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Black Lives Matter, other activists demand changes to police consent decree

Jonathon Projansky of Black Lives Matter Chicago spoke at a City Hall news conference outside Mayor Rahm Emanuel's office on Tuesday. | Fran Spielman

An activist coalition led by Black Lives Matter on Tuesday pressed its case for major changes to the consent decree outlining the terms of federal court oversight over the Chicago Police Department.

“If the city refuses to include these demands in the decree, this most recent effort to address police violence and racism could fail like every effort that has come before it,” Jonathon Projansky of Black Lives Matter Chicago, told a City Hall news conference outside the mayor’s office.

Ted Miin of Network 49 said the demands go far beyond police shootings that make headlines. It’s about stopping police violence that is “so frequent, it’s not newsworthy,” he said.

“I’m talking about the black eyes, the broken bones, the bruises from being slammed into vehicles, thrown onto the pavement, the Tasers, the pepper spray,” Miin said.

“So much of this violence is committed because police have incentives to escalate encounters with our community. And much of this violence is committed when officers claim to be arresting people for minor non-violent issues such as marijuana possession, drinking in the public way and disorderly conduct. Arrests are their own kind of violence and they destroy lives.”

Some of the recommendations released Tuesday — like removing police officers from Chicago Public Schools and an elected civilian police oversight board — were articulated in May, long before a draft copy of the proposed consent decree was released.

Other ideas are brand new. They include:

• Prohibiting Chicago Police officers from unholstering their firearms unless lethal force becomes necessary.

• Requiring police officers to file a report every time they point a gun or Taser at someone — or even observe a colleague using force.

• Mandating that police officers pass annual psychological evaluations and receive “supervisory authority” before making minor arrests and requiring officers to “engage in best efforts to create diversion partnerships, including restorative justice and community mediation.”

• Making de-escalation the “rule and not the exception” by providing incentives to officers who “refuse to use force and solve problems without making arrests and strengthening language that authorizes officers to de-escalate “when safe and feasible.” In addition, officers must not be penalized for taking time to resolve an incident without using force. They must also be prohibited from taunting, humiliating, threatening and using racial or gendered slurs that escalate incidents.

• Prohibiting police officers who continue to be assigned to schools from carrying firearms or handcuffs or using force “except in exigent circumstances.” Officers would also have a “duty not to intervene in incidents on school grounds absent a real or immediate threat.” They would be barred from interviewing or interrogating youth on school grounds.

• Developing a comprehensive plan to eliminate racial profiling and discriminatory policing, including an “express prohibition” against profiling. Jurisdiction of the Civilian Office of Police Accountability should also be expanded beyond misconduct to include “sexual assault.”

• Altering use-of-force training to include the “importance of considering whether a subject may be non-compliant due to disability, a medical condition or behavioral health crisis.”

• Creating a so-called “Rekia’s fund” — in honor of Rekia Boyd — to provide “immediate payment to families whose loved ones were killed by police.”

Maria Hernandez, an organizer with Black Lives Matter Chicago, argued that Mayor Rahm Emanuel “hid the video of Laquan McDonald being shot 16 times” and cannot be trusted to implement meaningful and lasting change.

“Every level of the system is appointed by the same mayor, who has allowed the inhumane disregard of our lives to continue,” Hernandez said.

Emanuel took the recommendations in stride.

“We know Black Lives Matter and the ACLU have an opinion. We know the FOP has an opinion. And we encourage every resident of Chicago to provide their feedback as a part of the public comment opportunity. Along with the Attorney General’s office, we will review everyone’s ideas as part of that process,” mayoral press secretary Matt McGrath wrote in an email.

The Fraternal Order of Police has warned that the weekend bloodbath that left 71 people shot – 12 fatally – could be “a hint of what it is to come if the war on police continues” with a consent decree imposing “drastic new police oversight.”

Friday is the court-imposed deadline for public comment on the consent decree hammered out by Emanuel and Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan. On Sept. 1, the agreement must be submitted to a federal judge.

Madigan, along with the ACLU of Illinois and other legal-aid groups, filed lawsuits last year to force the city to seek federal oversight of the police — even though President Donald Trump’s U.S. Justice Department has retreated from that arena.

The community groups won a voice in the ongoing consent-decree negotiations in March, when the ACLU, MacArthur Justice Center at Northwestern University and Mandel Legal Aid Clinic at the University of Chicago signed an agreement with Madigan’s office giving them input into the negotiations, and the ability to object in court to provisions they don’t like.

The community groups agreed to freeze their lawsuits against the city as long as progress is being made toward provisions that would reduce the likelihood of excessive force by officers against people who are black, Latino and disabled.

If their demands are not met, those lawsuits will move full speed ahead, according to Karen Sheley, director of the Police Practices Project for the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois.