Chicago Police Reform Still Unsettled

A seminal experience in Carlil Pittman’s life came when a Chicago police officer pulled him out of class at Gage Park High School making vague accusations he didn’t understand, then began searching the 16-year-old boy, rummaging through his pockets and backpack. Just as classes were changing the officer took Pittman’s pants down – in front of all his classmates – as part of the continued and fruitless search. A childhood that made him all too familiar with the stop-and-frisk policy turned into a recent incident in which Chicago police officers approached his car, with his four children inside, flashlights shining in Pittman’s face and hands on their weapons after the family had seen “Power Rangers.’’

“That’s why it’s personal for me to see a real police reform and accountability ordinance,’’ said Pittman, 27, co-founder of GoodKidsMadCity, an organizer with the Southwest Organizing Project, and a member of the Grassroots Alliance for Police Accountability, GAPA. “We need reform that has real teeth and real accountability.’’

That reform would not only be real but a giant, progressive step with supporters calling it the most significant police reform in America if it passes in the City Council. It would be the fruit of a half decade of labor, community input, and involvement from more than 100 groups across the city.

A WARNING to Young, Black Males and Those Who Love Them

 L’A Capone’s song, Shooters, blasted as the walls of the small apartment shook. Thick smoke from marijuana-filled cigars called blunts hung over the heads of 15 to 20 young; Black males crammed into the living room. Their eyes barely open, jumping and hollering in unison:

 “It’s some shooters on my squad

It’s some shooters on my squad

If he holding on that work

Then that pussy gettin’ robbed”

 They never missed a word, never missed a beat as they recited the lyrics of the Drill rap song like a battlefield war cry. Their dread heads bobbed wildly up and down. Their guns flashed, pointed directly into the camera while they threw hand gestures that signified their gang affiliation.

COVID-19 Relief Draws Criticism

Several cities across the nation received federal discretionary dollars last year to help cover COVID-19 related costs. The Coronavirus Relief Fund (CRF) payments could be used for public health and safety response efforts, testing sites and economic support initiatives, as long as the costs were “necessary expenditures” incurred due to the pandemic, according to the U.S. Department of the Treasury. 

Out of the $470 million Chicago received, the city directed $281.5 million to the Chicago Police Department between March 1 and May 15, according to a budget briefing provided to Chicago aldermen in February. This move was met by criticism, including from Ald. Daniel La Spata (1st), who said the money spent on the police department could have been used to directly help Chicagoans struggling from the pandemic. It also came after activist made calls to defund the police amid protests against police brutality in the summer.

Does Shakman Decree Hamper County Government Effectiveness?

For more than a half century government offices in Chicago, Cook County and the State of Illinois have been required to follow anti-patronage hiring practices under federal court rulings known as Shakman Decrees. The rulings came after a lawsuit by Chicago activist attorney Michael Shakman. who wanted to end the political hiring and related corruption that was said to be the norm at all levels of government. While Illinois still ranks as one of the most corrupt and compromised states every year, few would argue the changes that have been made under Shakman have been a significant improvement. But disputes over exactly how to comply with Shakman continue to this day and along with some confusion and frustration comes another problem: A big compliance bill for taxpayers to foot.

Prisons Lagging in COVID-19 Response

Sometimes, Deonta could hear inmates sick with COVID-19 screaming for help from his cell, said his loved one Chrisoula Drivas. 

“The officers would kind of disregard people, so he said it was crazy to hear that people were desperate and no one cared,” she said. Since the onset of the pandemic, advocates like Drivas have raised concerns about inadequate cleaning supplies, unsanitary conditions and a lack of consistent COVID-19 protocols in Illinois Department of Corrections facilities. These are challenges Deonta faced firsthand, she said. In November, one of Deonta’s three cellmates at Dixon Correctional Center tested positive for COVID-19. Though this man was moved to another area to quarantine, the other three were not immediately tested, she said.

Power and Politics in Chicago’s Struggle to Reduce Violence

In 2021, Chicago is on pace to have an even more violent year than in 2020, which saw a 50% jump in homicides. If this uncontrolled violence persists, it could cost the Mayor the next election. To its credit, the City has come up with a solid plan to combat gun violence. It prioritizes police reform and the expansion of social services. Yet, it comes up short of putting a price tag on what it would actually cost to put the plan into action.

The Community Can Deliver A Better COVID-19 Message Than Health Officials

The missteps in the COVID-19 vaccine distribution were predictable. How could anyone expect better from a broken health care system riddled with barriers for people of color due to deeply rooted structural racism and bias? For nearly a year, it’s been widely reported how the pandemic is disproportionately affecting Black and Brown communities across the country. Although Hispanics-Latinos make up a small fraction of the U.S. population, they account for an unfairly large proportion of COVID-19 cases and deaths. In Chicago, the Hispanic-Latino community is being affected by COVID-19 more than any other group, with more than 85,000 confirmed cases and in excess of 1,600 deaths.

South and West Sides Maintain Higher Eviction Rates Despite Statewide Eviction Ban

Chicago eviction rates significantly decreased in 2020 due to the statewide eviction ban, but it has not mitigated the risk of evictions for residents, particularly on the South and West sides. Thirty percent or more of renter households are predicted to face the risk of eviction this year, according to an Aspen Institute report. For Chicago, that would mean more than 20,000 evictions, according to a report by the Lawyers’ Committee for Better Housing and Loyola University Chicago. LCBH reported that “majority Black areas continue to have eviction filing rates substantially higher than in other parts of the city. “The new data shows that majority Black areas had eviction filing rates five times higher than majority white areas, while rates in Latinx neighborhoods were twice as high as those in white areas,” as stated in an LCBH news release on Dec.

Blatant Racism Against Muslims is Still With Us

Shortly after his inauguration, President Joe Biden reversed former President’s Donald Trump’s Muslim Travel Ban, stating those actions are a stain on our national conscience.” This stance aligns with that of the tens of thousands of protesters who, at the time the first Muslim Travel Ban was enacted in January 2017, took to the streets and to airports across the country with slogans such as, “We are all Immigrants,” “Standing with Muslims against Islamophobia,” and “Stop Hatred against Muslims.” To be sure, the Muslim Travel Ban is a racist policy. It seeks to keep out or deport people perceived to be Muslim based upon the racist assumption that “they” are violent potential terrorist enemies of the U.S. nation. The ban was an executive order that prevented individuals from primarily Muslim countries, and later, from many African countries, from entering the United States. Yet ending the Muslim Ban only scratches the surface of a much larger problem. If progressives really want to end anti-Muslim racism, we are going to need a more radical approach, that requires, as Angela Davis reminds us, “grasping things at the root.” The root cause of the Muslim Ban is anti-Muslim racism, which has many roots.

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