Editor’s note: In a continuing series of articles, Gazette Chicago will provide an opportunity for local experts to comment at length as we offer a forum for local experts and community organizers to weigh in on the challenging issues of race relations, police reform, and social and economic justice. The opinions expressed are those of the experts and do not necessarily reflect those of Gazette Chicago.
By Nathan Worcester
Police accountability and police reform have become hot issues lately. Several experts’ comments on police issues are below.
Clinical Professor of Law, University of Chicago Law School, 1111 E. 60th St., www.law.uchicago.edu, (773) 702-9494
While this may sound simplistic or childish, I believe that the most important thing that law enforcement can do in this moment is simply to quit it. There are far too many unnecessary negative encounters between police and community members, particularly against people who are Black, Brown, or poor. Stop unnecessarily harassing, arresting, brutalizing, and killing so many Black people. Tell the truth. Address the police code of silence. And hold officers accountable when they abuse their powers and hurt people. Identify and fire officers who engage in patterns of abuse. Redistribute power from police directly to the community. Create genuine community partnerships that recognize the community as the senior partner.
Finally, and most importantly, acknowledge and address the reality of racism. The creation and implementation of each policy and practice must be informed by the impact of racism.
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
The University of Illinois at Chicago Jane Addams College of Social Work has been involved in efforts for greater police accountability for over 15 years. During that time the college has hosted many community and public forums on topics related to criminal justice, including accountability and transparency in policing. What we have consistently heard from Black and other communities of color is great frustration that their direct experiences with police and their ideas for more accountable policing are not taken into consideration or taken seriously. The forums provide spaces for meaningful interaction between different groups including academics, police, community residents, policymakers, and students.
For the last three years I have been a member of the Community Advisory Council for the Chicago Office of Police Accountability (COPA), an organization that brings the voices of the communities policed to bear on efforts toward more accountable policing in Chicago. College faculty are also active participants in other police accountability efforts including the City of Chicago’s Use of Force Working Group. Assistant Professor Aaron Gottlieb is one of this 20-member group, recently convened and charged to make policy recommendations to reduce the use of unwarranted force by police officers.
For people interested in a community-based approach to achieving greater accountability, there may be no better example than Citizens Alert, a group that until 2016 had a 45-year history of advocating for police reform in Chicago. Citizens Alert was instrumental in the creation of an independent Medical Examiner for cases of police violence and were involved in bringing Chicago Police Detective Jon Burge to justice for his cases of torture and abuse. The College partnered with Citizens Alert in sponsoring and hosting a 2007 symposium that led to the creation of the Chicago Coalition for Police Accountability. The coalition’s concerted push for a system of independent civilian review resulted in the Independent Police Review Authority, the predecessor of COPA.
Citizens Alert’s history provides practical lessons for organizing to address police reform and is detailed in Justice Advocates: Citizens Alert and Police Accountability, a report published by the College’s Jane Addams Center for Social Policy and Research (Policy Center). The organization’s records are archived in the University of Illinois at Chicago Daley Library (https://library.uic.edu/libraries/daley).
Going forward, the Policy Center will be convening public forums, conducting research and policy analysis, and joining with coalitions to advocate for racial justice and institutional change, not only with respect to policing but in other systems of social control as well.
Annel L. Chablani
Chief Counsel, Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights, 100 N. LaSalle St., www.clccrul.org, (312) 630-9744
The horrific murder of George Floyd by officers of the Minneapolis Police Department on May 25 has rightly focused the attention of the world not just on police abuses in this country, but on our nation’s legacy of white supremacy. White supremacy was the foundation on which this country was able to build its economic power through chattel slavery, and it served as the justification of 100 years of Jim Crow and brutal racial terror protected by law enforcement. And white supremacy continues to provide foundational support and fuel systems today that produce inequitable outcomes for communities of color, not just with respect to policing and criminal justice but in so many different aspects of civil life. Nikole Hannah-Jones brilliantly exposed these systems of racial injustice through the collection of essays in The 1619 Project.
Over the past three months, through both the COVID-19 crisis and now again through the murder of another Black American in police custody, these systems are revealed with greater clarity: inequities in access to healthcare and environmental conditions that reflect who gets sick and who gets saved; glaring inequities in the labor market, starkly revealing who is privileged and able to safely work from home and who must continue to expose themself as an essential worker; and residential racial segregation and economic disinvestment as yet again another indicator of both health outcomes and over-policing that leads to brutal abuses.
At Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights, our mission is to dismantle these racialized systems and structures and, in collaboration with community partners, support strategies to build inclusive and equitable systems with true accountability. We tackle these systems through a focus on equitable community development and housing, voting rights and civic engagement, and education equity.
In our focus on equitable development, we see communities on Chicago’s South and West Sides that have faced decades of government-driven segregation and disinvestment—and this continues today with programs like the City’s use of Tax Increment Financing (TIF) and shameful racial disparities in home mortgage lending by private lenders. In our work for equitable community development, we fight for economic justice, challenging the policies that continue to strip wealth and opportunity from communities of color on the South and West Sides and support the growth of local small businesses, work that is essential for the racial justice that is called for today.
In the voting rights field, we work with community partners to expand what Congressman John Lewis regards as the most powerful, non-violent tool we have in our democracy—our vote. Protecting the rights of voters to have full access to the ballot and challenging systemic barriers that serve to deny this right is core work of the Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights. Today’s protests and call to action for racial justice must include protecting and expanding the exercise of this right. As Stacey Abrams, in a recent New York Times Op-Ed, eloquently stated: “Vote because we deserve leaders who see us, who hear us, and who are willing to act on our demands.”
And without fundamental reform in our education system, aimed first and foremost at closing the racial achievement gap, our efforts for racial justice will fail. Here our work includes partnering with parents, community members, and advocacy organizations to challenge disparities in school discipline practices that disproportionately remove students of color from the classroom and support a pipeline to prison. These systemic educational disparities are also reflected in how schools are funded and resourced and which schools are selected for closure. Racial justice in education means addressing tens of millions of dollars used to support police officers in school buildings when we can’t provide the social workers, nurses, and trauma specialists that students need to succeed.
Editor’s note: Gazette Chicago sought commentary from the Civilian Office of Police Accountability and the Federation of Police, but they did not respond.