev. Ira Acree, who along with Taylor organized the 25th District demonstration, said the ministers brought a basket of apples to symbolize how “a few bad apples” can hurt CPD and the citizens it’s supposed to serve.
“One bad apple spoils the whole barrel,” said Hatch. “We happen to know that 95 percent [of the officers] are decent people who just want to serve the public. The problem is one bad apple.”
He said that breaking down the code of silence was the only way to achieve true reform.
Acree said that most African-Americans are killed by their neighbors, not the police officers, and that, in a lot of cases, perpetrators aren’t caught. The problem, he said, is that residents can’t be expected to trust a police force where misconduct goes unpunished.
“We can’t end the code of silence on the streets if there’s a code of silence in the City Hall,” said Acree. “It doesn’t matter who the new [police] superintendent is if there isn’t a new system, if we don’t end the toxic culture of cover-ups.”
He said that he was particularly outraged that none of the officers who witnessed the shooting of Laquan McDonald and made reports that were contradicted by the dashcam video faced any consequences.
‘Those criminals deserve to be locked up for life,” said Acree. “We have a system that protect crooked cops and demoralizes the good ones.”
The demonstrators weren’t able to “occupy” the 25th District station, because police officers blocked the entrance. Instead, they settled for handing the basket of apples to the cops.
“On the behalf of Austin residents, I wanted to say that we appreciate your service, and we appreciate your work,” said Hatch to the officer closest to him.
At the end, one of the officers took the basket, and the ministers shook hands with him and a few other officers. In the closing prayer, Nordstrom expressed hope that the demonstration would make a difference.
“We come together today, people from all walks of life,” she said. “We now come in riding on love.”