By Claire Cowley
After the killing of George Floyd on May 25 and resulting protests concerning racial inequality, more Americans have become more aware of issues regarding race relations. Several experts’ comments on race relations are below.
Liliana Olayo and Michelle Morton
Parent leaders and co-presidents, POWER-PAC IL: Community Organizing and Family Issues (COFI), 2245 S. Michigan Ave., www.cofionline.org, (312) 226-5141
We join with many in our city to call for Black and Brown unity and to acknowledge, lift up, and build on the Black and Brown unity that already exists!
Here at COFI/POWER-PAC IL, we have worked together, African American and Latinx mothers (and some fathers), for 25 years, united for our children’s future.
Knowing that we are stronger together, we have set aside our ideologies—embracing and celebrating our varied cultural experiences—to come together to train, organize, and advocate to realize the same dream for our children. We have created parent-led peace centers in Chicago Public Schools, eliminated “zero tolerance” policies that criminalized youth of color and fed the school-to-prison pipeline, and reinstated recess for 266,000 elementary school students.
While there are tensions in our communities that are currently being inflamed and judgments and negative stereotypes that circulate in our neighborhoods, we know our ties as moms (and dads) bind us way more than they divide us. We are asking ourselves: “What do we tell our children about what is going on in Chicago’s streets?” “How do we help our children to understand that we are all human beings and worthy of value?” “How do we help our families and communities embrace our diversity?”
By working together, we have come to see each other as a family. We are all weeping for George Floyd. We are horrified by the different ways that racism impacts our communities. And, we see that the suffering of our sisters and brothers is tied to our own suffering. United for justice and equity, we know we have power. Our voices need to be heard.
We never thought we would be teaching our children the same thing we learned from our grandparents who told stories of the unrest in 1968 when Martin Luther King was killed. We are urging the Chicago Public Schools to stop spending $33 million on police in schools and shift those funds to social and emotional supports—such as restorative justice programs. We are fighting to stop racial disparities in the levying of municipal fees and fines on Chicago residents. And, we want our voices heard in support of quality early learning programs and childcare. The fight is just beginning, and parents are committed to working together. Join us!
Creasie Finney Hairston
Dean and Professor, University of Illinois at Chicago Jane Addams College of Social Work, 1040 W. Harrison St., www.socialwork.uic.edu, (312) 996-7096
For several weeks now we have been “sheltering in place” and taking health and safety precautions when we do leave our homes. Mayor Lightfoot’s television commercials remind us that though following government orders may be a little inconvenient, we are “saving lives.” We were told early on that the coronavirus can make anyone ill, though older persons and those with certain medical conditions are at higher risk than others.
We have learned more recently that there are race-related risks as well, and that here in Chicagoland Black people are experiencing much higher incidents of the coronavirus than other racial groups and higher death rates, as well. This has caused alarm, many inquiries, and many reports, including an article in the May online edition of Affirmations, the college’s magazine. Front and center in these reports are the underlying societal conditions including poverty, discrimination, racial inequities, and access to resources that lead to this type of disproportionality in health outcomes. See https://socialwork.uic.edu/about-us/recent-publications/.
While many of us are grappling with how best to prevent illness and save Black lives during this major public health crisis, recent events captured on video reminded me of how vulnerable Black people are while just living life. There are ongoing societal practices and patterns, cultural biases, and race-based assumptions that promote and sustain the devaluation of Black persons’ lives.
I watched in horror and with much pain the video of George Floyd dying while being held down by a policeman, heard the pleas of bystanders, and saw the reactions of the officers who stood by. I saw news clips of Ahmaud Arbery and read articles about what transpired before, during, and after his death. Both situations left me questioning why their lives were not considered worth saving, but even more resolved to use my voice and knowledge to help bring change to a troubling pattern of injustice, sometimes referred to by different people as “just us justice.”
We know that “silence is complicity” and that keeping quiet when we should speak is not usually the best thing to do. We also know from that famous saying by Jane Addams, the college’s namesake, that “progress is not automatic but occurs when some person thinks that things should be better and takes the right steps to make it so.”
