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CPD to Rhymefest: We’re sorry how cops treated you after mugging

Che "Rhymefest" Smith is shown arriving to vote during his 2011 campaign for 20th Ward alderman. | Sun-Times file photo

Chicago poet and hip-hop star Che “Rhymefest” Smith was robbed at gunpoint in Bronzeville early Saturday. And while the mugging was bad enough, the two-time Grammy winner said he was nearly thrown out of a police station when he tried to make a report.

Smith, who ran unsuccessfully for 20th Ward alderman in 2011, was clearly pained as he pecked out a string of messages on Twitter after the mugging, even showing concern for the masked man who made off with his wallet.

But the rapper turned indignant in a tweet sent after he left the Chicago Police Department’s Grand Crossing district station — a Tweet that included cell phone video of desk officers trying to turn him away.

Police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi tweeted back an apology a few hours later: “disappointing to say the least. On behalf of CPD, I apologize for how you were treated. We will be addressing this today.”

Guglielmi later said that Chief of Patrol Fred Waller called Smith “to apologize on behalf of the department for how he was treated” and to let Smith know that detectives would begin investigating the robbery immediately.

Saturday evening, Smith said he was still sorting out the events of the day.

“I went from having a guy holding a gun to my head, telling me today is the day I’m going to die, to being treated like a criminal when I tried to make a report,” Smith said.

Smith said officers working the desk were in no hurry to take his report when he arrived. When he sat down with an officer, she insisted he keep his hands where she could see them, and questioned his story: why hadn’t he gone to a station closer to Bronzeville? Why hadn’t the gunman taken his phone? She didn’t seem to be taking down his answers.

“I asked her, ma’am, are you going to write this down? Is there a form you want me to fill out?” Smith said. “She said, ‘You don’t ask the questions. I ask the questions.’”

When Smith asked to see her supervisor, the sergeant told him to leave. So Smith pulled out his phone and began filming.

“I don’t feel comfortable,” Smith said on the video, as officers shout at him to shut off the camera. “When the camera goes off, you start telling me to get out, I can’t make a report.”

Officers continue trying to get Smith to turn off the camera, but do concede that before he started filming the sergeant had told him to leave without taking his report. Smith kept the camera running until an officer agreed to take a report.

Smith said his encounter with police grew more congenial before he left, and that he was touched — and concerned — that the officer that finally took down his report admitted police have been “desensitized” to crime victims.

Amid the tension in the city between police and minority residents, Smith said he has staunchly defended police officers. Shortly before getting in his car Saturday morning, he’d engaged in an hours-long text-message debate with a friend about police tactics and community relations.

Hip-hop artist, songwriter and activist Che “Rhymefest” Smith performed during a panel discussion at the 2016 Television Critics Association Summer Tour at The Beverly Hilton Hotel in July. | Getty Images
Hip-hop artist, songwriter and activist Che “Rhymefest” Smith performed during a panel discussion at the 2016 Television Critics Association Summer Tour at The Beverly Hilton Hotel in July. | Getty Images

“I have police officers that I ride motorcycles with, that are my good friends,” he said. “I’m not a rabble-rousing activist screaming epithets at the cops. I work with the police.

“I wanted to make a report. … when I walked through the door, it was like (the officers) didn’t see me.”

Smith said he didn’t give officers any hint of who he was until he was about to leave.

“I said ‘Oh, by the way, I have two Grammys and an Oscar. And that’s not it. I teach young people, I teach creative writing,’” Smith said, referring to Donda’s House, a youth charity started in honor of Donda West, the late mother of his frequent collaborator, Kanye West.

“And it was like, ‘Now I got your attention. But not when I told you I had a gun to my head.'”

“I’m sure they’re thinking, ‘We messed up, because that was ‘somebody,’” Smith said. “But that’s not how it should be. How would they feel if somebody that doesn’t have my resources was treated the same way?”

For the record, Smith said he would like to talk with Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson about his ordeal, and about the “culture” within the police department. And he’d like the man that mugged him to turn himself in.

“I would like to help him. I would like to get him a job, rather than have him hurt someone,” he said. “But there has to be accountability, but I want him to know he doesn’t have to walk that alone.”