Chicago aldermen lock out the people and call the cops
The #NoCopAcademy campaign is an effort supported by over 85 community organizations across Chicago, that want to see $95 million invested in our communities rather than police training grounds. | No Cop Academy Facebook page

CHICAGO – No Cop Academy organizers led a direct action Monday morning, descending upon three different aldermanic offices throughout the city. They would like to see the money the city plans to spend on a new police academy go instead to meet other urgent community needs.

The Chicago-based activists have been challenging what they see as an entire culture of political corruption that runs rampant in Cook County, and are asking their ward representatives to cancel the vote on Rahm Emanuel’s proposed police academy. A city council committee is set to vote Thursday morning on zoning changes that would give the green light to the $95 million project.

The No Cop Academy groups are not endorsing specific candidates for city council. What they are doing is advocating transparency and accountability. On a recently publicized website, organizers highlight some of the ways in which aldermen throughout Chicago have failed their wards; pointing out the displacement of working-class families, lack of affordable housing options, and gentrification in black and brown neighborhoods.

The “City Council Cleanup” page on the website calls out 12 aldermen who it alleges have been detrimental to marginalized communities. In a controversial move they are focusing right now on openly gay members of the city council.

“We are calling out the racist policies that gay aldermen like James Cappleman, Deb Mell, and Ray Lopez have regularly supported,” says the website’s updates tab. “We are tired of seeing our sacred identities misused by those in power to justify the displacement, deportation, and incarceration of our communities, and we won’t allow it anymore!”

The demonstrations on Monday focused on LGBTQ-identifying aldermen who, organizers say, sometimes hide behind queer identity politics as a “prop” to evade political accountability. James Cappleman, alderman of the 46th ward in Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood, was one of three they targeted. He is listed as the Chairman of the Committee on Zoning, which both Alderperson Deb Mell and Ray Lopez sit on as well.

Just last week mayoral frontrunner Toni Preckwinkle issued a letter to Cappleman urging him to postpone a Feb. 28 committee hearing regarding the “Joint Safety Training Academy” until a new administration is elected. “Put frankly, I believe it is ill-advised for the committee to tie the hands of an incoming administration on a large-scale capital investment as the city faces acute budgetary challenges,” Preckwinkle wrote. “Two days after Chicagoans go to the polls to choose new leadership and a new direction is the wrong moment to advance a major capital investment.”

To avoid confronting protesters both Alderman Deb Mell (33rd ward) and Alderman Raymond Lopez (15th ward) had staff lock up their offices, leaving community members chanting outside in the cold. A group of 15 organizers made several unsuccessful attempts to enter her office but she had escaped through a back exit into her car. Similarly, upon hearing of the targeted operation, Lopez called the cops on a small crowd of organizers. Three squad cars and a police van were stationed outside Lopez’s office before the demonstrators had even arrived there – an ironic response to a demand for less policing in a predominantly Latino district.

While the vote to approve zoning for construction of the police and fire training academy is still underway, many community members believe it is a misplaced priority for a city with so many other pressing needs. Reports indicate that Chicago already pays huge amounts of money out because of problems with the police. The payouts include a staggering $662 million police misconduct bill that the city has had to pay since 2014. Community organizers continue to make their voices heard as they fight against expansion of the ever growing police-related budget and demand that more be done to meet some of the other needs of black, brown, immigrant and poor people in Chicago.


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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