Chicago City Treasurer Melissa Conyears-Ervin held what she called an Urgent Call For Justice online forum on Sept. 30, in order to discuss how “we can make a difference in the laws and policies that have oppressed people of color for centuries.”
The conversation centered around policing and chronic disinvestment in Black communities, how the two relate and what can be done to improve the situation. But the panelists had different ideas about how to accomplish that.
First Deputy Superintendent Eric Carter argued that the Chicago Police Department could do its part by truly engaging with the community and bridging the divide.
Tanya Woods, the executive director of the East Garfield Park-based Westside Justice Center, 601 S. California Ave., said that police in Chicago and the United States are beyond reform and should be dismantled, with resources going toward restorative justice and community institutions, such as schools and mental health clinics.
Dr. Jonathan Jackson, the national spokesperson for the Rainbow/PUSH coalition, denounced police abuses of power and argued that the movement to defund police and redirect the funding obscures the deeper reality — that schools and other social institutions have been losing funding and resources for decades and the focus should be on trying to get those resources back.
Over the course of the summer, Conyears-Ervin, who lives on the West Side, held several forums around the theme of making Chicago more equitable. As she noted during the Sept. 30 forum, her job involves handling taxpayer funds and she wanted to do her part to achieve that goal, which included getting input from the officials and the community.
“We have to address some lingering concerns that are, unfortunately, systemic, and we all have our parts to play,” she said on Sept. 30.
“I felt [that], as a Black woman raising a young, Black daughter who I really hope will inherit a better world, and also as a city official, I’m charged with making a better life.”
A day earlier, mayor Lori Lightfoot unveiled the Comprehensive Violence Reduction Plan, which includes both investment in social services. The plan also calls for “increasing police legitimacy in communities where trust has eroded by acknowledging past harms by the Chicago Police Department” and implementing reforms outlined in a federal consent decree.
Carter told the forum that it includes having officers do some kind of community service in the districts they serve once a week, as well as launching “art classes” and “cultural classes” for local youth, in addition to existing police-led youth sports teams that got sidelined due to COVID-19.
“Most of the crime that happens in our neighborhoods [has to do] with economics,” Carter reflected. “Although it’s not in our purview, we’re aware of it.”
Carter said that he didn’t think that “the society can function without a functioning police force,” but he argued that police does need to change and that police training shouldn’t be a one-time thing.
“You need a lot of constant training, retraining,” Carter said. “If we don’t reinforce training, over time, officers lose sight of what’s important.”
Woods said that “it’s not responsible of us to ignore racial capacities when it comes to policing in our communities” and emphasized that reform is insufficient.
“We need to abolish not only law enforcement, but the carceral institutions as they exist today,” she said. “We tried decades [with] body-cams, and retraining. This is a moment now where citizens tried it that way. It doesn’t work. People are still dying, there’s still gun violence. We still see the unemployment, the lack of education and the marginalizing.”
Putting those funds back into schools, Woods argued, would be more useful.
“Imagine if millions of dollars were redirected into Black and Brown schools, instead of closing them and shutting them down,” she said.