By TONIA HILL
A group of Chicago Public School (CPS) teens met with Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson, Tuesday night, Jan. 17, at the Experimental Station, 6100 S. Blackstone Ave.
The conversation with Johnson was centered on police shootings, reform, and officer accountability.
Eva Lewis, 18, led Tuesday night’s meeting alongside Maxine Aguilar, 17; Maxine Wint, 17; and Yahaira Tarr, 17. The four are organizers from Youth for Black Lives. Three of the organizers are graduates of Kenwood Academy High School’s Academic Center.
Lewis, who is a senior at Walter Payton College Prep, Aguilar and Tarr, who are both students at Jones College Prep, and Wint, who attends Kenwood Academy High School, 5015 S. Blackstone Ave., led a massive peaceful protest in downtown Chicago last summer in response to the killings of Philando Castile in St. Paul, Minn., and Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, La., by police officers. 500 people participated in the sit-in protest in Millennium Park, followed by a march that shut down Michigan Avenue and State Street with over 1,000 peaceful protestors.
The group planned to organize another protest in the Mount Greenwood neighborhood last November after the shooting death of Joshua Beal a 25-year-old black man who was killed by an off-duty police officer in that area. Group members called off the protest after Johnson agreed to their demands, one of which was to attend their monthly public meetings.
The public meeting on Tuesday was a part of that agreement but up until his arrival, it was unclear if Johnson would attend.
Youth for Black Lives organized the meeting to take place at Walter Payton College Prep, 1034 N. Wells St., on Tuesday. According to Lewis, on Friday, Jan. 13, Payton was contacted by CPS and was told that the meeting could not be held there. Johnson also backed out of the event, Lewis said.
The group was able to secure a new location to hold the meeting and, despite the initial confusion, Johnson did arrive shortly after 6 p.m., to meet with the panel and the public.
“We’re glad that he held himself accountable and stuck to his end of the deal,” Lewis said.
Attempts were made to contact the CPD and CPS on this matter; neither was available for comment by Herald press time.
The teens asked a variety of questions ranging from how CPD officers are trained to what reforms the department will launch to ensure that CPD officers are held accountable if they engage in misconduct.
An interesting question from the teens stemmed from the power of the superintendent’s office and the Chicago Police Board, an independent civilian body appointed by the mayor to oversee, disciplinary cases involving allegations of police misconduct, which according to Johnson has the final say regarding cases involving police misconduct.
“People are civilians, people are citizens of the United States, people are citizens of Illinois, people are citizens of Chicago, people have the authority to protest and to challenge authority over them,” Lewis said. “If you are also a police officer and also a civilian don’t you have the power to question authority…to challenge a system?”
Johnson said people have the right to challenge authority in the right context.
“You do have a right to challenge things but I think where we have friction a lot of times is when you have an incident where a police officer is giving a lawful order to someone and they fail to comply with it,” Johnson said. “Usually, that results in physical action, and that’s what we don’t want.”
The teens also asked questions related to the detailed report by the Department of Justice (DOJ) released last week, which revealed widespread misconduct and excessive force in the CPD.
Johnson said last year the department began to launch reforms and programs to address the findings from the DOJ report.
“I have already acknowledged that the Chicago Police Department is not a perfect agency,” Johnson said. “Accountability starts with me. We are making a lot of improvements on how we look at complaints and also how we hold officers accountable.”
After the teens on the panel asked their questions, Tarr asked Johnson questions from cards that were submitted earlier in the meeting from the small group of attendees.
One of the questions, which was submitted by an 8 year old, asked, “Why do you hurt people who don’t do anything?”
Johnson said being a police officer is not easy.
“The challenge for me is to ensure that [CPD officers] get the best training that we have available,” Johnson said. “So that when they do come across these split second decisions that they have confidence and do the right thing.”
Another attendee asked through a submitted question, “Why do your officers shoot to kill? Why can’t they shoot to impede by shooting in the arm or leg, not the head or chest?”
Johnson said, “We’re not that good, when officers are involved in those stressful situations it’s difficult to do.”
Aguilar said she hopes to have a much larger youth presence at the next meeting so that their concerns are really taken into consideration by the CPD.
A time and place for the next public meeting has not yet been determined.