Chicago mayor quietly pushes for $95m police academy
Credit: Assata's Daughters

CHICAGO—Despite preliminary budget reports estimating a deficit of $114 million, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel is pushing a proposal to fund a $95 million police and fire training academy. It was first announced in July 2017, several months after the Chicago Plan Commission unanimously approved the plan to buy a 30-acre site for the school at 4301 W. Chicago Ave. for $9.6 million.

The original conceptualization of the plan can be traced as far back as April 19, when Alderman Emma Mitts (Ward 37) introduced an ordinance to alter the zoning of 4301 W. Chicago to a (C3-1) Commercial, Manufacturing and Employment District.

The tentative construction site for the facility is located in Garfield Park, a predominantly black neighborhood on the west side of the city. Several community members and organizers have taken issue with the secretive manner in which the city has pushed along the proposal for the ordinance, with a number of residents even claiming they were originally told construction was solely for a fire training academy.

The effort to move the project forward has been criticized by a coalition of organizations from across the city, including BYP100, Assata’s Daughters, the Chicago Community Bond Fund, Jewish Voices For Peace-Chicago, Lifted Voices, the Grassroots Collaborative, and others.

The People’s Response Team, a multi-racial, intergenerational coalition that seeks to eradicate police terror in communities of color, has taken the wheel on bringing more awareness to the public through the #NoCopAcademy campaign. As part of its publicity, the organization has highlighted the city’s frivolous spending habits.

Samer Owaida, a Chicago community organizer, said that with the $95 million would be better spent on youth and education. “I would re-open the Chicago public schools that have been closed,” Owaida said. It is no secret that under Emanuel’s tenure as mayor, he has not only shut down over 50 public schools, but is also responsible for the devastating closure of several mental health centers around the city.

A press release from the #NoCopAcademy campaign addressed some of the costly expenditures that fall under the Chicago Police Department line in the city budget. “Chicago spends about $1.5 billion on police every year—$4 million every single day,” it says. This does not include the staggering $662 million police misconduct bill that the city has racked up since 2014.

While community organizers have demanded that the money Emanuel wants earmarked for the police academy be invested back into the community, the city has claimed it is a necessary investment. Officials have stated that the “first responders” facility is a direct response to the Department of Justice reports that slammed the Chicago Police Department for a lack of proper training.

Regardless, youth-led resistance to the cop academy has already made waves. In September, protesters gathered outside Emanuel’s fifth-floor City Hall office urging that the plan be dismantled and that money be diverted to other urgent matters affecting the city.

In early October, Chicago BTGNC Collective and For the People Artists Collective, along with a number of other supporters for the #NoCopAcademy campaign poured into Red Line trains of the Chicago Transit Authority in a “train takeover” protest to share information with passengers about the proposed facility. On the morning of Wednesday, Oct. 25, a “welcoming committee” composed of members of People’s Response Team, Mijente, and Jewish Voice for Peace-Chicago “greeted” contractors and business individuals interested in bidding to design and build the cop academy.

Direct action seems to be bringing more light to this largely unknown proposal. While city officials take steps to push the plan forward, organizers on the ground continue to fight back and demand for a city that invests in the health and well-being of its citizens.


CONTRIBUTOR

Michelle Zacarias
Michelle Zacarias

Michelle Zacarias is a staff writer at People's World. A graduate of the Univ. of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign, Zacarias has invested her time in raising awareness on issues of social justice and equality. She has written and conducted research in several parts of the world; most recently Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, where she presented on disability awareness at the U.S. Consulate. Michelle self identifies as multi-marginalized: as a Latina, a woman of color and a person with disabilities. She considers her experiences a privilege, one that she hopes to use as a platform for spreading socio-political consciousness. In her spare time Michelle enjoys drinking pricey wines and watching old school zombie flicks.  

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