Here’s Why Chicago Activists Are Against Rahm Emanuel’s $95 Million Cop Academy

A conversation with Monica Trinidad, a Chicago-based artist and organizer.

Sarah Jaffe November 24, 2017

Speakers against the police academy at City Hall on the day of the vote for the land use, November 8, 2017. (Matt McLoughlin)

Wel­come to Inter­views for Resis­tance. We’re now sev­er­al months into the Trump admin­is­tra­tion, and activists have scored some impor­tant vic­to­ries in those months. Yet there is always more to be done, and for many peo­ple, the ques­tion of where to focus and how to help remains. In this series, we talk with orga­niz­ers, agi­ta­tors and edu­ca­tors about how to resist — and build a bet­ter world.

It is about building up power among our different communities and friends—and building a united front against the things that are harming our communities.

Mon­i­ca Trinidad: My name is Mon­i­ca Trinidad. I am an artist and an orga­niz­er in Chica­go, born and raised here on the far South Side. Cur­rent­ly I am orga­niz­ing with For the Peo­ple Artists Col­lec­tive and also the People’s Response Team.

Sarah Jaffe: We are here to talk about one par­tic­u­lar cam­paign hap­pen­ing in Chica­go right now, which is around the con­struc­tion of a new police acad­e­my. To start off with, tell our lis­ten­ers what that is and, in par­tic­u­lar, what they are bud­get­ing for it.

Mon­i­ca: Over the 4th of July week­end, Rahm Emanuel, who is a real­ly awful, awful may­or, threw out this pro­pos­al to build a $95 mil­lion police acad­e­my. He orig­i­nal­ly framed it as a pub­lic-train­ing safe­ty cen­ter. That is sort of the mes­sag­ing he is using in main­stream news out­lets. Real­ly, it is $95 mil­lion for a new, fan­cy, shiny build­ing for the police force here in Chica­go, in a city where we already spend rough­ly $1.5 bil­lion on police every year. 

That is about $4 mil­lion every sin­gle day that goes into polic­ing from our city bud­get. That is more than the city spends on the Depart­ments of Pub­lic Health, Fam­i­ly and Sup­port Ser­vices, Trans­porta­tion and plan­ning and Devel­op­ment (which includes afford­able housing).

Basi­cal­ly, Rahm Emanuel tried to slide this under the radar on 4th of July week­end think­ing nobody would pay atten­tion. But we did. We saw it and were like, No, this is not what we need in our com­mu­ni­ty right now. This is not what we are ask­ing for.” The No Cop Acad­e­my cam­paign is an effort that is sup­port­ed by com­mu­ni­ty orga­ni­za­tions from across the city. There are about 40 orga­ni­za­tions right now that are part of this coalition.

We are say­ing that $95 mil­lion needs to be invest­ed in our com­mu­ni­ties and not in more police train­ing and more police train­ing grounds. The cam­paign is being led by Assata’s Daugh­ters, which is a young Black women and femme orga­ni­za­tion in Wash­ing­ton Park. It is also in coali­tion with the People’s Response Team, For the Peo­ple Artists Col­lec­tive, Black Lives Mat­ter Chica­go, BYP 100. The list is incred­i­bly long. The cam­paign is only about two months old now. It start­ed as a rapid response cam­paign and it still is. But we are in it for the long run.

Sarah: Some of the mon­ey that Chica­go spends on polic­ing is on pay­ing out set­tle­ments over police vio­lence. Take us through the recent his­to­ry of the Chica­go Police Depart­ment and Rahm Emanuel’s involvement.

Mon­i­ca: In Chica­go, numer­ous peo­ple have already been killed by the Chica­go pol­i­cy depart­ment this year. We know that a huge amount of mon­ey goes towards set­tle­ments. We are hear­ing these argu­ments from alder­men that, Well, if we have bet­ter police train­ing, we won’t have to be pay­ing out all of these big huge set­tle­ments.” That is not nec­es­sar­i­ly true, when you think about polic­ing and the police force as inher­ent­ly vio­lent, as hav­ing roots in oppres­sion and being anti-Black.

When you think about the ways in which we are talk­ing about this police train­ing cen­ter and how this is going to be bet­ter for our city, we are say­ing, Absolute­ly not.” This is not where our mon­ey needs to be going. Our mon­ey needs to be put into resources. Rahm closed 50 schools in 2013, some of them in that neigh­bor­hood where they want to build that police acad­e­my. It is very clear that Rahm is say­ing he is sup­port­ing schools and resources for cops, but not for the Black kids.

We are try­ing to say that real com­mu­ni­ty safe­ty comes from ful­ly fund­ed schools and men­tal health cen­ters, job train­ing pro­grams and social and eco­nom­ic jus­tice in our com­mu­ni­ties. It does not come from expand­ing resources for policing.

