Today was a milestone in the movement for police accountability in Chicago. The Grassroots Alliance for Police Accountability (“GAPA”) announced to the public the fruits of nearly two years of hard labor –of dozens of community conversations across the city, of countless steering committee meetings, of multiple meetings and consultations with policing and civil rights experts from other cities, of hours and hours of behind the scenes work. Today we stand up and declare that we Chicagoans do not accept the longstanding pattern of Chicago police abusing and brutalizing black and brown communities, particularly on the South and West sides of the City.
The ordinance presented today establishes a Community Commission for Public Safety, as recommended by the Chicago Police Accountability Task Force’s April 2016 Report and the 2017 Report of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Investigation of the Chicago Police Department. This Commission rightfully shifts much of the oversight of the Chicago Police Department from the Mayor to the Chicago community. The ordinance proposes that the Commission be made up of seven members chosen by indirect election. The ordinance requires that these seven members be accomplished and upstanding civilians with backgrounds in areas like civil rights litigation and mental health issues. These seven Commission members will work collaboratively with the Police Superintendent to create CPD policies, but will have the authority to make final decisions on policy. To read more details about the Commission, please read here.
I first became involved in JCUA’s work on police accountability in the fall of 2016 when I attended a community conversation at a church in Lakeview. Hearing the stories of individuals directly affected by police brutality stirred an anger within me that had been simmering since I first saw the video of Jason Van Dyke shooting Lacquan McDonald in the back 16 times. Police violence against communities of color is nothing new. As a popular internet meme states, “It’s not the violence that’s new. It’s the cameras.” People of color have spoken out about police brutality for decades. Yet it took seeing the video of Lacquan McDonald needlessly murdered and directly hearing these individuals’ stories to light a fire under me and many other white people. Since that meeting, I joined the ONE Northside GAPA Steering Committee as a representative of JCUA and have become an active member of JCUA’s Police Accountability Committee.
As I’ve continued my work with GAPA, I’ve learned more about how the existing institutions in this City have failed to hold police accountable for misconduct and brutality. During the five years preceding the U.S. Department of Justice’s investigation into CPD, over 30,000 complaints of police misconduct were filed with the Independent Police Review Authority (now the Civilian Office of Police Accountability). Fewer than 2% of these complaints were sustained, resulting in NO discipline in 98% of these complaints. These numbers are unacceptable – not only in my opinion, but in the opinion of the U.S. Department of Justice.
I participate in this work not only as a Chicagoan, but as a white Jew. I know I have a moral obligation to examine my own role in perpetuating systemic violence towards black and brown people in this country, and need to work with members of my community to drastically overhaul the systems that enact this violence. White Jews must show up for and with our black and brown siblings in the Jewish community, and all targeted groups in this country.
Finally, I would like to state that despite the protestations of detractors, this ordinance is NOT anti-police. This ordinance creates a stronger civilian voice in overseeing the CPD in order to create trust between the community and the police that is sorely lacking, and to destroy the culture of silence within CPD that prevents so many officers from reporting their colleagues’ misconduct. These goals help, not harm, rank-and-file police officers who show up to work every day to protect Chicagoans.
I urge you to read the report, watch the press conference, and call your Alderman to ask him/her to support this historic ordinance. The need to improve police accountability in Chicago has existed for decades, and the time to take action is NOW.