With Rahm Out, Chicago’s Black Youth Demand Mayoral Candidates Side With Communities—Not Police

A community survey says residents don’t want a police academy on Chicago’s West Side. Six mayoral candidates weigh in.

Isabel Bloom

No Cop Academy youth, including Destiny Harris (far left), at an Abolish ICE protest in downtown Chicago. (Charles Edward Miller/Flickr)

I was shocked and frus­trat­ed,” says Des­tiny Har­ris, 17, describ­ing her reac­tion last Sep­tem­ber when she learned that Chica­go May­or Rahm Emanuel was plan­ning to build a $95 mil­lion police acad­e­my in her home neigh­bor­hood of West Garfield Park. Emanuel claims that the acad­e­my is a nec­es­sary response to the 2017 Depart­ment of Jus­tice (DOJ) inves­ti­ga­tion, which revealed sig­nif­i­cant civ­il rights vio­la­tions by the Chica­go Police Depart­ment (CPD) and offered 99 sug­ges­tions for improvement.

As the mayoral race escalates, candidates will need to make their stance on the city’s police academy and investment disparity clear.

West Garfield Park is a major­i­ty black neigh­bor­hood on Chicago’s West Side and its young peo­ple suf­fer most from lack of invest­ment in their schools, after-school pro­gram­ming and sta­ble jobs after grad­u­a­tion. Har­ris was infu­ri­at­ed that the may­or seemed to find fund­ing only for polic­ing and not for oth­er resources her neigh­bor­hood needs.

Har­ris was not alone. This sum­mer, she joined the No Cop Acad­e­my (NCA), a self-described youth-led, adult-direct­ed” non­prof­it found­ed in Sep­tem­ber 2017.

NCA rejects polic­ing as a solu­tion to vio­lence. Instead, they advo­cate invest­ment in vital com­mu­ni­ty resources such as edu­ca­tion, hous­ing, good jobs and health­care. In 2013 when the School Board vot­ed to close 54 schools across the city, four of those schools were locat­ed in West Garfield Park. Har­ris says that she and oth­er res­i­dents were bewil­dered; Emanuel claimed that the city didn’t have any mon­ey and then out of nowhere $95 mil­lion for a police academy.”

NCA has drawn atten­tion in the past year for its tire­less efforts to stop the devel­op­ment of the police acad­e­my. They have sued the city for with­hold­ing infor­ma­tion about the ori­gins of the plan for the police acad­e­my and also advo­cate con­stituent out­reach to bring Chica­go alder­men over to their side. Thus far they have the sup­port of three out of 50 alder­men, includ­ing the par­tic­u­lar­ly out­spo­ken Ald. Car­los Ramirez Rosa. The City Coun­cil will vote on the devel­op­er for the police acad­e­my project this fall and then alder­men will have one final chance to vote down the plan for the academy.

Last week, NCA youth orga­niz­ers gath­ered at a pub­lic event in West Garfield Park to present and cel­e­brate their lat­est endeav­or: The Report,” a 30-page sum­ma­ry of the results of a sur­vey in which they asked West Side res­i­dents for their thoughts on the police academy.

NCA vol­un­teers can­vassed 500 West Side res­i­dents between Jan­u­ary and March and asked them four key ques­tions that yield­ed the fol­low­ing results:

  • 72% of res­i­dents had not pre­vi­ous­ly heard about the pro­posed police academy.
  • Only 18% of res­i­dents said that they want­ed a police acad­e­my built in their neighborhood.
  • 86% of res­i­dents said that they did not believe this to be the best use of $95 million.
  • 95% of res­i­dents (regard­less of sup­port for the pro­posed police acad­e­my) rec­om­mend­ed that the city invest in some­thing besides police. Can­vassers col­lect­ed a total of 1,103 rec­om­men­da­tions for oth­er uses of this funding.

These results con­tra­dict Emanuel’s asser­tion that the police acad­e­my fits the desires of every mem­ber of the West Side.” NCA orga­niz­ers say that he nev­er actu­al­ly asked res­i­dents what they want­ed. We did the city’s job for them and talked to peo­ple in the neigh­bor­hood,” says Maria Her­nan­dez, a West Side res­i­dent and Black Lives Mat­ter orga­niz­er who helped to coor­di­nate the com­mu­ni­ty survey.

