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Police Board president bemoans great divide between residents, police in Chicago

Last summer, Ghian Foreman filed a complaint, saying he was struck in the legs five times by a police baton after encountering a demonstration in Kenwood. On Monday, Foreman wasn’t complaining about police. He was sympathizing with them.

Protesters and Chicago police officers during a march downtown Friday, May 29, 2020 over the death in Minneapolis police custody of George Floyd.
Protesters and Chicago police officers during a march downtown in May 2020 to protest the death in Minneapolis police custody of George Floyd.
Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times file photo

Chicago Police Board President Ghian Foreman on Monday bemoaned the us-versus-them mentality that has pitted the city’s residents against its police force.

Last summer, Foreman filed a complaint with the Civilian Office of Police Accountability, saying he was struck in the legs five times by a police baton after encountering a demonstration in Kenwood.

On Monday, Foreman wasn’t complaining about police. He was sympathizing with them.

“We’ve basically become a city of, it’s the community and it’s the police. Police are part of the community. … So much of it has to do with how we communicate with each other and thinking that … we want for our children peace, health and prosperity. Some of the conditions that we have in this city make that tough,” Foreman said.

“And our police officers deal with that in ways that I’m not sure that everyday Chicagoans understand the stress that they feel. And at the same time, police officers don’t really understand what the community is going through.”

Chicago Police Board President Ghian Foreman.
Chicago Police Board President Ghian Foreman.
Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Foreman pointed to the frank conversation he had recently with an officer who worked narcotics on the West Side. The officer had no idea the man dressed in a T-shirt and shorts was the president of the police board.

“He told me people like the neighborhood like this. They like the violence. They like the drug dealing. I said, ‘What do you mean they like it? It’s tied to so many other things,’” Foreman recalled.

“If this police officer thinks that people like it and, therefore, he’s not necessarily doing anything about it and the resident thinks that the police officer doesn’t care, we have a vicious cycle going on.”

Foreman said he “understands the frustrations” many Chicagoans feel with the police. But his role as Police Board president has forced him to be part of a “neutral body because we have to decide these cases.”

He’s been further sensitized by the recent training Police Board members received at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum on the “perspectives of police officers” during the Holocaust.

“If I’m walking by a police officer, [I make it a point to] just say hello. Thank you. Last summer, that was not always easy, right? But the more we communicate with each other — the more that we try to identify the fact that we all want our city to improve and that we’re dealing with some issues that are longstanding and that everybody has a role to play, I think we’ll get there,” he said.

“I’ve been telling people, ‘When a police officer drives by your house, wave to ’em. … You give five stars to an Uber driver. We should start thinking about the same thing with our interactions with police officers.”

Foreman said he had a bicycle accident seven weeks ago, and 45 seconds after he hit the ground, a police officer pulled up, made sure he was OK and took him to the hospital.

“We always hear about the negative interactions with police officers. We rarely rarely get to hear about the positives. … As long as we only perpetuate the negative things that happen, it makes it harder for us to move forward,” Foreman said.

“I feel like we need police. I know not everybody feels that way. When I get professional courtesy from a police officer — when I get professional behavior, I say, ‘Thank you.’ … Same thing when something doesn’t go right.”

Protesters hold placards in Chicago in May of 2020 as they join national outrage over the death of George Floyd.
Protesters hold placards in Chicago in May of 2020 as they join national outrage over the death of George Floyd.
Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

The advent of civilian police oversight means the Police Board will be off the hook when it comes to conducting the nationwide search for a new police superintendent whenever an opening occurs.

“I won’t say I’ll miss that process. It’s hard,” said Foreman, who’s been through three of those searches.

Foreman didn’t talk directly about his claim of being the victim of excessive force. But he did put in a plug for improved technology to track those cases after talking about the periodic updates he gets from COPA.

“Every six months, COPA is supposed to say, ‘You made a complaint. We’re continuing to investigate that complaint.’ So when six months comes up, each time I receive five letters. Same date. Five envelopes. ... That doesn’t give me a whole bunch of confidence,” he said.

“Something’s not working about the system. There are just simple fixes we can make as a city to say, ‘You hit this pothole. We’re gonna get this pothole fixed within the next X amount of days. If we were Uber, if we were Amazon, there would be a rating system. I realize we don’t have the money to fix everything. But there are some simple fixes we could put in place. Common-sense kind of fixes.”

COPA spokesman Ephraim Eaddy said the oversight body received over 500 complaints in a matter of weeks following the civil unrest and murder of George Floyd. To date, less than 100 remain open, he said.

“Many of the investigations from this period have been completed or were referred to the Bureau of Internal Affairs if the complaint did not fall within COPA‘s jurisdiction. President Foreman’s case was retained by COPA and the investigation is ongoing,” Eaddy wrote in an email to the Sun-Times.

“We are mindful of the length of investigations and ... developed a video release and transparency unit to address the issue of timeliness that will no longer require investigators and other legal staff to be temporarily removed from ongoing investigations in order to satisfy the release of materials under the City’s Video Release Policy. This will positively impact overall timeliness.”