By J. Coyden Palmer, Chicago Crusader
A newly formed coalition of community members held a press conference at city hall Wednesday morning demanding that before any ordinance is presented to the city council regarding police reform, public engagement and transparency must take place. The group said this is a sensitive and serious public safety issue and citizens have a right to be involved in the process. The group was formed after last week’s announcement by Mayor Emanuel of changes within the police department from administrators to new policies.
“All parties must come out from behind closed doors and engage in a meaningful, transparent process that recognizes and respects the community members as valuable partners,” said Lori Lightfoot, chairwoman of the Police Accountability Taskforce.
Lightfoot and others say it is necessary to keep a close eye on city officials because the prevailing thoughts of the community is that nothing will change and elected officials are merely “going through the motions” to try and quell public anger towards the police and city officials.
“We have heard from many community members who felt they were duped and misled into believing that their voices mattered,” said Chicago Urban League President and CEO Shari Rauner. “They did their part and went to the taskforce meetings. The taskforce did its part and wrote a very transparent report with salient recommendations. By cherry-picking a few items to implement absent of community input, our elected officials are not doing their jobs on behalf of the people that they serve.”
The Independent Police Review Authority is in the process of being abolished by the mayor. Emanuel is replacing it with a citizen review panel that he is working with the city council on the specifics. IPRA has come under fire for rarely indicting officers in misconduct cases and often declaring police shootings as justified.
“In February, I pledged to adopt a new transparency policy recommended by the Police Accountability Task Force to change the decades-old city practice of waiting to release videos and other evidence from police-involved incidents until the associated investigations concluded,” read a statement from Mayor Emanuel that was released last week in conjunction with the release of over 100 videos that showed police shootings or other questionable aggressive behavior regarding interactions with suspects. “The policy we are implementing today is a major step forward to promote transparency, and it makes us one of the leading cities in America to guarantee timely public access to this breadth of information involving sensitive police incidents. It is important to remember the thousands of hard-working men and women who quietly do dangerous and difficult work to keep us safe each and every day.”
After the press conference, members of the coalition presented a written letter to Mayor Emanuel. The Crusader obtained a copy of the letter. It asks the mayor to continue to follow through on his promise of law enforcement reform. The letter also praises the decision to release the videos but concludes that much more work needs to be done.
“First, the public should be invited into the discussion about all elements of the planned ordinance. There must be meaningful engagement with all the communities that will be deeply affected by the success or failure of these efforts, especially those on the South and West sides of the City. In addition, in this City, we are fortunate to have a significant number of subject matter experts on these and other topics regarding local policing. It is critically important to engage that expertise, as many of these experts already participated in the PATF and/or are members of the legal, academic and reform communities here in Chicago. No ordinance will have any legitimacy without a public, transparent process that includes the community and subject matter experts. This is particularly true of the civilian oversight board,” read the letter in part.
The coalition said they have a genuine concern about who is making the new policy recommendations to the Mayor. What they do not want to see is a unilateral decision being made.
“The Task Force Report made clear that its recommendations were intended to operate in conjunction with one another and that any real plan to affect change would have to include the full range of recommendations,” the letter continued. “There is no need for this work to be cloistered in City Hall when people all over this City can and should be involved in this important community conversation.”