By SONIA SCHLESINGER
Outrage over police violence has rocked the nation recently, and, since the November 2015 release of a video in which 17-year-old Laquan McDonald was shot 16 times by a Chicago police officer, the Windy City has been right in the middle of it all.
Less than a mile away from the site of the city’s most recent police shooting– 18-year-old Paul O’Neal was shot in the back by police at 74th Street and Merrill Avenue, July 28, this anger was conveyed by South Side residents including priests, organizers, and former Chicago Police Department (CPD) officers themselves at the Aug. 4 public hearing in the ornate South Shore Cultural Center, 7059 S. South Shore Dr. This was the first of five City Council Meetings aimed at exploring the replacement of the mayor-appointed Independent Police Review Authority (IPRA) with a new civilian-run agency.
Hosted, by Aldermen Leslie Hairston (5th) and Willie Corchran (20th), the meeting included a panel of six aldermen in addition to the two hosts and an allotted time of three minutes per public comment for guests to speak to the panel on the issue.
After Hairston and Cochran called the meeting to order, Ald. Ricardo Muñoz (22nd) explained the meeting’s structure. Then, MacArthur Justice Foundation Director and former member of the Police Accountability Task Force, Maurice Classen presented the aldermen’s proposal to the audience, which numbered more than 100 people at one point.
Currently, the head of the IPRA is appointed by the mayor and members of the audience pointed out during the public comment section of the meeting, therefore accountable to him rather than to the public.
Under the proposal introduced by Hairston in April and presented at the meeting, community groups and Chicago residents would suggest Independent Civilian Police Monitor (ICPM) candidates candidates for City Council approval. The ICPM would have wider jurisdiction, authorized not only to investigate complaints of death or injury due to interaction with police but to look into other police misconduct charges including threats of violence and sexual misconduct. Funding for the ICPM would comprise 1.5 percent of CPD’s budget, a significant increase from the funding currently allotted to IPRA.
For many attending the meeting, however, these reforms are not enough. They argued that the city council’s ultimate authority in approving the civilian-selected candidates leaves too much power in the hands of city officials—power that, in light of the city’s handling of police misconduct thus far, they believe officials should not have.
Many public commenters advocated a democratically elected Civilian Police Accountability Council (CPAC), which would consist of community leaders elected solely by their community. The CPAC would also appoint the Superintendent of Police.
“The bridge of trust has been broken between elected officials, police, the mayor’s office and the public,” said audience-member Robert Biekman. “The people who broke that bridge are the ones saying we want to rebuild it and we don’t trust them. They need to acquiesce…some of the power…by engaging in the community.”
Some questioned Chicagoans’ continued election of certain City Council members. One organizer who spoke said to the audience, “I work with police officers and have never been so embarrassed on behalf of the Chicago Police Department but it’s your fault. When elections come you elect the same people who have done nothing for four -to -five years.”
Others said that while frustration with elected officials runs deep, they continue to have hope that circumstances will improve.
“I hear words like ‘loss of hope,’ ‘racism,’ ‘systematic,’ and even though I cry when this happens I didn’t 100 percent put my faith in everyone I voted for because I represent God,” Pastor Donovan Price said. “I’m not gonna act like I don’t have hope and that even though there’s a storm right now the sun won’t come out tomorrow. There are aldermen here and I believe that we can all heal together but you need to step up and make sure we are there.”
Several security and police officers were present at the front of the building and inside the room for the event. At one point, security escorted protestors out of the room. Audience members protested throughout the event, in response to the aldermen’s comments and to the three-minute time limit. When public commenters spoke to the panel for longer than their allotted three-minute speaking time, the microphone was cut off, resulting in chants of “Let them speak!”
After the final speaker and nearly 90 minutes of public comments, one audience-member approached the panelists, yelling. Hairston then adjourned the meeting.
The next four meetings, each hosted by different alderman, will take place Aug. 9 at Senn High School, Aug. 11 at Little Village Lawndale High School, Aug. 16 at Westinghouse College Prep and Aug. 22 at North Grand High School.