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No Cop Academy In Chicago: Black Students Hold Hours-Long Sit-In At City Hall

Students from Chicago, who are on spring break, spent the day at city hall protesting Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the city’s plans for a $95 million police training center.

Young Black people from Assata’s Daughters, Good Kids Mad City, the Simeon Young Activists Club, and others with the “No Cop Academy” campaign held a sit-in throughout the afternoon in the lobby near elevators. They setup tombstones with the names of public schools, mental health clinics, and people who were killed by Chicago police.

The names were read in this area that typically has steady foot traffic. Several times, the activists engaged in die-ins, where they laid on the ground near the graveyard they created within city hall.

Initially, the action was planned for the second floor outside the chamber for the city council. But it appears when the morning’s city council meeting was over, there were activists who attempted to ride the elevator up to the floor and were denied by police. The arbitrary decision led organizers to hold the action in the lobby in an area, where they were far more likely to impact business as usual, and inform people about their campaign, who had never heard about it.

Police attempted to make the demonstrators uncomfortable by restricting access to public bathrooms and denying food and drink to anyone who was delivered lunch. Yet, it seems as outrage grew over this effort by law enforcement, the police backed off. (Assata’s Daughters suggested police would not confiscate food if white people brought it to them and quickly put it in organizers’ hands before officers could intercept it.)

#NoCopAcademy protest in Chicago - March 28, 2017. Photo by Kevin Gosztola.

#NoCopAcademy protest in Chicago – March 28, 2017. Photo by Kevin Gosztola.

Page May, one of the organizers, declared, “We’re doing this demanding that $95 million not be spent on a cop academy and instead be invested in young people, be invested [in] communities and on resources to help prevent violence and on resources to help keep our people safe.”

Activists held space in the lobby for nearly six hours until city hall closed.

Earlier in the morning, when activists gave comments during the public comment section of the meeting, Emanuel left the chamber. It was the second time in consecutive meetings that he avoided hearing from Chicago residents.

Maria Hernandez of Black Lives Matter Chicago led canvassing on the west side in West Garfield Park and other communities nearby the land where the city plans to build the compound for the cop academy. She addressed the city council.

“We come together in opposition to the undemocratic misappropriation of funds for this project,” Hernandez stated.

She described how the struggle was not over because the city council still has to vote on a contractor for the project, and then she shared the results of a survey conducted with around 500 residents of West Garfield Park, Austin, and nearby areas.

According to Hernandez, when residents were asked if this was the best use of $95 million, 84 percent said no. Seven percent said they needed more information.

Organizers collected 877 community recommendations for how the money should be spent. Fifty-one percent suggested the funds be spent on schools and youth resources. Twenty percent suggested the city invest in community spaces, mental health clinics, or substance abuse clinics. Twenty percent suggested the funds go toward addressing homelessness and reclaiming abandoned properties that are in disrepair.

Nearly 40 percent of the city of Chicago’s budget goes to police. The amount typically spent is around $1.4 billion. In contrast, Emanuel and the city continues to shut down schools in black and Latino neighborhoods.

On February 28, Chicago Public Schools (CPS) voted to shut down all four of Englewood’s public high schools over the objections of the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) and community residents.

Lack of investment, according to CTU, has led to “critical shortages of counselors, social workers, and full-time school nurses.” It has meant CPS is “essentially starving black and brown school communities, fomenting a downward cycle of slashed resources and enrollment. The strategy is accelerating a sweeping push-out of black and brown working class families from neighborhoods like Englewood, Austin, Pilsen and other communities.” (Note: Austin is nearby where the city plans to build the cop academy.)

Emanuel shut down half of the city’s mental health clinics. These clinics were in the low income neighborhoods of Back of the Yards, Gresham, and Woodlawn. Yet, there are no plans to open new clinics that are sorely needed in communities.

In fact, Emanuel recently boasted at the Kennedy Forum’s Summit for Mental Health Equity at the Hilton Chicago that he played a key role in getting “mental health equality legislation” into the bill that bailed out banks in 2008. He did not mention his actions against mental health care as mayor.

#NoCopAcademy protest in Chicago - March 28, 2017. Photo by Kevin Gosztola.

#NoCopAcademy protest in Chicago – March 28, 2017. Photo by Kevin Gosztola.

The Civilian Office of Police Accountability (COPA) was established in 2015 in the aftermath of the city’s coverup of the shooting of Laquan McDonald. It recently recommended that Officer Robert Rialmo be fired for killing Quintonio LeGrier, who was 19 years-old, and a bystander, Bettie Jones, that same year.

Police chief Eddie Johnson rejected the recommendation. Johnson argued COPA should not “second guess an officer’s decisions by suggesting how COPA itself would have resolved the incident.”

Johnson may persuade COPA to let Rialmo off the hook for the shootings. Yet, it is not like Rialmo is an upstanding officer. He currently faces charges of battery and theft stemming from a bar fight last year.

LeGrier and Jones were both names on tombstones that the “No Cop Academy” campaign setup in the city hall lobby.

On March 26, students engaged in a flash mob action in downtown. The same day, Erin Glasco and Debbie Southorn, both with the campaign, filed an open records lawsuit against the Mayor’s Office for allegedly “refusing to disclose crucial emails and records regarding the early planning” for the academy.

“As a librarian and information worker who believes that people have the right to access and scrutinize city plans involving their communities, I’m dismayed to see that the Mayor’s Office continues to prioritize secrecy regarding a plan that will have a substantial impact on Black communities across Chicago,” Glasco declared.

Glasco added, “Even as Mayor Emanuel attempts to paint a picture of this new facility as the answer to the CPD’s problems since the coverup of the Laquan McDonald murder, he is continuing the same practices which led to that scandal in the first place—secrecy and collusion with CPD.”

The planned compound for the academy will consist of several buildings that are closed to community residents. A track, swimming pool, shooting range, and space for simulations of “active scenarios” will be constructed. It will likely bear a stark resemblance to the Green Zone that U.S. military forces maintained in Iraq.

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Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

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