Pro­po­nents of the plan for the police acad­e­my, such as West Garfield Park Ald. Emma Mitts, claim that the project will boost eco­nom­ic devel­op­ment in the neigh­bor­hood in addi­tion to its goals of improv­ing polic­ing in the city. Last Novem­ber, City Coun­cil approved the use of Tax Incre­ment Financ­ing (TIF) mon­ey from the dis­trict to pur­chase the land for the acad­e­my. TIF mon­ey is sup­posed to serve as extra fund­ing for projects that pro­mote eco­nom­ic devel­op­ment in blight­ed areas” of the city. While the con­struc­tion is pro­ject­ed to pro­duce around 100 jobs, these would be tem­po­rary and thus would not have a sig­nif­i­cant eco­nom­ic impact on the local community.

The May­oral Race

The police acad­e­my has been Emanuel’s project since its incep­tion. The upcom­ing 2019 may­oral race pro­vides the oppor­tu­ni­ty to elect a can­di­date with dif­fer­ent pri­or­i­ties when it comes to Chicago’s bud­get and polic­ing meth­ods, espe­cial­ly giv­en Emanuel’s recent announce­ment that he will not be seek­ing re-elec­tion. Because the plans for the new acad­e­my are already in motion, it is an issue that all can­di­dates will have to con­sid­er in their bids for mayor.

In These Times reached out to all can­di­dates who had announced their bids by the begin­ning of Sep­tem­ber. Of the six who respond­ed, none sup­port the cur­rent plan for a police acad­e­my — still, very few took a con­crete stand on NCA’s demands.

May­oral can­di­dates Dorothy Brown, Ja’Mal Green, Lori Light­foot and Gar­ry McCarthy all not­ed the impor­tance of invest­ing in police train­ing to dif­fer­ent extents while still under­scor­ing the urgency of invest­ment in under­served com­mu­ni­ties. Sim­i­lar­ly, Troy La Raviere not­ed that the DOJ inves­ti­ga­tion meant that the city would have to rethink and rein­vest in polic­ing, but that $95 mil­lion was too big a price tag and that the acad­e­my alone would not address the DOJ’s 99 rec­om­men­da­tions. Ja’Mal Green agreed, adding that we can­not pre­tend that police train­ing is the same as eco­nom­ic development.

All of these can­di­dates claimed to sup­port NCA’s demands for invest­ment in the West Side and under­served youth in gen­er­al but seemed wary of tak­ing too strong of a stance against invest­ment in polic­ing. This vague stance is not sur­pris­ing com­ing from McCarthy, the ex-chief of police who was fired over the Laquan McDon­ald case.

Ama­ra Enyia, the most recent can­di­date to announce her bid for may­or, claimed a posi­tion to the left of her com­peti­tors. Enyia is a West Side res­i­dent who has put in time orga­niz­ing on the ground with Good­Kids Mad­C­i­ty and believes that polic­ing is not the answer to vio­lence. Enyia wants to look beyond the issue of the police acad­e­my and reimag­ine not only the $95 mil­lion police acad­e­my bud­get but the entire $10 bil­lion bud­get of the city. It’s about cri­tiquing the city’s pri­or­i­ties and about the fact that the way the city invests its resources is a reflec­tion of those pri­or­i­ties,” says Enyia.

Look­ing Forward

Through NCA, youth like Har­ris are tak­ing con­crete steps to pro­mote change in the city. Ear­li­er this month Har­ris and a friend from BLM orga­nized their own can­vass at Ald. Jason Ervin’s Back to School event to warn peo­ple about his sup­port of the police academy.

As of today, NCA has endorse­ments from 80 orga­ni­za­tions across the city, and the organization’s vis­i­bil­i­ty and sup­port is like­ly to spread with the pub­li­ca­tion of their sur­vey. As the may­oral race esca­lates, can­di­dates will need to make their stance on the city’s police acad­e­my and invest­ment dis­par­i­ty clear. So far, few can­di­dates have tak­en a strong posi­tion on the police acad­e­my and now is the time for them to think seri­ous­ly about how they will dif­fer­en­ti­ate them­selves from the pack. Giv­en that Emanuel will not be seek­ing anoth­er term, the race will be a chance to vote in a fresh per­spec­tive on how Chica­go politi­cians engage with a lega­cy of racist bud­get­ing in the city.

Isabel Bloom is a sum­mer 2018 In These Times edi­to­r­i­al intern.
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