When the Chicago City Council voted on May 25 to approve roughly $29 million in funding required to help build a new $95 million police and fire training academy West Garfield Park, many community activists who were against the training academy vowed to keep fighting the proposal. 

During a July 11 rally and press conference at City Hall, the activists repeated many of the criticisms against the project that they have lodged since it was made public. But this time, they had some additional firepower — students from Marjorie Stonemason Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., the site of the deadliest school shooting in U.S. history.

At the demonstration, which was organized by March for Our Lives Chicago and included activists from the #NoCopAcademy campaign and organizations like VOYCE Project, Good Kids Mad City and Assata’s Daughters, many of the protesters said that they want the city to spend the $95 million on investments in schools, mental services, addiction treatment resources and job programs. 

“I can give 95 million reasons why this shouldn’t be spent on the police academy,” said. “More police officers isn’t going to decrease violence in our community.”

Later during the meeting, he elaborated on some of those reasons.

“We need to put $95 million is schools that have been shut down all over Chicago,” Will Round, of North Lawndale, said. “I know kids that have to go to school in another [gang] territory and perhaps lose their lives. We need citizens being invested in and children being invested in.”

Amara Enyia, a policy expert and head of the Austin Chamber of Commerce, said that the city’s decision to allocate $95 million to a training center was proof that priorities are misplaced. 

“I think the issue is about the city’s priorities,” Enyia said. “It’s about changing priorities. The activities are articulating the vision they want to be part of. They’re calling for investment — in schools, housing and services — that creates strong people, strong communities.” 

Parkland students Alex Wind and Sofie Whitney said that they support the activists’ demands. They added that kids need resources and that the aldermen and Mayor Rahm Emanuel should listen to their voices. 

“Everybody’s voice needs to be heard and [elected officials] need to listen,” Wind said. “Nobody in this city needs another cop academy. It’s not going to solve the issue of violence.” 

Amina Henderson, an activist with Good Kids, Mad City, said that, based on her personal experience, she doesn’t believe having more police will help with the violence on the South and West Sides. 

“I’ve been arrested outside school while having an anxiety attack,” she said. “For us, it’s getting to the heart of the misbehavior in our communities. There are students in Chicago who are walking around with PTSD. The $95 million spent on the cop academy is not part of that solution. Invest more in the black and brown communities and the students who live there.”

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Igor Studenkov

Igor Studenkov is a winner of multiple Illinois Press Association awards for local government and business reporting. He has been contributing to Austin Weekly News since 2015. His work has also appeared...