By Patrick Forrest
As protesters nationwide begin to push for changes in police departments, many local activists are urging Mayor Lori Lightfoot to either defund or abolish the Chicago Police Department. Following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, that city’s council has made strides toward dismantling the police force and replacing it with a more community oriented response system.
After steps have been taken in New York and Los Angeles, Chicago remains the largest American city to yet announce some change in police budgeting. The city has budgeted nearly $1.8 billion for the Chicago Police Department in 2020, according to Chicago’s budget overview, with an additional $153 million set aside for legal settlements including police misconduct cases.
Many are calling on that amount to be drastically cut and a new focus on social services, job programs and community focused spending that would make a large police force less necessary.
“Right now we’re talking about mental health, that’s what we’re talking about. It’s funding for community centers. We’re talking about afterschool programs. We’re talking about grants that can go towards food banks,” said Jalen Kobayashi a 19-year-old Morgan Park High School graduate and member of GoodKid MadCity.
Many, like Kobayashi who have joined street protests under the GoodKid MadCity name, have called for the abolition of the police force. This would require the city council to remove all funding from the police department and reinvestment in community resources. Elected officials have been skittish about that, instead focusing on funding reductions.
“You cannot create the world that you cannot imagine. So, I think the defund the police idea has the intent in the right place. But we can’t allow people to hold us back on our goal because they can’t imagine it. A similar thing happened with slavery and instead of getting rid of that they just re-imagined it into the prison labor system that we have now,” said Kobayashi.
With a growing number of voices pushing for greater changes and funds to be moved away from the police, another proponent of the movement growing from Chicago’s youth is the call to remove the police from Chicago Public Schools.
“We need to be funding different resources for Black and brown communities, there is so much money that is being given to people that are known for murdering us, brutalizing us, and beating us,” Alycia Kamil, a 19-year-old Kenwood Academy grad who is also a member of GoodKid MadCity, said.
“The trainings obviously aren’t working, there are cop academies and all kinds of safety precautions. It goes to show that the use of police officers does not work, and there are other restorative justice practices that can ensure we are all safe.”
Despite the mayor’s previous statements not showing support for budgetary restrictions on the department or any adjustment in their role within the schools, a group of aldermen have proposed the “Police Free Schools Ordinance,” which would require CPD to terminate its $33 million contract to provide police officers as security at CPS buildings within 75 days.
“For years parents, teachers and students have questioned why police are in schools,” Alderman Jeanette Taylor, one of the ordinance co-sponsors said in a statement.
“The trauma and harm that was done by this practice can never be erased. The money we spend on CPD in CPS can be used for a nurse, counselor, and real restorative justice programs that our students will need once they return to school.”
Another of the changes proposed to the department is a working group, brought together to review and suggest changes on use of force policies to the police department, following weekly virtual meetings over the next two months.
“I am a representative of the community, of the people, because I loved someone I lost to police violence here in the city,” Arewa Karen Winters, whose great-nephew, 16-year-old Pierre Loury, was shot and killed by a Chicago police officer in 2016, said.
Even with the proposed changes many activists who have taken to the street do not approve of how Lightfoot has handled the department in response to grievances that have been brought to her attention.
“She’s a Black queer woman in the city of Chicago. She has had to make a lot of sacrifices and she has had to navigate and play a lot of roles in the politics,” Kobayashi said.
“That being said, she is a dictator. She never listens. She does not like to take outside advice from people.”