A lot of us who are involved in this cur­rent coali­tion were part of We Charge Geno­cide, which was an effort in Chica­go in 2014 where we went to the Unit­ed Nations in Gene­va, Switzer­land to sub­mit a report on the huge amount of police vio­lence being com­mit­ted against young peo­ple of col­or in our city. We were there, and we did direct action inside of the Unit­ed Nations call­ing atten­tion to the mur­der of Dominique Damo” Franklin. His fam­i­ly recent­ly got paid out about $200,000 in a set­tle­ment for wrong­ful death.

This cycle keeps repeat­ing over and over. Some­body is mur­dered by the Chica­go police. A huge set­tle­ment gets paid out. Then it hap­pens over and over again. If they think that open­ing up a brand new police acad­e­my is going to stop this, then they are just entire­ly wrong.

Sarah: This kind of cam­paign fol­lows from the invest/​divest frame­work that has been dis­cussed a lot in the last cou­ple of years. Could you talk a lit­tle bit more about that frame­work and why it has been effec­tive for pre­vi­ous cam­paigns, par­tic­u­lar­ly for this one?

Mon­i­ca: Even from an artist per­spec­tive, some­thing Chica­go is real­ly, real­ly good at is under­stand­ing the role that art plays in orga­niz­ing and activist spaces, under­stand­ing the impor­tance of the cul­tur­al work­er, under­stand­ing the impor­tance of open­ing up our imag­i­na­tions to end­less pos­si­bil­i­ties of a world out­side of what we are actu­al­ly exist­ing in right now. So when we think about $95 mil­lion, we are like, What could we actu­al­ly be doing with that money?”

There is so much we could be doing with that mon­ey! It is just absurd that they want to put more mon­ey into the police depart­ment when $95 mil­lion could pay for more men­tal health clin­ics in our city. It could mean one brand new high school. A new school in Engle­wood would cost $75 mil­lion. It could build 5 new Chica­go Pub­lic Library branches.

We are being giv­en this one option from our city that says, Oh, we are going to give you more polic­ing.” Then, peo­ple say okay, because every­body wants more. More, more, more. We want resources. But no one is stop­ping and ask­ing our com­mu­ni­ties, What would you actu­al­ly like to see done with $95 mil­lion?” That is where we are com­ing in and inform­ing our com­mu­ni­ties and say­ing, Here are all the things that we could actu­al­ly ben­e­fit from in our city, and here is what they are propos­ing.” This is not okay. This is not right.

Also, this isn’t a trans­par­ent process. This plan was devel­oped long before it even was made pub­lic. And there has been no pub­lic com­ment or input what­so­ev­er on the plan at any stage. We are mak­ing it clear to our com­mu­ni­ties that this plan is being put for­ward with­out our input dur­ing a time when our may­or is say­ing that the city is broke. But appar­ent­ly, he can find mon­ey when he wants to.

That is where we are com­ing from with the invest/​divest. Let’s ask our com­mu­ni­ties and folks who are direct­ly impact­ed by a lot of the vio­lence that is hap­pen­ing and say, What actu­al­ly would make this vio­lence stop?” That would be job train­ing, and that would be after-school pro­grams. I think that imag­i­na­tion piece is what is often miss­ing in the con­ver­sa­tions around what we could actu­al­ly invest our mon­ey in.

The beau­ti­ful orga­niz­ing that hap­pens in Chica­go expands our imag­i­na­tions and allows us to demand the impossible.

Sarah: Tell us about this coali­tion that is work­ing on this and how it came together.

Mon­i­ca: Just last year we had the #ByeAni­ta cam­paign. That was a cam­paign to oust our state’s attor­ney Ani­ta Alvarez who was block­ing any sort of progress in mov­ing for­ward in any sort of jus­tice in our city. It was after the Laquan McDon­ald video came out. We know that she played a huge role in keep­ing that under­cov­er and under wraps. We came togeth­er as an orga­ni­za­tion, led by the Black women and femmes of Assata’s Daugh­ters. The fear­less lead­ing youth said, Bye” — and she was out.

It also comes from work­ing togeth­er with peo­ple with­in the repa­ra­tions ordi­nance fight. Those are some of the same who we won repa­ra­tions after 20 years for Jon Burge tor­ture sur­vivors in our city and won a huge pack­age. A huge finan­cial pack­age. A memo­r­i­al should be going up soon, which is one of the first of its kind to have a memo­r­i­al ded­i­cat­ed to peo­ple that have been vic­tims of police vio­lence. That is some­thing just unheard of. Then, also, includ­ing this his­to­ry in Chica­go Pub­lic School cur­ricu­lum. It is this huge, huge success.