There are ongoing instances of racism and discrimination against persons and groups considered by others to be different, less than, or not worthy of respect or benefit of the doubt. Each of us can make a positive difference, however, in bringing about change and promoting justice reform in our own way. Recognizing and affirming in our conversations, teaching, advocacy, practice, and actions that “saving lives” means Black lives, too, is an important step in that direction.
Lead Organizer, Brighton Park Neighborhood Council, 4477 S. Archer Ave., www.bpncchicago.org, (773) 523-7110
We are a part of the police-free schools coalition here in Chicago. We’re calling for cops out of Chicago Public Schools. The organizations involved are the Brighton Park Neighborhood Council, Southside Together Organizing for Power (STOP), Kinetic Asian American Youth Justice group, Fighting Youth Shouting Out for Humanity (FYSH) at the Hana Center, Chicago American Friends Service Committee, Black Lives Matter Chicago, Latinx Caucus, and Beyond Legal Aid. Chicago Teachers Union has also endorsed the campaign.
I feel like the conversation really started to take off more during 2016 when Trump was elected. We created a sanctuary school table calling for sanctuary school protocols in our schools to protect undocumented families inside the school and outside in the community. So, in case the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) were to come then these protocols are in place to make sure families are safe. We recognized that that’s not the only thing we need to make a school a real sanctuary. We had to be calling for the removal of officers in the schools who were also disproportionately impacting, targeting, and harassing the Black, Latinx, and undocumented youth and putting them on the Chicago gang database.
We have fought against budget cuts in schools. Schools should be a hub and a resource for the community where everyone should feel safe to go. A lot of the fight and conversations started to take off from there. It continued when a lot of youth from the Center for Public Safety Excellence (CPSE), who also participated in the “No Cop Academy” campaign, calling for $95 million that was going to go to the police academy to be invested in community and schools with resources actually helping address needs.
A lot of candidates who are now aldermen ran their campaign on getting police out of schools. Mayor Lori Lightfoot was also committed to getting police out of schools while running for mayor and reinvesting money into resources for the community.
A survey the Chicago United for Equity (CUE) did ask the candidates who were running for alderman and mayor good questions. We really pushed and wanted people representing the wants from the community. Quickly, when Lightfoot came into office, she slipped on saying she didn’t want to take police out of schools and that they were needed. So, we started doing Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests last summer.
The Board of Education deflected their responsibility of getting police out of schools back to local school councils, which has never been the case. The local school councils are now responsible when deciding whether or not they should have school resources officers or SROs. But, they weren’t given the option to redirect those funds, so it’s kind of like, here’s an extra two bodies in your building being under-resourced and you take it or leave it.
Police officers have been so ingrained in school culture that they need them with hallway patrol, getting a student for early dismissal, staying in the main office, or coaching a sports team (which has been really problematic). If you need someone to do that, then hire someone who students see as an ally and trust. Don’t be putting police officers who are harassing the students in the streets and in their community in the same building.
We’ve been submitting FOIAs to get more information on who these officers were, what was on their records, and what schools they were being placed, so on our CopsOutCPS website, we had just put out a report on data. We found out CPS SROs have a combined 154 misconduct complaints since 2003. But, $33 million is going to have police officers in schools, when that money could fund 317 social workers, 314 school psychologists, and 322 nurses, which are resources we deeply need in our schools, for our community and students.
The Black Lives Matter uprising has shed some light and allowed people to ask themselves what safety looks like in your schools and communities. So, it kind of catapulted the campaign in a good way, hopefully to get police-free schools in Chicago.
We’re calling for removal of all SROs in schools immediately. More training is not something that we want, and it’s not something that will make a cop good. We have seen over the years, when people are calling for more training, it always leads to an increase in the police budget and a decrease in resources essential to our community.
Also, pushing the Board of Education to cancel the contracts between CPD and CPS that is up in August and pushing an ordinance that we’ve introduced along with United Working Families and Aldermen Roderick Sawyer, Carlos Ramirez-Rosa, and Jeanette Taylor, calling for the cancelation of the contracts.