Chicagoans came together Tuesday night on the West Side at the first of four public meetings with Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s newly formed Police Accountability Task Force to express anger over the killing of young unarmed men and what some called the heart of the city’s problem with police: racism.
“We intend to lay bare some very tough issues, some very hard truths —things that we haven’t talked about in public before and certainly not put in writing, and use those as a springboard to the various recommendations that are coming forth,” said Lori Lightfoot, chair of the task force and president of the Chicago Police Board, in welcoming comments from the public.
On the same day he ousted Police Supt. Garry McCarthy, Emanuel in December announced the creation of the task force. The five-member panel — with Chicago native and former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick as its senior adviser — ischarged with recommending reforms aimed at improving “independent oversight of police misconduct” in the wake of the furor over white police Officer Jason Van Dyke’s October 2014 shooting of Laquan McDonald as the 17-year-old was walking away from Van Dyke.
Members of the task force listened to questions and comments from a crowd of nearly 200 at the Mt. Vernon Baptist Church. The other three meetings will be held on the Southeast, Southwest and North Sides.
The discussion included everyone from former gang members, former cops to victims of police brutality. The task force heard concerns over the lack of “Officer Friendly” in the city; why lying cops are still on the force; whether the Independent Police Review Authority is truly independent and how the police department can deal with the mentally ill.
Lightfoot said officers who violate Rule 14 — making false statements — are taken “very, very seriously.”
“My own personal view, there is no place in the Chicago Police Department for officers who lie and those charges are being brought, we take them very seriously,” Lightfoot said.
Race and community-police relations were among the top concerns brought before the task force: “At the heart of this is racism and racist officers and their behavior,” said West Side resident Pamela Hunt, who said she had been a victim of police brutality. “If you are not sincerely and wholeheartedly dealing with racism, you are not going to get to the bottom of this issue. It’s systemic in the police force and the legal system.”
Pamela Hunt addresses racism within the Chicago Police Department during the Chicago Police Accountability Task Force’s first community forum at Mt. Vernon Baptist Church, Tuesday evening, Feb. 2, 2016. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times
Some wanted something they thought was guaranteed: equality.
Pastor Floyd James, of the Greater Rock Missionary Baptist Church, told the task force North Lawndale residents form negative perspectives about police based on things they see in their own backyards.
“We need to have programs offering sensitivity training for our police department. We’ve talked about that over the years but somehow that’s not getting across,” James said. “We want equal treatment and we believe the police department needs to have continued education, treatment, each year and not just one time.”
Some stressed the need for black officers in black communities. Joe Ferguson, the city’s Inspector General and a task force member, said the impressions young black children have of police may impact whether or not they want to become police officers. He said the police department must work on community engagement to address that, and also focus on recruiting efforts.
The task force’s recommendations will be presented to Emanuel and the City Council by March 31. Lightfoot said the information will also be provided to the U.S. Department of Justice, which is investigating the police department.