A public letter to Mayor Lightfoot: A call for leadership

The Police Department has demonstrated the new use-of-force policy input process is a sham, designed only to create the illusion of community engagement.

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Lori Lightfoot, then president of the Chicago Police Board, discusses the reforms in the Chicago Police Department on March 14, 2017.

James Foster/For the Sun-Times

Dear Mayor Lightfoot:

We write as individual members of the Use of Force Community Working Group that you convened “to provide feedback, revisions and formal recommendations to the Police Department to adopt under a new use of force policy.”

Members of the Community Working Group were hopeful that this process would finally provide a “seat at the table” and result in improved policies that reflected the lived experiences and expertise of communities most impacted by CPD’s excessive and discriminatory use of force.Instead, the CPD has demonstrated that this process is a sham, designed only to use us to create the illusion of community engagement so that CPD can check the box on the requirements in the civil rights federal Consent Decree.On Tuesday evening, the CPD made public that it had rejected every substantive Working Group recommendation on CPD’s overarching use of force policy, and instead announced a few symbolic word changes that have no effect on the rules governing when officers may use force or how much force they may use. By doing so, CPD made clear that it has no intention to actually engage with, listen to, or learn from community members.

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We urge you as Mayor of Chicago to immediately order CPD to implement the Community Working Group’s recommendations to reduce the ongoing CPD violence and harm inflicted on the people of Chicago.

Each of us took our responsibility to the Working Group with the utmost seriousness. We invested hundreds of hours of time and put our hearts and souls into our mission. Throughout months of deliberations, we consulted with city and CPD leadership and various CPD personnel on training and policy research and development.We studied the latest research and policies that represent national and international best practices on the use of force.Most importantly, we drew upon the lived experiences of the people of Chicago with intimate knowledge of CPD violence — people from communities who have consistently been denied a voice in influencing CPD force policy.

We found serious deficiencies in CPD policy that have enabled continued civil rights violations, and we issued a series of urgent recommendations that have the potential to dramatically reduce CPD violence and save lives. The heart of our recommendations rests on a set of force mitigation principles that prioritize the sanctity of all human life by affirmatively requiring de-escalation to avoid the need for any force and minimizing the amount of force to only that which is necessary. You have championed these same principles as national best practice.

We also made a number of other specific recommendations, such as:

  • Restricting the use of Tasers to situations in which a person presents an immediate threat of serious bodily harm;
  • Banning chokeholds;
  • Prohibiting force against peaceful protestors;
  • Restricting force against vulnerable people;
  • Defining force to include intimidation tactics;
  • Requiring officers to document all significant uses of force, including when officers point their guns at a fellow human being;
  • Imposing a duty to intervene when fellow officers use unnecessary force; and
  • Respecting the dignity of people injured or killed by CPD.

Finally, we provided detailed revisions to CPD’s existing policies to highlight their shortcomings and offered concrete substitute language ready for immediate implementation.

Our recommendations and revised policies can be found here.

We urge you as mayor of Chicago to live up to your campaign promises and public statements by ensuring meaningful and concrete policing reforms.

We are disheartened and enraged to receive CPD’s rejections, but you have the power to ensure this process is more than a charade.As chair of the Police Reform and Racial Justice Working Group for the U.S. Conference of Mayors, you recently urged police departments across America to adopt many of these same policies rejected by your own department.In your August 2020 Report, you admonished that each department must clearly state as its first principle the duty to protect and respect the sanctity of all human life, require officers to intervene when a fellow officer uses unnecessary force, require officers to report all uses of force, and mandate force mitigation and de-escalation to avoid or limit the use of any force to the least amount necessary.

We heard you express words of outrage when the Kentucky Attorney General refused to prosecute the officers who killed Breonna Taylor.We heard you encourage people to say her name to affirm that her life mattered.

But it is disingenuous to say one thing nationally and do the opposite in Chicago.

The Chicago Police Department is under a federal consent decree for a reason.The CPD has consistently shown that it is unwilling to change, and it will not respond to people from the communities most impacted by CPD abuse, unless it is forced to do so.

As mayor and mayoral candidate, you promised to:(1) establish a regime of police accountability, (2) require a community voice in police oversight, and (3) embrace and strengthen the CPD Consent Decree as the path to change.Yet, under your administration, CPD continues to resist reform, community engagement, and oversight with as much vigor as ever.

As people in Chicago and around the nation continue to raise our voices against police violence and to affirm that Black Lives Matter, this is your opportunity to prove that they really do.

Put your words into action and implement the Use of Force Community Working Group’s recommendations.Now.

Individual Signatories from the Use of Force Community Working Group:

Sherilynn Asuoha, Emmaus

Israel Abdul Bey, resident

Celia Colón, Giving Others Dreams

Mark Clements, Chicago Torture Justice Center

Pastor Charlie Dates, Progressive Baptist Church

Father Larry Dowling, St. Agatha Catholic Church

Craig Futterman, University of Chicago Law School

Bishop Simon Gordon, Triedstone Church of Chicago

Aaron Gottlieb, Jane Adams College of Social Work, UIC

Michael Harrington, Network 49

Janet Horne, Access Living

Pastor Marvin Hunter, Grace Memorial Baptist Church

Rose Joshua, NAACP, Southside Branch

A’Shonti McKinney, Youth Advocate Programs

Dr. Waltrina Middleton, Community Renewal Society

Anjali Misra, Asian Americans Advancing Justice

Rachel Murphy, ACLU of Illinois

Rev. Marilyn Pagán-Banks, A Just Harvest, San Lucas United Church of Christ

Mylon Patton, Student, University of Chicago

Nicolette Rivera, Community Counseling Centers of Chicago

Sufyan Sohel, Council on American Islamic Relations, Chicago

Michael Tafolla, Precious Blood Ministry of Reconciliation

Cleopatra Watson, United Pullman

Amika Tendaji, Ujimaa Medics & Black Lives Matter Chicago

Eric Wilkins, Communities United, Broken Winggz Foundation

Arewa Karen Winters, Justice for Families

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