By Patrick Forrest, Chicago Crusader
Pat Hill, former executive director of Chicago’s African American Police League, died on Sunday at the age of 66 after a four year battle with cervical cancer.
“Pat was an iconic, tenacious activist who fought hard for the African-American community in every campaign she touched,” said Dr. Conrad Worrill, professor emeritus at Northeastern Illinois University’s Jacob H. Carruthers Center for Inner City Studies.
She grew up near Princeton Park, where she attended Harlan High School and excelled in track and field. She ran with Mayor Richard J. Daley’s Youth Foundation track team, where she was mentored by the legendary Willye White, who participated in track and field at five Olympics.
“Her senior year in high school, she only missed making the U.S. Olympic team long jump by a quarter inch,” Worrill said.
In 1968, she was stirred by the famous moment when sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos gave the Black power salute at the Olympics.
“That was the foundation of her activism,” stated Worrill.
Hill split her college years between Northern Illinois University and Chicago State University, where she ran track and field, played basketball and continued to excel athletically.
Upon graduating, she spent 12 years teaching physical education at a number of city high schools, including Taft, Clemente, Prosser and Collins.
“I began to notice how dependent the Black community was on the police. The gangs were flourishing, people seemed to feel helpless and they were always calling the police.” Hill said of her decision to leave teaching in a 2016 interview with the Chicago Reader.
“They were not being treated well. It was as if you were imposing on the police when you called them, as if you don’t deserve service. A lot of my students were involved in gangs, and many of them had gotten killed.”
In 1986, she joined the Chicago Police department and served on the security detail for Mayor Harold Washington before becoming executive director of the African American Police League.
“I thought, ‘Wow, maybe I want to try to be a police officer,’” Hill said. “Because I want to work for the first Black mayor of Chicago, I was given the opportunity to become a bodyguard for Mayor Harold Washington.”
After 21 years on the force, Hill retired, but continued to keep an eye in the aftermath of her work.
“We suspended the league in 2012 because of a lack of interest. I had retired in 2007; I was becoming obsolete. The league was important because it demonstrated that when you had Black officers, Black people got better service.” Hill said.
She went on to say, “The killings and treatment of Blacks today is more egregious than it was then, so it shows that having the league had some effect. It’s not necessarily about more Black police officers, but more police officers that want to be Black. If you get more Black officers, there will be a change.”
After retiring, she lectured at Northeastern’s Carruthers Center for Inner City Studies, taking classes to Selma, AL to “be a part of the reenactment of Bloody Sunday with Rep. John Lewis,” Worrill said.
During the time, she continued to speak out with those fighting for police reform as well.
“If you don’t like what’s going on become the police,” Hill said. “I’m a prime example of the fact that background investigations couldn’t find everything. They saw a teacher with three children in a home with a white picket fence and neighbors that said, ‘I was a good neighbor.’ But they didn’t find a young Panther sympathizer; they didn’t find a Black nationalist. And had they known that, I would never have had that opportunity, ’cause they don’t want any dissenters.
“My intent was to go into the policing system and to address this stuff with an organization. The policing system in America is an organized system—an organization has to compete against an organization, not individuals.”
Hill, also an avid tennis player, admired Arthur Ashe for his activism and athleticism. She also loved outdoor music festivals and performances by Maze featuring Frankie Beverly. She also enjoyed steak burritos and watching TV’s, “Blue Bloods.”
She is survived by her three children: Stacy, Trennie and Ronald Jr.; and a granddaughter. Visitation is 5 p.m.-8 p.m., Friday, September 8 at Leak and Sons Funeral Home, 7838 South Cottage Grove.