Chicago uses “hearing” to tamp down demands for police accountability
Larry Redmond, member of the Chicago Alliance against Racist and Political Repression and Nataki Rhodes, co-chair of the alliance at the hearing on police accountability. | Earchiel Johnson/PW

CHICAGO – The city of Chicago demonstrated at the first of five public hearings last night that it intends to tamp down demands from community groups that it establish a meaningful civilian review board for policing in the city.

Those demands have grown in recent years in the nation’s “second city” after a succession of killings by police that the communities say should never have happened. Chicago, of course, is not alone in a country where extra-judicial killings of Black Americans happens all too frequently.

Among those extra judicial killings in Chicago are some that have gained national and world-wide attention including the 2014 killing of 17-year-old Laquan MacDonald, an unarmed youth who died after receiving 16 shots in his back, the 2016 killing of unarmed 18-year-old Paul O’Neal who was shot three times in the back the 2014 killing of Ezell Ford, 25 who was shot three times after having been tackled to the ground.

City officials came prepared at the first hearing at Corliss High School on the city’s South Side to deal with a public they knew would be angry. They arranged the format to minimize public testimony and they put forward proposals for civilian oversight of police that were significantly weaker than the ones the people had in mind. Even the title on the flyers advertising the event referred to “Civilian Oversight for Public Safety in Chicago” rather than anything involving civilian review of police behavior.

Two of the proposals up for consideration by Chicago come from community groups, either the Civilian Police Accountability Council or from Grassroots Alliance for Police Accountabilty. Both would establish elected civilian police review boards with the power to investigate police crimes.

The other proposed ordinances preferred by the city, of course, allow the boards only to make recommendations.

Photo credit: Antwan Alexander

Representing the 30th Ward, Alderman Ariel Reboyas, who introduced the weaker proposals, convened the meeting along with other city officials. One of those,  6th Ward Alderman Rob Sawyer, announced that rather than have people come up and testify they would remain seated at their tables and discuss, “world cafe style,” the issues. “Have fun and document what you are doing,” Kevin Kirby, a representative of the mayor’s office,” told the crowd which had in it many activists including members of the National Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression.

“There’s no fun in our people dying,” responded Eric Russell, a leader of the Tree of Life Justice League of Illinois, another group represented at the hearing. “This whole café style is just another euphemism to dumb us down,” he said.

Objecting to what they saw as a format to water down discussion and proposals, people at one table used a poster-sized piece of paper to pen a sign that read “We reject this process.” They held up their sign during the hearing.

People booed when the aldermen tried to defend the watered down proposals they said have been implemented in Seattle and Los Angeles. The aldermen told the crowd that the CPAC and GAPA proposals left “no room for a role by the City Council.”

Large parts of the crowd then walked out of the “hearing” in protest. “This is a horrible format. Had I known this would be world café style I would have stayed at home,” one woman said.