By SAMANTHA SMYLIE
BlackLivesMatter Chicago and Chicago Alliance of Against Racist and Political Repression held a public hearing for survivors of police torture, families whose loved ones are currently incarcerated due to a wrongful conviction or died in a police-involved shooting as a celebration of Juneteenth.
On June 19, more than 30 people gathered at the KLEO Community Family Life Center, 119 E. Garfield Blvd., to learn about the history of police brutality in Chicago, the federal consent decree and to be part of a public hearing.
The night started by honoring the memory of 25-year-old Joshua Beal, an African American man who was shot and killed by off-duty police officers in Mount Greenwood in 2016. On June 18, the Civilian Office of Police Accountability (COPA) cleared the officers of any wrong-doing in the shooting.
“After an extensive, exhaustive and thorough investigation … COPA has released its Summary Report of the investigation involving the death of Joshua Beal and concluded the actions taken by Chicago Police Officer Treacy and Sergeant Derouin were within policy,” according to a statement made by COPA.
Sheila Bedi, a professor at Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law and an attorney at the Roderick and Solange MacArthur Justice Center, discussed the process to get the city and the police department to sign a consent decree and what it means for police accountability.
“One of the things that make the consent decree in Chicago historic and gives it the potential to be transformative is that we have the right to enforce that consent decree,” said Bedi. “We have the right to go into federal court and say that the city of Chicago has not stopped the systemic racism, has not stopped the police violence, has not stopped the corruption.”
Although local community organizations won the right to enforce the consent decree, Bedi said that there is a lot that is missing in the consent decree and she predicts that there will be a 10- to 20-year-long legal battle to get the city and the police department to implement the consent decree.
The event then switched its focus to the voices of those who have endured police brutality or witnessed a family member who has. Their stories illuminated the need for a consent decree and other legal measures to hold police officers accountable.
The mother of Gerald Reed, Armanda Shackleford, spoke about her son’s case. Reed was convicted of a double murder in 1990 and has spent 28 years in prison. He has maintained his innocence, and he has said that he was tortured by two detectives who worked for Jon Burge, a Chicago Police commander who tortured more than 100 people between the 1970s and 1990s. Reed’s conviction was overturned in December 2018, but he is in court to remove a special prosecutor, Robert Milan who is trying to retry Reed for the double murders.
“Gerald Reed’s case has been in jail for seven years, as of this month … I’m not giving up,” Shackleford said. “Every time I get a chance, I’m going to say something about the things that they are doing. When we were at court last Friday, I said to them, ‘You are still torturing my son. But you are doing it in a different way. The way you are doing it now is money. Money is your object. As long as you got that money coming, Gerald Reed is going to stay in jail.’ But I’m not giving up because Gerald Reed is coming home.”
Curtis, a member of the audience who gave only his first name, reported how police had kicked down the door of the West Side apartment where he was living when he was 22. He said the police pointed a gun in his face and told him that they were looking for drugs; 20 years later, he still experiences flashbacks of that incident.
As a person with autism, Curtis is concerned with how police are trained to engage with people who have autism, mental illnesses, and developmental disabilities.
“I have seen horror stories about how cops come in and kill people with autism, mental illness and developmental disabilities … When we talk about Laquan McDonald and Quintonio LaGrier. Right now, we’re doing a bill in honor of a teen named Stephon Watts, who got murdered by Calumet City police officers. This has nothing to do with Chicago, but this affects us because his home was coded for someone who has autism or mental illness, we don’t have that here,” said Curtis.
The evening ended with the group discussing the Civilian Police Accountability Council (CPAC). Currently, there is a CPAC ordinance that is being debated in the Public Safety Committee of City Council. If passed, CPAC would create an elected, civilian council of individuals from all police districts to negotiate with the police, select superintendents, investigate complaints and discipline officers with the ability to convene a grand jury.