For a lot of the people who turned up at the South Shore Cultural Center for the police accountability forum Thursday, the task force itself was a stumbling block.
Rose Joshua, president of the South Side Branch of the NAACP, said her organization had declined the invitation to host the event.
“The NAACP respectfully disapproves of the creation by the office of the mayor, a police accountability task force which I know is not independent and separate from the office of the mayor,” she said.
There is no question that each of the task force appointees brings expertise in various aspects of the criminal justice.
Deval Patrick, who is a senior adviser to the task force, is a former governor of Massachusetts and former U.S. assistant attorney general for the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department. He was present for the entire three-hour forum.
Although Patrick did not comment, he listened intently to speakers — even those with angry rants.
Still, the criticism of the makeup of the task force is valid.
The people most affected by police misconduct tend to be on the lower end of the socio-economic scale.
Lori E. Lightfoot, chair of the task force and president of the Chicago Police Board, said Chicagoans from diverse backgrounds are involved in five working groups focusing on officer identity and video release policies, de-escalation, community engagement, early intervention and legal oversight.
But street activists need a seat at the main table if there is any hope of building trust.
Indeed, where were the criminal justice experts when Chicago Police Cmdr. Jon Burge and his crew were torturing suspects?
At the outset, Lightfoot acknowledged the “level of frustration and a level of anger” in the community over police misconduct.
A couple of times that frustration boiled over into loud shouts of “genocide,” leading to one man being escorted out of the forum.
Several speakers characterized the forum as a “joke” and “redundant.”
Another speaker, highly critical of the ineffective Independent Police Review Authority, advised the task force that they had set the wrong tone for the meeting.
“If you want to get the community involved that is being highly affected by the police, I think you should reduce the police presence outside because it’s actually disinviting to the community,” he said.
Pat Hill, a retired police officer who is the head of the African-American Police League, was blunt in her assessment of the task force’s efforts so far.
“Unfortunately, with all due respect and I know members on this task force, you don’t have credibility in the community,” she said.
“I would demand that there are grassroots organizations involved in this. Many of us have a level of expertise in this room.”
Kublai Toure, a longtime grassroots activist and former chairman of the Concerned Black Fire Fighters, also expressed skepticism.
After his stepson was killed by gang violence in 1991, Toure became a public advocate for young men trying to break the cycle of gang violence.
“Right now nobody from the administration that y’all are serving has asked my personal opinion about resolving these issues. There’s something wrong with that picture,” he said.
Like beauty, credibility is in the eye of the beholder
The Police Accountability Task Force will deliver its findings at the end of March.