Hundreds of Chicagoans packed the Kennedy King Auditorium in Englewood last night, where the Police Board, including head Lori Lightfoot, were addressed by a largely hostile audience who often questioned Board members’ legitimacy. Community members voiced their frustration with “systemic racism” on the police force, a lack of community involvement in leadership decisions, and with the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) contract. Dometi Pongo, a news anchor for WVON who acted as moderator, struggled to keep audience comments to the two-minute limit, repeatedly asking for civility.
Most members of the Police Board, including Claudia Valenzuela, William Conlon, Ghian Foreman, Rev. Michael Eaddy, Rita Fry, and Rhoda Sweeney, sat on stage with Lightfoot and Shari Runner, Interim President and CEO of the Chicago Urban League. Board members had a few opportunities to respond to mostly Black audience members, some who asserted that as mayoral appointees, they could not conduct the search for Supt. Garry McCarthy’s replacement fairly. The application period for the position, which has been filled by Interim Supt. John Escalante since early December, closes on Friday.
While both Lightfoot and Pongo characterized the night as a beginning of a series of conversations about change to the Chicago Police Department, audience members argued the community had already been shut out.
“Will somebody on this board explain clearly how what we say here translates into how you decide the next superintendent? We didn’t make the criteria up,” audience member Pat Hill said of the application. Hill is a former Chicago Police officer who said she’d attended Board meetings over the past 25 years. Hill said the Board did not listen to community objections to former Supt. Jody Weis or McCarthy’s recommendations, and she didn’t believe they would now.
Andy Thayer, co-founder of the Gay Liberation Network, and one of few white attendees to speak, said this call for change was more of the same. “I’ve been going to Police Board meetings for more than 20 years,” he said, “I’ve seen a lot of Superintendents and Board members, and I’m not very impressed with another promise of reform.”
Lightfoot told Hill and others the point of the evening was, “to take specific feedback from the community before we interview candidates,” which, “will be integrated in the process we use to interview candidates and make our ultimate recommendations on who our choices should be.” Three candidates are expected to be presented to Mayor Rahm Emanuel by the end of February.
But most didn’t feel heard. Ja’Mal Green, a familiar face in the Black Friday and Magnificent Mile protests, said, “This meeting has made me sick to my stomach. All I’m looking at are the Mayor’s puppets.” He stopped mid-statement to note that Vance Henry, the Deputy Chief of Staff for Community & Faith Based Initiatives in the Mayor’s Office, had left the room. “If I were a Black person on this Board… I would have stepped down.”
He and 15-20 others exited the meeting early after a heated exchange between Pongo and an audience member who repeatedly tried to ask Rhoda Sweeney, a white retired Cook County Judge now serving on the Police Board, how she felt when she watched the Laquan McDonald video.
“I think people are going to come out of here more unsettled than they came in,” an audience member named Lauren Taylor said, “Most of what needs to be done, you can’t do,” he said to the Board. He was one of a few who called for the resignation ofMayor Rahm Emanuel and State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez.
Several elected officials were in attendance, including several aldermen: Pat Dowell(3), Raymond Lopez (15), Toni Foulkes (16), David Moore (17), Willie B. Cochran(20), and Scott Waguespack (32), plus Cook County Board of Review CommissionerLarry R. Rogers Jr., and Chicago Inspector General Joe Ferguson. But just one spoke to the panel, Cook County Clerk of the Circuit Court Dorothy Brown, who read from a written statement. She said the next Superintendent should work to address subconscious racism and bias within the force, as well as over- and excessive use of force.
Others took a softer tone. Lisa Daniels said her son, Darren Easterling, was killed in a drug deal gone wrong. She wanted to see a cultural shift in the police department and the community, which she said she knew would take time. “Our community is divided. We’re afraid of our own people, of each other, and that’s where the changes need to be made,” she said, as one of the last speakers of the night. “We need a superintendent who can lead, who has compassion, and who has an understanding of the urban plight.”