Chicago Defender – The Grassroots Alliance for Police Accountability has released its Community Conversations Report after listening to the concerns of more than 1,650 Chicago residents about police misconduct and community relations.
GAPA is a broad-based coalition of community organizations committed to making neighborhoods safer, improving police practices and accountability and transforming the relationship between the Chicago Police Department and the city’s various communities. The organizations in GAPA touch more than 30 wards—including neighborhoods directly impacted by violence and police brutality.
GAPA came together in the summer of 2016, in direct response to the Police Accountability Task Force’s recommendation to develop a Community Safety Oversight Board, allowing the community to have a powerful platform and role in the police oversight system. “If the community board is to earn the legitimacy it requires and deserves, its precise powers and makeup should not be set by the task force, but should be developed with broad public input,” the report states.
GAPA took that as both a challenge and a goal. Consequently, the alliance’s focus is to “make neighborhoods safer through improving the practices, accountability and community relationships of CPD, as well as involving affected residents in shaping and advancing lasting solutions,” said Mecole Jordan, GAPA coordinator.
Roxanne Smith, a leader with Communities United, is one of many parents who believe police should be more accountable. “In 2004, my son was shot by two Chicago police officers. He was wrongfully accused of having a gun,” explained Smith. “My story is one of many that we see in our city and enough is enough.”
Those attending the citywide community conversations generated nearly 300 different suggestions on how to develop and advocate for plans to improve police accountability and community-police relations. Chicago Lawn resident, Faye Dickerson, read three that most capture community suggestions:
- We need to fundamentally rethink the role of the police officer and restructure the way in which police officers interact with residents.
- Current police practices have created deep mistrust and fear. Especially in predominantly black and Latino neighborhoods, too many police officers engage with residents in ways that are degrading, dehumanizing and probably illegal. As a result, many law-abiding residents don’t just mistrust the police, but fear them.
- We need to abandon overly aggressive police tactics. They don’t just harm its direct victims, they also make it harder for police to address real problems and solve crime. Police officers who are disrespectful, biased and violent poison the communities in which they work and make it impossible to build the trust and working relationships that both residents and police need to fight crime, reduce violence and keep peace.
At the news conference, SOUL organizer, Willie Preston, said one major thing the alliance noticed during community conversations was a lack of information and/or understanding as it relates to current police accountability agencies. “GAPA is committed to engaging, educating, and empowering the communities we serve so community members can guide recommendations for a community oversight board,” said Preston, an Auburn Gresham resident.
GAPA said it plans to continue the process of community education and to work with community leaders and other stakeholders beyond the current group to facilitate a community-driven process as the task force describes in its report. Over the next weeks and months, the alliance also will be working with organizations, both locally and nationally, to exchange ideas, learn best practices, and craft how a community oversight board should look and operate.
Action Now Institute
Community Renewal Society
Inner-city Muslim Action Network
Southwest Organizing Project
Southsiders Organized for Unity and Liberation
Target Area Development Corporation
United Congress of Community and Religious Organizations