A town hall meeting was held Aug. 14 in the Austin community at Miracle Center Baptist Church, where the pastor, Rev. Shelly Harmon opened his doors to the community and clergy. The purpose of the meeting was to form a citizens review board to further investigate a recent incident on the 800 block of Parkside in which an officer shot a dog, which aggravated the West Side clergy's anger over ongoing problems between police and the African-American community.
On Tuesday, ministers held a press conference outside police headquarters where they said racial tensions are at an all-time high. Ministers made it clear that it was unacceptable for officers to make derogatory remarks during the Parkside incident. During the press conference, Rev. Ira Acree, pastor of Greater St. John Baptist Church (1256 N. Waller) stated, "We're here today as pastors to say that [this tension is] totally unacceptable. We are planning to meet with Supt. Phil Cline because the racial insensitivity is too much."
Pastor Acree was moderator for the meeting, while Rev. Dr. Marshall Hatch, outspoken and well known Westside minister of New Mount Pilgrim Baptist Church, gave an overview to the audience:
"We believe that residents in Austin, residents in Cabrini-Green, residents in Englewood deserve the same respect as residents in Bridgeport, Wrigleyville and Lincoln Park," Hatch said. "And we will not go away. We are also encouraged by the good guys-the cops who break the 'blue code of silence,' the cops who blow the whistle on the knuckleheads that make it hard for the decent cops. We are also asking that the mayor and the police superintendent not just give us nice rosy speeches but be swift and decisive with their actions toward police misconduct. We believe that if zero tolerance is all right for students, a zero-tolerance policy is also all right for police officers who misuse and abuse their authority."
Bob Vondrasek, executive director of South Austin Coaliton, told those in attendance, "This is an issue that keeps coming up all the time-for years and years. Every once in awhile we get together and try to do something about it. There are heroes on this issue-like Pat Hill who is awaiting her fate with the police department. She has fought against police brutality for a long time. People also like Howard Saffold and attorneys like Stan Willis, who have fought the Burge situation for years. We've got to win this once and for all. We cannot stand racist police slurs and disrespect for the community."
Rev. Hatch framed the particular issue that ministers will be addressing: "This is a critical case, and it's not because a dog has been shot. We have talked to residents of the community, and Pastor Harmon invited us to come and be a part of accessing what really happened on Sunday [Aug. 6] around 2:30 p.m. Special operations officers (for reason they would have to give) were in pursuit of suspects on their "porch"-some minors, apparently. The officer had a weapon, and he viewed justifiable reason to shoot the dog. Now in the pursuit of the suspects, they were apparently abused (that is, beaten). The community residents were called names-one them apparently called a black 'B' and 'monkeys.'
"The regular beat officer, who is African-American, lives in the community, and was himself personally offended by the way the residents he works with everyday were being treated. There was apparently some kind of altercation between the white officer, who was abusing the citizens physically and verbally, and the officer who regularly works the beat. The "good officer" tried to restraint the "bad officer," and there was, in fact, some type of tussle between police officers. Apparently also, a young lady who happens to be a sergeant of police and also African-American, her rank was disrespected. There was a lot of inter-police tension and conflict going on that afternoon."
"For the first time that many of us can remember, a police officer who lives in the community stood up for his own community. The blue code of silence was broken and a police officer himself, and perhaps the police woman as well, were personally offended by the racial slurs and that offense was ignored by their fellow officers. The reason we are here tonight, we simply have to stand for the police officers who stand for the community and stand for what is right. We cannot afford for the good police officer to now face repercussions for standing up for the dignity of this community, if the facts are as we know it."
Rev. Hatch said the community can stand up for themselves by standing up for good police who do their jobs in a right and professional way. Hatch laid out the purpose of the meeting stating, "What many of us have been calling-and Judge [Eugene] Pincham can verify it-for at least two generations, is an independent civilian police review board. What this means is we don't trust the police to 'police' the police. We need the police, and we want the police, but we need an independent police board. Citizens in a case like this can look at all the facts objectively and decide what was right and what was wrong according to the law."