Again, I want to empha­size that this is being led by young Black peo­ple, in par­tic­u­lar, by Assata’s Daugh­ters. We are tak­ing cues and tak­ing the lead from young Black peo­ple who are say­ing, This is not what we want. We do not want more police harass­ment and vio­lence. We want mon­ey for the schools.” That is how it came together.

It start­ed out very small. We knew that this was being hid­den from the pub­lic, so we real­ly just want­ed to make some noise about it. We put out a state­ment, and we did a press con­fer­ence, and we sort of just hoped for the best. Then, so many orga­ni­za­tions start­ed reach­ing out to us to endorse the cam­paign, orga­ni­za­tions that we haven’t worked with before. Edu­ca­tion and eco­nom­ic jus­tice groups were reach­ing out to us and being like, Yes, this is exact­ly what we are say­ing.” It was real­ly a beau­ti­ful moment when we thought, Wow, we could real­ly build a huge coali­tion of orga­ni­za­tions across the spec­trums in our city to demand bet­ter for our city.”

We are about 40 orga­ni­za­tions strong now and still grow­ing every day. We get at least three or four requests to endorse per day, as well as press cov­er­age across the coun­try. It has real­ly tak­en off. I real­ly think that it shows the des­per­a­tion that our com­mu­ni­ties have, that we are like This $95 mil­lion does not make any sense.”

What we want is account­abil­i­ty. Some­thing that keeps com­ing up is the Depart­ment of Jus­tice came to Chica­go and gave us their 99 rec­om­men­da­tions. Can they tell me how many rec­om­men­da­tions have been tak­en care of that will decrease the vio­lence that police are per­pet­u­at­ing on our com­mu­ni­ties? No. What they are doing first and fore­most is cre­at­ing a $95 mil­lion shiny new build­ing. What we are say­ing is that we want account­abil­i­ty, not a new facil­i­ty. And we want transparency.

Sarah: You men­tioned the Jus­tice Depart­ment and, of course, Don­ald Trump loves to use Chica­go as his exam­ple of a place where there is all this vio­lence. Rahm Emanuel want­ed to be one of the peo­ple who was resist­ing Trump, what­ev­er that means. But when you look at this kind of thing, his pri­or­i­ties are not actu­al­ly that different.

Mon­i­ca: Absolute­ly. You hear Rahm talk­ing about being a sanc­tu­ary city and a place where police nev­er coop­er­ate and nev­er col­lab­o­rate with ICE. We are like, Wrong. That is absolute­ly wrong and you are a liar.”

We have a Chica­go gang data­base. Nobody knows how you get on this data­base. Nobody knows how to get off this data­base. It is just this arbi­trary, non-trans­par­ent data­base where peo­ple get put on it, and that is one of the excep­tions to police and ICE col­lab­o­rat­ing. BYP 100 Chica­go and Mijente are doing a lot of bril­liant work in Chica­go to ampli­fy and expose that.

Rahm is such a liar when it comes to being the antithe­sis to Don­ald Trump. He is using Trump pol­i­tics. He is Chicago’s Trump, basi­cal­ly. The idea that he is the resis­tance to Trump is anoth­er nar­ra­tive we want to dis­rupt as a campaign.

Sarah: There was just a city coun­cil meet­ing to vote on the police acad­e­my. Talk about what went on at the city coun­cil meet­ing and what the next steps are.

Mon­i­ca: There was a city coun­cil vote two weeks ago. Basi­cal­ly, 48 to 1 vot­ed in favor of the land acqui­si­tion for 30 acres of vacant land for that acad­e­my. The one sole alder­man who opposed it was Alder­man Car­los Ramirez Rosa from the 35th Ward. He gave a speech about how police train­ing isn’t going to solve prob­lems that are being high­light­ed in the Jus­tice Depart­ment report and that we don’t need more train­ing, we need more mon­ey for men­tal health ser­vices and schools and not for a police academy.

It is so inter­est­ing. We are very new to work­ing and being involved in the city coun­cil process. I think it is very mud­dled and very con­fus­ing on pur­pose. When we went in, we were like, Okay, let’s get our peo­ple in to make pub­lic com­ments against the police acad­e­my because we know that it is going to be up for vote today. So, let’s get in line. Okay. How do we make a com­ment? What do we do? What do we fill out?”

Also, I am sure many peo­ple have heard that Chance the Rap­per came out to oppose the police acad­e­my, as well. He was there. He gave his three-minute oppo­si­tion to the police acad­e­my. There were also folks from NTA, which is a school in Chica­go that is also fac­ing clo­sure. There were dozens of NTA stu­dents who were there who were demand­ing that their school remain open. They also plugged us and said, No police acad­e­my. Fund our schools. Not this.”

Then, there were also folks there from Uptown Tent City who are basi­cal­ly call­ing out their alder­man, James Cap­ple­man, who is harass­ing the home­less and tak­ing away their abil­i­ty to have a tent com­mu­ni­ty in Uptown area. They were also say­ing, No cop acad­e­my. Cre­ate home­less shel­ters and cre­ate hous­ing for home­less people.”

