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Chicago’s ‘Green Zone’: Community Coalition Opposes City Plans For Massive Police Training Compound

The city of Chicago plans to build a massive multi-million dollar training center for police and firefighters in the West Garfield Park neighborhood. But a coalition of community organizations contend the center will compound President Donald Trump’s “multi-pronged attack” on communities of color and expand the Chicago Police Department’s “capacity for violence.”

Last week, the city’s Community Development Commission approved a 30.4-acre land acquisition in a northwest industrial corridor tax-increment-financing (TIF) district in Chicago. A $95 million “state-of-the-art” compound will be built by 2020 for police, firefighters, and emergency medical services teams to train together.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel hailed the facility as a destination, where out-of-state police agencies can send officers for training. It will spur “real economic development” with people from the suburbs and down state traveling to the center.

Similarly, Alderman Emma Mitts, whose ward includes West Garfield Park, asserted the community is “excited” about having “a lot more police” in the area. She also claimed there will be new economic opportunities.

“I’ve lived there over 35 years, and it’s been vacant since I’ve been there,” Mitts said. “The community has been complaining about no retail there. So, I changed the zoning not knowing they were going to put the police and fire academy across the street. Hopefully, we can attract the retail they were talking about like grocery stores. They have to go outside of the neighborhood; nothing in walking distance, where you can get good produce.”

However, Page May of Assata’s Daughters, who is part of the coalition, contended the compound is “an investment in policing. It is an investment in the Chicago Police Department. This is not an investment in the west side of Chicago.”

Debbie Southorn, a part of the People’s Response Team, which is also a part of the coalition against the compound, said it is a “little bizarre” to believe a police presence will make the area suddenly appealing to retail.

“If you actually look at where they’re talking about building this, it’s in a industrial corridor. It’s actually part of a TIF district. It’s the northwest industrial corridor so it’s flanked by a super busy intersection and then a factory and a [Chicago Transit Authority] fleet area,” Southorn added. “The idea that there is going to be cops walking around crossing north of Chicago into the neighborhood to go shopping is pretty bizarre and doesn’t accurately reflect this will be a self-contained compound that will most likely have the things that the people going there need.”

It is also “pretty problematic” to speak of “cops as consumers rather than armed officers with a lot of power and historical racialized relationships with the community.”

There is a notion from Emanuel and the city of Chicago that this may allow the police to reset. The city government covered up a video of Laquan McDonald, when he was shot and killed by Officer Jason Van Dyke, who was charged with first-degree murder. The Justice Department conducted an investigation that found Chicago police frequently use violence, lie about it, and suffer from systemic racism. Community residents are to believe this compound will solve the corruption.

Yet, from the images released of the planned compound, it will be several buildings and closed to the community. There will be a track, a swimming pool, a shooting range, and space for simulations of “active scenarios.” Members of the coalition believe it could be similar to the Green Zone compound in Iraq.

May said it will be a “little fortress.” There will be many more “off-duty police, people arriving from work” and “taking their break” in the area. That does not mean community residents will not be more susceptible to police brutality. It was Dante Servin, an off-duty police officer, who killed Rekia Boyd.

The Justice Department issued 99 recommendations to the city of Chicago for police reform. According to the Chicago Reporter, only six were adopted so far. Twenty-three reforms are essentially in the planning phase. More than half may or may not be implemented ever.

“To immediately jump to we’re going to invest another $95 million on top of the $200 million overtime that we’re on track to spend this year, the $600 million we’ve spent on misconduct cases in the last six years, the $4 million per day that we spend just on the regular budget,” Southorn said, “to pour more money into police without prioritizing actual accountability and sort of commitments to respond to concerns of people, who experience the most violence, really shows the priorities of the mayor. This is about using the DOJ’s report to say, ‘Oh, sweet, we can build this new project.'”

The city will benefit from selling the property, where the current police academy is located. In fact, that is how they plan to pay for the training compound.

“Anything that trickles down comes at a huge cost,” May stated. “This is already in a neighborhood, where we’re seeing people are being gunned down by police and people are being hyper-criminalized by the police.”

If Emanuel is seriously interested in community investment and stabilizing communities, May said he would propose a youth jobs training center. A facility for ensuring 16-18 year-olds get jobs will do far more to reduce crime. She also recommended investments in mental health care centers, schools, grocery stores, and child care centers.

Simply having police more present in a community is not going to create safety and reduce crime any more than having books on a shelf in a home makes a person literate. In fact, it may even exacerbate tensions between communities of color and police even more, leading to an uptick in police brutality.

“We spend 300% [more] on the CPD as a city than we do on the departments of public health, family and support services, transportation, and planning and development (which handles affordable housing). This plan is being praised as a development opportunity to help local residents around the proposed site, but when Rahm closed 50 schools in 2013, six were in this neighborhood. The message is clear: Rahm supports schools and resources for cops, not for Black and Brown kids,” the coalition stated on their website.

The coalition plans to spend the rest of 2017 canvassing communities and asking them what they would rather build with $95 million. There will also be demonstrations outside the mayor’s office.

“We’re trying to make noise to show Rahm we have not forgotten,” Southorn declared. “We didn’t forget Laquan. We didn’t forget Rekia. We’re still watching him. We see that he’s trying to pour more money without committing to meaningful reform, and we’re not going to go away soon.”

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."