Lori Lightfoot Campaign Staffers Disappointed by Her Stance on Cop Academy

Sources close to Lightfoot’s campaign say some former staffers were disappointed by her apparent support for investment in further police training facilities.

Sabrina Gunter May 31, 2019

(Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

CHICA­GO — Two sources close to Lori Lightfoot’s may­oral cam­paign say some staffers were dis­ap­point­ed with Lightfoot’s stance on her pre­de­ces­sor Rahm Emanuel’s con­tro­ver­sial cop acad­e­my proposal.

In These Times spoke with a for­mer cam­paign staffer for Light­foot (now the may­or of Chica­go), who said mul­ti­ple cam­paign staffers were unhap­py about Lightfoot’s rea­son­ing behind her oppo­si­tion to the $95 mil­lion police acad­e­my set to be built in West Garfield Park. The pro­pos­al, first intro­duced under Emanuel in July 2017, was approved by the City Coun­cil in March, despite over­whelm­ing push­back from con­stituents of the 37th ward (where West Garfield Park is locat­ed), and near­ly 18 months of protest by the #NoCo­pAcad­e­my cam­paign, a coali­tion of more than 100 orga­ni­za­tions across the coun­try work­ing to halt the construction.

While Light­foot expressed vague oppo­si­tion to the pro­pos­al dur­ing her cam­paign, claim­ing in a Jan­u­ary tweet, I’ve said NO to Rahm Emanuel’s $95 mil­lion cop acad­e­my since I got in this race,” Light­foot has qual­i­fied her oppo­si­tion to the acad­e­my as mere­ly pro­ce­dur­al, mak­ing clear that she sup­ports more invest­ment in new police train­ing facil­i­ties. A cam­paign press state­ment released on March 13 (after Light­foot had already made the runoff) reads, Lori opposed the train­ing acad­e­my that passed today, in large part because the Emanuel admin­is­tra­tion failed to appro­pri­ate­ly engage and lis­ten to the com­mu­ni­ty in the pub­lic process ahead of the vote.” She ends the state­ment by argu­ing that any facil­i­ty where [police train­ing] takes place must only be cre­at­ed after an inten­sive com­mu­ni­ty engage­ment and input process.”

No Cop Acad­e­my advo­cates, on the oth­er hand, don’t want city mon­ey invest­ed in new police facil­i­ties at all, instead sug­gest­ing that the funds be redi­rect­ed to schools, men­tal health resources and oth­er com­mu­ni­ty sup­port services.

We were putting in 80, 90 hours a week for a can­di­date who had built a cam­paign around the val­ues of equi­ty and jus­tice,” said the for­mer cam­paign staffer, who request­ed anonymi­ty. But upon hear­ing Lightfoot’s stance on the police acad­e­my, a lot of us were dis­ap­point­ed,” the for­mer staffer said. (All claims by the for­mer staffer in this arti­cle were cor­rob­o­rat­ed by anoth­er source close to the Light­foot cam­paign, who wish­es to remain anony­mous. May­or Lightfoot’s office did not respond to a request for comment.)

The for­mer cam­paign staffer and anoth­er source close to Lightfoot’s cam­paign told In These Times that mul­ti­ple cam­paign staffers were dis­ap­point­ed that Light­foot had not con­demned the con­struc­tion of the train­ing cen­ter itself dur­ing her cam­paign nor tak­en issue with place­ment of the acad­e­my on Chicago’s west side, an area already strug­gling with police harass­ment and violence.

Lightfoot’s cam­paign staffers were dis­ap­point­ed even more, the two sources say, when Light­foot sug­gest­ed turn­ing the shut­tered-down Chica­go Pub­lic Schools (CPS) build­ings across the south and west sides of the city into spaces for police train­ing. At a pub­lic safe­ty forum at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Chica­go on March 13, when asked what she would do dif­fer­ent­ly with regards to Rahm’s police acad­e­my plan, Light­foot respond­ed: We need more flex­i­bil­i­ty than one cen­tral­ized loca­tion can pro­vide. We need mul­ti­ple loca­tions. … We have 38 schools that are vacant from school clos­ings, some of which can be repur­posed to help us with our train­ing needs.”

Chalk­beat reports that Lightfoot’s idea was met with imme­di­ate skep­ti­cism on social media and by activists across the city.” The for­mer cam­paign staffer told In These Times:

After she float­ed the idea of com­mu­ni­ty police acad­e­mies at the pub­lic safe­ty forum … we expect­ed some clar­i­fi­ca­tion of her com­ments and their impli­ca­tions … for [social] jus­tice. As a vot­er, I was wait­ing for an answer.

But she and the cam­paign did the oppo­site. Lightfoot’s cen­tral argu­ment was that a project like this must be done only after intense com­mu­ni­ty review and vet­ting, and then … she sug­gest­ed a mas­sive, poten­tial­ly vio­lent dis­rup­tion to numer­ous black and brown com­mu­ni­ties across the city.

