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Pat Hill, who ran African American Police League, dead at 66

Pat Hill. | Rich Hein / Sun-Times

Pat Hill, former executive director of Chicago’s African American Police League and a onetime police bodyguard for Mayor Harold Washington, fought for justice and equal opportunity, friends and family members said Tuesday.

“She was a tenacious activist who was relentless in her efforts to reform the Chicago Police Department, particularly as it relates to the African-American community,” said Conrad Worrill, a professor emeritus at Northeastern Illinois University.

Ms. Hill, 66, died Sunday of cancer at Rush University Medical Center, said her daughter Stacy.

After joining the Chicago Police Department in 1986, Ms. Hill fought for minority hiring through the African American Police League.

Fifteen years later, she said, “Nothing changes.” Though the department then boasted a growing number of African-American and Hispanic officers, she said, “The Irish run the police department.”

She grew up near Princeton Park. Her father, Hercules, was a mechanic from South Carolina. Her mother, Lucille, was from Georgia.

Young Pat excelled at track at Harlan High School, Worrill said. She ran with Mayor Richard J. Daley’s Youth Foundation track team, where she was mentored by the legendary Willye White, who participated in track and field at five Olympics.

“In 1968, her senior year in high school, [Ms. Hill] missed making the U.S. Olympic team, long jump, by a quarter inch,” Worrill said.

That year, she was stirred by the famous moment when sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos gave the black power salute at the Olympics.

“We all ran in the same meets,” she told the Chicago Sun-Times in 2002.

And in 1969, her daughter said, she was inspired by the league’s earlier incarnation — the Afro-American Patrolmen’s League — as it challenged the official police story about a West Side raid that left Black Panthers Fred Hampton and Mark Clark dead. Later, a federal grand jury found that between 82 and 99 shots were fired by police, and just one came from inside the Panthers’ apartment.

Ms. Hill spent two years at Northern Illinois University before transferring to Chicago State University, where she ran track and played basketball.

From 1974 to 1986, she taught physical education at city schools including Taft, Prosser, Clemente and Collins.

In 1986, she joined the police department. In a 2002 Sun-Times interview, she spoke about a memorable moment when she caught two 10-year-old boys jumping roofs on top of a church:

“I said, ‘Tell you what, since y’all like church so much, I think we should go to church.’ So we go in there. The congregation was shocked. I was in full uniform. . . . The preacher says, ‘We’ve gotta save ’em,’ and people stood up and gathered around the boys. . . . They were screaming and praying and saying, ‘Yes, Lord!’ And when they got through, they signed ’em up for Sunday school.”

Ms. Hill served on the security detail for Washington before becoming executive director of the African American Police League.

“Patricia Hill was instrumental in changing the league name” from Afro-American Patrolmen’s League, said Howard Saffold, a former chief of the group. She wanted the name to reflect it represented both men and women, he said.

“Her soul, her culture, her very being was put into [league] efforts,” Saffold said.

After retiring, she lectured at Northeastern’s Carruthers Center for Inner City Studies, taking classes to Selma, Alabama, “so her students could get a feel for re-enactments of Bloody Sunday,” Worrill said.

“I speak on the relationship between the policing system and African-American people in the world,” she said in the 2002 interview. “It’s doing exactly what it’s designed to do when it comes to black people. It’s designed to contain us and, if necessary, exterminate us. And it’s working. It’s called criminalizing the race.”

Ms. Hill also helped found ProTech Security Group, her daughter said.

A fan of mud cloth and African prints, “If she wasn’t in a T-shirt with some type of activist slogan or organization on it,” her daughter said, “she was in some type of African garb.”

An avid tennis player, she admired Arthur Ashe for his activism and athleticism.

She adored her mutt, Bushrod, named after the 1974 Gordon Parks Jr. blaxploitation film “Thomasine & Bushrod,” about bank robbers in the Old Southwest. She’d hoped to get a female dog and name it “Thomasine.”

Ms. Hill loved outdoor music festivals and performances by Maze featuring Frankie Beverly. She also enjoyed steak burritos and watching TV’s “Blue Bloods.”

She is also survived by another daughter, Trennie; a son, Ronald Jr.; and a granddaughter. Visitation is planned 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. Friday at Leak and Sons Funeral Home, 7838 South Cottage Grove.