Retired Appellate Judge, R. Eugene Pincham was on hand to swear in the agreed upon members who will make up the independent board. The names were offered up for agreement and the members will report back to the community in two weeks after investigation. The names are: Bob Vondrasek, LaShawn Ford, Calvin Giles, Rev. Ira Acree, Atty. Stan Willis, Rev. Robin Hood, Barbara Harmon, Deacon Duane Fields, Rev. Cy Fields and Rev. Marshall Hatch.
Rev. Hatch said, "We've already communicated to [Supt. Cline] as best we can that we reserve the right as citizens that our rights are respected. This is a very important case. If the community does not stand up for the police who stand up for us, then none of us will be safe. It sends a message to other officers that witness similar types of abuse that if they speak up, they will be hung out to dry and then they are less likely to stand with us. We don't have to get Mr. Cline's permission, but we did tell him we're going to stand up for the officer who stood up for the community."
Rev. Ira Acree added, "We were part of those key religious leaders across the city who met with the superintendent on Friday. One of the last statements we made to him was that we were committed to get the independent police board in the city of Chicago, so that all of our residents can feel safe because we believe it's impossible to have the police police the police."
Pincham, along with attorney Tommy Brewer, will be representing the Parkside family, whose name has not been released at this time. Judge Pincham reminded everyone to not forget their roots or where they come from. He also stressed the importance of voting. And he added, "You can tell the true value of a commodity by the extent to which those who have it keep those who don't have it from getting it."
Chicago Police Department spokesperson Monique Bond was quoted in the Chicago Tribune saying the officer suffered dog-bite wounds to his arm and head trauma. She said the officer was justified in shooting the dog. Chicago's Office of Professional Standards (OPS) phone number is 312/745-3594.
The summer of 2006 might be looked back on as the summer of "police issues." African Americans here in Chicago have certainly voiced their concerns on many issues relating to the Chicago police and citizens. Following is a listing of some "police issues" that occurred this summer, which have caused racial tensions reminiscent of the 1960s and '70s:
June 11: West Side resident Patricia Cobige dies while in lockup at the Grand Central District Station (5555 W. Grand Ave.). Maurice Cobige, son of victim has filed suit, claiming his mother's request for medical attention was ignored.
July 19: the Jon Burge report is released and even though there is evidence of torture by police under Commander Burge's supervision, the report contended the crimes are too old to prosecute. Special prosecutors Edward Egan and Robert Boyle spent four years and approximately $7.3 million of taxpayer money for a report many citizens dispute. In the past few weeks it has been revealed that prosecutor Egan may have a "conflict of interest," since his nephew was a police officer under Burge's supervision.
Aug. 6: Chicago police narcotics officer was injured by a dog as he questioned residents in the 800 block of North Parkside Avenue in Chicago's Austin community.
Aug. 7: Ellis Woodland Jr., is shot several times in the Cabrini-Green area after he allegedly refused to drop a BB gun.
Aug. 10: Cabrini-Green youth marched to City Hall protesting the shooting of a 14-year-old Ellis Woodland Jr. The protesters called for the mayor to stop the police from shooting children. Things got tense when the protesters were denied entrance into City Hall to speak to Mayor Daley.
Aug. 13: Cabrini-Green youth, 17-year-old Maurice Taylor, who was featured in the Chicago Defender and Chicago Sun-Times pointing his finger at an amused white Chicago police officer, is arrested and allegedly has been injured while in custody.
Aug. 13: The son of Teresa Welch, asst. executive director/housing counselor at South Austin Coalition (SACCC), was arrested on a traffic stop and his car was confiscated. He was allegedly called derogatory names and punched in the face, as related by Ms. Welch at the West Side town hall meeting on Aug. 14. Her son is due in court on Sept. 22.