Twenty activists from the community organizations that make up the Grassroots Alliance for Police Accountability (GAPA) marched on Ald. Chris Taliaferro’s (29th) ward office, 6272 W. North Ave. on Oct. 7, to decry what they described as his “flip-flopping” on one of the major provisions in their police oversight ordinance. 

For the past few years, GAPA and the Chicago Alliance Against Racism and Political Repression (CAARPR) have been pushing for ordinances that would create an elected civilian body that would have some degree of oversight over Chicago Police Department practices, discipline issues, and the hiring and firing of the police superintendent. 

Out of the two, GAPA’s ordinance would give the commission fewer powers, but it would still allow it to select candidates for police superintendent, the head of the Civilian Office of Police Accountability and the members of the Chicago Police Board. It would also be able to review, approve and propose CPD and COPA policies, so long as they don’t violate the consent decree. 

That last aspect became an issue when mayor Lori Lightfoot pulled her support for the ordinance, because she wanted to be a tie-breaking vote while GAPA wanted the commission to have the final word. At the time, Taliaferro supported GAPA’s position, but after his appointment in May 2019 as chair of the powerful Committee on Public Safety, he has since changed his position on the ordinance. 

During the Oct. 7 press conference, GAPA activists insisted that they weren’t willing to negotiate on something that would diminish the commission’s power and undermine the community’s voice. The group intends to make its case during the Oct. 20 meeting of the Committee on Public Safety. In the meantime, GAPA intends to keep up the pressure in hopes of getting Taliaferro to change his mind — or at least get more aldermen on their side. 

While Taliaferro signed on earlier versions of the GAPA ordinance, he told Austin Weekly News last year that, as the Public Safety chair, he wanted to stay neutral. He did announce his intention to hold hearings on the GAPA ordinance, only to repeatedly push back the date of the hearings. 

In March, Taliaferro told the Chicago Sun-Times that, without the ability to have the family say on policy, “You begin to ask whether or not you even need a commission if they have no authority and no responsibilities and no power.” But in Sept. 30, the paper reported that he changed his mind, arguing that Lightfoot should have the final say, because her “political future” is on the line.

GAPA Coordinator Desmon Yancy took umbrage in Taliaferro’s statement. 

“I think this is far more important than any person’s political future,” he said. “Turning against the community is bad enough––but doing it for purely political reasons is infuriating.”

Yancy told the reporters that they couldn’t possibly compromise on that provision.

“We are asking you to pass the GAPA ordinance, because we think it’s the most transformative ordinance, which is what our city deserves,” he said.

Austin Weekly News attempted to speak to Taliaferro after the press conference, but the staff said that he was too busy to do an interview. 

Cindy Greenwood, of Community Renewal Society, a member organization that’s affiliated with GAPA, noted that Lightfoot expressed some support for the GAPA ordinance while running for mayor and that it has been over 500 days since she won election. 

“End the flip-flopping, mayor,” she said. “Keep your word. Pass GAPA now.”

Joshua Barker, of GAPA member Southwest Organizing Project, said that he’s been advocating for police reform in general and the GAPA ordinance specifically for over three years.

“[Ald. Taliaferro], we demand you give that same energy as before,” he said. “Call it for a vote on Oct. 15.”

But the harshest words came from Rabbi Suzanne Griffel, of the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs.

“When police officers can murder with impunity, when politicians care more about their power than the safety of their citizens — no, Alderman Taliaferro and Mayor Lightfoot, you need to be more concerned about Black and Brown lives,” she said. “You are in office to make Chicago a place where all of us can thrive and live in peace.”

Amin Musaddiq, of Austin, works for the Inner-city Muslim Action Network. He said that he had his own experience with police misconduct back in 2001, when he said a police officer planted crack cocaine on him. The complaint he filed with the police department’s Office of Professional Standards, he said, didn’t go anywhere.

“I support the GAPA ordinance because it gives the community a voice at the table, a table that history has proven is not [acting] in the interest of the community,” he said. “So, as a resident of the West Side, I support the GAPA ordinance with no compromise, with the community being at the table. And politicians should stop playing with the safety and well-being of the community.

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