Start­ing with that moment, and in the weeks that fol­lowed until April 2, it real­ly felt like a dif­fer­ent cam­paign than it had back in Novem­ber or December.

Two days lat­er, on the March 15 episode of The Ben Joravsky Show, Light­foot clar­i­fied her com­ments on the mini acad­e­mies,” stat­ing, We were talk­ing hypo­thet­i­cal­ly. … Noth­ing will hap­pen on my watch, and cer­tain­ly not the repur­pos­ing of those 38 schools that remain on CPS’s ledger, with­out going into the com­mu­ni­ty and talk­ing to peo­ple.” Still, Light­foot main­tains that she has opposed [Emanuel’s] train­ing acad­e­my because of the way in which that process worked, which exclud­ed peo­ple from the con­ver­sa­tion and peo­ple in the com­mu­ni­ty who des­per­ate­ly need investment.”

Pro­po­nents of Emanuel’s police acad­e­my pro­pos­al claim that build­ing the acad­e­my would meet the Left’s demand that the Chica­go Police Depart­ment imple­ment bet­ter police train­ing. Alder­man Michael Scott Jr. of the 24th Ward says, If we want police reform, it starts at the begin­ning. If we want first respon­ders to de-esca­late, we need to train them.” Light­foot appears to be in agree­ment that more police train­ing is need­ed. In fact, she went a step fur­ther, say­ing that to do it right, [build­ing the acad­e­my] would cost far more than” the pro­posed $95 million.

But Page May, an orga­niz­er with Assata’s Daugh­ters (a pri­ma­ry coali­tion mem­ber in the #NoCo­pAcad­e­my cam­paign), tells In These Times that sim­ply build­ing a new acad­e­my won’t change the actu­al train­ing that offi­cers receive at all.” And oth­ers argue that a new facil­i­ty is not need­ed in order to imple­ment bet­ter train­ing. They already have facil­i­ties in which they can imple­ment train­ing,” said Chris­t­ian Snow, exec­u­tive direc­tor of Assata’s Daugh­ters, in an inter­view with Jerome McDon­nell for WBEZ. Train­ing is not about the facil­i­ties, it’s not about how much resources you put there, it’s about the content.”

Giv­en that there’s been no sig­nif­i­cant indi­ca­tor that Light­foot has any mean­ing­ful plans to halt con­struc­tion on the project, some have writ­ten off the No Cop Acad­e­my cam­paign as a loss. But Mari­ame Kaba, an orga­niz­er, edu­ca­tor and writer, doesn’t see it that way. In A Love Let­ter to the #NoCo­pAcad­e­my Orga­niz­ers from Those of Us on the Free­dom side,” Kaba express­es what she sees as the achieve­ments of the cam­paign: Through your actions, peo­ple quite lit­er­al­ly the world over expressed their sol­i­dar­i­ty with your fight. They saw them­selves as direct­ly impli­cat­ed in the vision of the world you have so beau­ti­ful­ly inhab­it­ed all these months. All of these are wins.”

Across the coun­try, peo­ple indeed showed their sup­port. In Cal­i­for­nia, Youth Jus­tice L.A. and Crit­i­cal Resis­tance LA held an action in sol­i­dar­i­ty with No Cop Acad­e­my against AECOM (the Los Ange­les-based com­pa­ny award­ed the con­struc­tion con­tract to build the cen­ter), dis­rupt­ing AECOM’s annu­al share­hold­ers meet­ing. Youth Jus­tice LA wrote in an Insta­gram post, We want peace builders/​intervention work­ers instead of more armed police offi­cers in our cities across the coun­try! Send­ing pow­er to Chica­go from the west west!”

The cam­paign has also received atten­tion on the nation­al stage. Sev­er­al weeks before the City Coun­cil vote, youth activist Des­tiny Har­ris gave an open­ing speech at a Bernie 2020 ral­ly in Chica­go, dis­cussing her orga­niz­ing with No Cop Acad­e­my, bring­ing the fight to a larg­er audi­ence, and with it, push­ing the con­cept of police abo­li­tion clos­er to the mainstream.

Light­foot has giv­en no indi­ca­tion that plans for the acad­e­my will change under her may­or­ship, last say­ing in a March 15 state­ment that The City Coun­cil took that vote the oth­er day. It’s moot. The train­ing acad­e­my is going on the West Side.”

But some believe the youth orga­niz­ers of No Cop Acad­e­my will con­tin­ue to bring renewed ener­gy to the fight for social jus­tice in Chica­go. In the same inter­view with McDon­nell from WBEZ, Ste­fani Bator of No Cop Acad­e­my said of the cam­paign: I’ve seen hope. And I’ve seen joy. This is a black youth-led move­ment. … Young black and brown Chica­go teenagers are tak­ing on the Chica­go machine and they are winning.”

Sab­ri­na Gunter is a spring 2019 edi­to­r­i­al intern at In These Times.
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