A coalition of activists led by young black people succeeded in postponing the vote on a funding measure for a $95 million police training academy, which the city of Chicago plans to build on the west side.
Alderman David Moore and Alderman Carlos Ramirez-Rosa exercised their right to defer and publish the ordinance for the compound. That effectively pushed the vote to Friday, when the Chicago City Council will resume the meeting and complete unfinished business.
“This is a small but very significant victory,” Page May, an organizer with the #NoCopAcademy campaign, said. “It would not have happened if not for youth-directed organizing, and it’s a message that organizing works and that it’s important to reject things that are described as a done deal. That this is not over.”
Carrie Austin, alderman from the 34th Ward on the south side and the chair of the Committee on Budget and Government Operations, rushed the police academy ordinance through on May 22. Aldermen had no time to raise objections, if they had any.
Public comment at the proceedings was shut down. Activists and residents in attendance, who objected, were swiftly thrown out of the meeting. They planned to sue the city for allegedly violating the Open Meeting Acts.
“This maneuver in the Budget Committee was a slap in the face to young black people and West Garfield Park residents, who have been clear in our opposition to the new police facility,” declared Maria Hernandez, another organizer with #NoCopAcademy. “Mayor [Rahm] Emanuel is trying to appease a police department that has evaded meaningful accountability for decades, and it is literally writing a check to fund continued police violence at the expense of black youth, who will continue to suffer from this city’s neglect and CPD’s violence.”
Passage by the Budget Committee meant it was up for a full City Council vote on May 23.
The #NoCopAcademy campaign was present between 7 and 7:30 a.m. so they could get on the list for public comment. At least 50 to 100 people were there to attend proceedings, yet only one organizer, Erica Nanton, was able to speak during the public comment period. Officials allowed ten people, and they were escorted into the meeting.
That left several organizers and residents out in the lobby on the second floor of the City Hall. They chanted and urged police to let them into the meeting, but despite being there, they were not admitted, even though others seemed to be escorted into the main chamber and the gallery seating area.
Members of the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) showed up to scold Mayor Rahm Emanuel because Officer Robert Rialmo was placed on “no-pay status” since he shot and killed Quintonio LeGrier and Bettie Jones in 2015. They were able to walk in and sit down in seats that were apparently portioned off for them.
Public comment took place early in the meeting. The first three speakers were from the FOP.
One member, FOP Field Representative Robert Bartlett, condemned a consent decree that the city has with the Justice Department to regulate police.
“A sign of how dangerous this consent decree will be is proven by the fact of how you [Emanuel] negotiate with groups like Black Lives Matter, who stand out in this hall and cause chaos, and the ACLU,” Bartlett said. “You have allowed a group that has chanted for the death of police officers at demonstrations across this country, a group who extols a police murderer that hides in Cuba. You’ve given them an opportunity to sit at a table which police policy will be negotiated.”
It’s unclear what Bartlett was referring to when it comes to negotiating policy with the city, especially when it is trying to quickly pass a funding measure for a state-of-the-art police complex over very clear objections in the community.
As for shouting death to police officers and extolling a police murderer, the FOP takes that position because there is an activist group called Assata’s Daughters that organizes in Chicago. Assata Shakur was wrongfully convicted of a crime, and the authorities repeatedly targeted her in the 1970s because she was a Black Liberation Army member. She had to flee to Cuba, where she lives in exile to avoid being in jail as a political prisoner.
After the FOP was done attacking the city for engaging in some semblance of police accountability, members stood up and walked out. It was only a few speakers later that Erica Nanton was able to address issues surrounding the building of a police academy.
“We are united in a common platform: No cop academy,” Nanton declared. “Half a dozen schools were shut down in Garfield Park in 2013 to save money, and if the city suddenly has $95 million to invest in the west side for what is called public health and safety, there are at least 1,103 other ways to invest those funds.”
Nanton referred to the 1,103 responses from community residents who were surveyed and informed organizers of how the funds could be better spent. Responses indicated the city should fund schools and youth resources, invest in community spaces, mental health clinics, or substance abuse clinics, or address homelessness by reclaiming abandoned properties that are in disrepair.
“Listen to the community because we are listening to you, and we will remember how you vote just how we remembered Anita Alvarez,” Nanton added. “If you do not believe us, ask Anita.”
Alvarez was the Cook County State’s Attorney until she was defeated by Kim Foxx. Young black activists were instrumental in removing her from office because she refused to pursue police accountability.
Nanton also used her time to demand that there be a civilian police accountability body that had more power than the Civilian Office of Police Accountability (COPA) and could give citizens power to hire and fire police and control the budget of the police department.
“We refuse any FOP contract that is not subject to democratic oversight and control,” Nanton stated.
She also called for an end to the over-policing of communities. “Yes, this will mean ending the careers and payments for officers like Rialmo, who was found by COPA to have unjustifiably killed two people in the 37th Ward less than a mile from the site of this proposed academy. This is a slap in the face.”
Organizers attempted to canvas trains on May 21 and police met them at stations and threatened them with arrest.
“What you have is moment after moment of the city trying to stop us from organizing and it actually backfiring on them,” May said, because it gets the campaign more attention and activists know their rights.
At one point, prior to the meeting, FOP members marched up the stairs chanting, “Who are we CPD?” They came in and stood in what May described as a “military formation,” which led to a stand off in the lobby area.
Officers held a demonstration outside city hall and some of them held “Blue Lives Matter” posters and flags.
“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 No Cop Academy campaign asserts on their website.
The funding measure for the police compound will be up for a vote on May 25, right before a holiday weekend. Only one alderman has opposed the academy so far, however, activists plan to hold a press conference and attend the meeting to challenge city council members who support this project.