So, we have all these dif­fer­ent peo­ple who are all say­ing, We are opposed to this police acad­e­my.” Then, when the time for the vote comes up, you have all of these alder­men who are say­ing why they sup­port the police acad­e­my. And before this, there were all these dif­fer­ent line items that were just being vot­ed on and passed, vot­ed on and passed, vot­ed on and passed. We real­ly believe that this land acqui­si­tion vote, which was also just a line item, would have just had that vote and been done with had we not been mak­ing the noise that we have been mak­ing. Then, they spent an hour defend­ing this police acad­e­my being built. I don’t think they would have done that if we weren’t there.

The way they vot­ed wasn’t a sur­prise, espe­cial­ly know­ing that this entire process hasn’t been trans­par­ent, with­out pub­lic com­ment. The way that city coun­cil works is not about democ­ra­cy. So we already knew this wasn’t going to hap­pen the way that we want­ed. But I think that we were real­ly curi­ous to see what was going to hap­pen inside of the city council.

And we said, Okay, next steps. Let’s focus on putting pres­sure on the alder­men.” We want­ed to show these alder­man that peo­ple felt real­ly polar­ized about this cam­paign and where their alder­man stood. After this vote hap­pened, my Face­book wall was flood­ed with peo­ple who were like, How dare my alder­man vote for this police acad­e­my! I am com­mit­ting to vot­ing you out in 2019.”

So you are see­ing this huge surge in con­stituent pow­er that is hap­pen­ing right now. Peo­ple are real­ly pissed off and are com­mit­ting to recre­at­ing the #ByeAni­ta cam­paign for all of these dif­fer­ent alder­man. I think that these alder­man real­ly made a huge mis­take and mis­cal­cu­lat­ed their votes.

Sarah: Do you know what the next steps are or where the next oppor­tu­ni­ties to stop this are?

Mon­i­ca: Yes, it is not a done deal yet. They still have to find a con­trac­tor. They still have to fig­ure out financ­ing. This build­ing is not a done deal yet, because they still don’t know exact­ly how they are going to pay for the project. They are still about $37 mil­lion short. I think that is also a huge area of ques­tion, of How can we orga­nize around that?”

It is going to be brought back to city coun­cil in the future. So, there is still time to orga­nize around that. And I think there is still time to turn alder­men around and stop it. We are re-strate­giz­ing, we are re-group­ing, and we are fig­ur­ing out the next steps.

Even if this police acad­e­my gets built, I think we have already won. I think we have already been suc­cess­ful in expos­ing the ways that the city real­ly doesn’t care what its com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers think or what its con­stituents think. They are still going to do what­ev­er Rahm says to do. Expos­ing that is some­thing that we have real­ly been suc­cess­ful at.

I think it is impor­tant to give room to have con­ver­sa­tions around abo­li­tion, to have con­ver­sa­tions around alter­na­tives to polic­ing, alter­na­tives to pris­ons. It is about build­ing up pow­er among our dif­fer­ent com­mu­ni­ties and friends — and build­ing a unit­ed front against the things that are harm­ing our com­mu­ni­ties. And it is about chang­ing the nar­ra­tive. I think that is some­thing we have been real­ly suc­cess­ful at in this cam­paign so far.

Right in the begin­ning, Rahm was try­ing to call this this pub­lic train­ing safe­ty cen­ter, and that was the lan­guage that was being uti­lized uni­ver­sal­ly in the news. Now, it is being referred to as the cop acad­e­my.” Now it is being referred to as exact­ly what it is. In that sense, we have also won by chang­ing the nar­ra­tive. Now, next steps are keep­ing the pres­sure on.

Sarah: How can peo­ple keep up with you and with the campaign?

Mon­i­ca: Peo­ple can vis­it us at www.NoCopAcademy.word­ We post a lot of updates on the People’s Response Team Face­book page, Assata’s Daugh­ters Face­book page, and For the Peo­ple Artists Col­lec­tive Face­book page. Lots of updates there. If peo­ple want to get on the endorser’s list, if you are an orga­ni­za­tion in Chica­go that wants to join us, you can email us at nocopacademy@​gmail.​com.

Inter­views for Resis­tance is a project of Sarah Jaffe, with assis­tance from Lau­ra Feuille­bois and sup­port from the Nation Insti­tute. It is also avail­able as a pod­cast on iTunes. Not to be reprint­ed with­out permission.

Sarah Jaffe is a for­mer staff writer at In These Times and author of Nec­es­sary Trou­ble: Amer­i­cans in Revolt , which Robin D.G. Kel­ley called The most com­pelling social and polit­i­cal por­trait of our age.” You can fol­low her on Twit­ter @sarahljaffe.
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