By JONATHAN BALLEW
CHICAGO — “Laquan McDonald was a young black man who was killed by the police! And we gonna fight all day and night until he rests in peace!” Outside Chicago Police Headquarters, Thursday, a crowd of close to two hundred repeatedly and lyrically chanted the mantra, with increasing fervor.
They were there to observe the anniversary of the death of Laquan McDonald. There were media outlets, social activism groups, and community members present. Some were there to attend the monthly Chicago Police Board meeting, but the majority of the crowd stayed outside in order to have their presence felt and their voices heard.
One of the most vocal groups in attendance call themselves the Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression. The group was handing out pamphlets and carrying posters that read “CPAC NOW.” CPAC stands for Citizens Police Accountability Council — and since 2016 the alliance has been campaigning for an all civilian accountability agency to replace both COPA and CPB.
Although many individuals and groups at the meeting voiced their disapproval of COPA, the agency has received a largely positive reception around the city. COPA has only been in operation for a month, so it is fair to say it has not yet had enough time to be adequately judged as either a failure or a success.
The meeting began promptly at 7:30 p.m. and Chicago Police Board President, Lori Lightfoot, took a moment to remember and acknowledge the Laquan McDonald shooting. She said that Laquan Mcdonad’s death has become “an important moment in the cities history, that bent the arc of justice in a positive direction.”
Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson was not in attendance, much to the dismay of many of the public. However, First Deputy Superintendent, Kevin Navarro, was present in place of Superintendent Johnson. Navarro spoke on upcoming policing changes, acknowledging that there were holes that needed to be fixed within the department.
“We realize we can’t fix the department overnight,” Navarro said to the public Thursday. “It is more important to get it done right, than to get it done quickly,” he added. Navarro went on to outline a plan that would equip every officer with a body camera and a taser by the end of the year. Navarro finished by reiterating that “community policing is not a specific department of the police — it is a philosophy that we preach to every officer.”
Before Ms. Lightfoot opened the meeting for public comment, she first appealed to an emotionally elevated crowd to show respect for all individuals present during these “difficult and trying times.” While much of the public honored her plea, some were too frustrated to comply. At times there was shouting, but for the most part order was maintained by both the public and the civil servants in attendance.
Once the floor was open to the public, many speakers echoed an identical chorus of “an unelected, undemocratic, ultimately unaccountable police board.” Included in that sentiment was Jeffery Baker, who said that “too many young men have been murdered, tortured, and framed by the Jason van dykes of the department.”
The reality, is that many of the demands being made by civilian groups at the police board meetings are either unrealistic or unrelated to the jurisdiction of the board. “There are multiple factors at play, including the police union, due process for police officers, and the delegation of an enormous amount of responsibility that is currently handled by multiple city agencies,” said Tracy Siska, Executive Director of the Chicago Justice Project.
Ultimately, a great deal of power will always be held by the mayor — as big as Chicago might seem, it is still a city and operates as such. Judgement day for Mayor Rahm Emmanuel will come in 2019, when he is up for re-election. If October’s police board meeting was any indicator of Rahm’s chances of winning, then the Emmanuel campaign has their work cut out for them.
Although the police board meetings are meant for constructive comments or concerns within the police board’s jurisdiction, they have evolved into something more. They have become a valuable tool for a public that desperately desires an outlet to make their voices heard.
Between Mia Sissac and Kevin Navarro, there were representatives present from both COPA and CPD. So although many of the complaints from citizens were outside the jurisdiction of the police board, Lori Lightfoot was able to connect residents with the appropriate city agency.
Both Navarro and Sissac stayed after the meeting to address some of the more serious concerns from the public. One of the individuals directed to the First Deputy was Serethea Reid. Her and her husband Ron are active community members of Chicago’s Austin neighborhood, home to over 100,000 Chicago residents.
Ms. Reid voiced concerns that community policing had been “a total failure,” and that residents are “fearful within their own communities”. Reid went on to say that “young people are running hard on a treadmill trying to close the gap to reach a basic level of safety in their community.”
If nothing else, the monthly police board meetings have become an event that connects Chicago police officers with residents most affected by gun violence and police misconduct. For a department that has suffered a broken relationship with many of its neighborhoods, most would likely agree that any opportunity for police officers to hear from the people they protect and serve is beneficial for everyone.
Following the adjournment of the police board meeting, most gathered outside to join the rally for remembrance and justice that would continue until almost 10:30 p.m. There was a DJ, a food table, multiple activism and religious groups, and various speakers — some that had traveled from out of state to attend.
Various testimonies were given with one speaker lamenting that, “we pray for children whose zip code determines their safety and quality of education.”
Offering prayers and words of compassion was pastor Brian Fulton from Missio Dei Church, in Wrigleyville. “We have second class schools, but first class prisons,” he cried emotionally. Pastor Fulton left the crowd with a message of hope saying, “If the city can change the direction of the Chicago River — then we can change this broken system.”
After handing out white balloons to represent the lives lost to gun violence in 2016, there was a moment of silence to remember the deceased. In a show of solidarity, all in attendance released their balloons into the air and watched each one slowly fade into the darkness.
Note: The next Chicago Police board meeting is Thursday, November 16th. All interested Chicagoans are encouraged to attend. For updates regarding the Chicago Police Board, follow @CPBInfoCenter on Twitter.