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Activists Sue To Stop Chicago City Council Vote On Funding For Police Compound

Update – 5/25 3 PM ET: Judge denied a motion for an injunction, which allows vote to proceed.

The No Cop Academy Coalition filed a complaint in a circuit court in Cook County to prevent a City Council vote on a funding measure for a $95 million police training academy.

Attorney Brendan Shiller, who is one of the attorneys representing the coalition, asserted the City of Chicago, through elected officials, “engaged in a series of acts designed to tamp down dissent, eliminate debate, and avoid discussion on funding issues related to this particular police facility.

“In so doing, the City has violated both the Open Meetings Act and its own ordinances,” Shiller added.

Sarah Oberholtzer, Kennedy Bartley, Melisa Stephen, Black Lives Matter Chicago, and the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), which are all a part of the coalition, sought an injunction to stop the full City Council vote on May 25.

According to the motion for an injunction [PDF], Oberholtzer, Bartley, and Stephen attended the May 22 meeting of the Committee on Budget and Government Operations. Before the meeting started, they “completed witness slips establishing their intent to comment in opposition of the ordinance.”

But the committee’s chair, Carrie Austin, held a vote without allowing public comment. The motion contends this violated the Open Meetings Act.

Organizers from the No Cop Academy Coalition mobilized supporters the following day. One member of the coalition, Erica Nanton, managed to get on a list, and as one of the first ten, she was able to speak. However, several supporters who were there an hour or so before the meeting were seemingly denied access because members of the Fraternal Order of Police had seats reserved.

Nonetheless, when the measure came up for a vote, Alderman David Moore and Alderman Carlos Ramirez-Rosa exercised their right to defer and postpone the vote on the ordinance.

The motion argues the City Council is violating its own rules by recessing the meeting to May 25. It maintains council members should not vote until the next regularly scheduled meeting.

A separate filing [PDF] requests the circuit court declare the Chicago City Council violated the Open Meetings Act and enjoin the City Council from further violations.

The plaintiffs also would like the actions of the Budget Committee on May 22 to be declared “null and void,” with any relief awarded that is deemed “appropriate and just.”

During the public comment period of the City Council meeting on May 23, Nanton stated, “We are united in a common platform: No cop academy.”

“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 added.

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 residents want the city to 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.

The massive multi-million dollar compound for police is scheduled to be built by 2020. It will be constructed in the West Garfield Park neighborhood on the west side, where residents are already hyper-criminalized by the Chicago Police Department.

It will consist of several buildings and be 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 in Iraq. One organizer with the coalition, Page May, previously referred to it as a “little fortress.”

In recent days, the city of Chicago has shown little tolerance for opponents. Chicago police were at train stations on May 24 in the downtown area threatening anyone who canvassed and handed out flyers with arrest.

Attorney Abby Bakos, who is also representing the coalition, said Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Alderman Emma Mitts (whose ward includes West Garfield Park) may believe “pouring money into a gym for police is economic development (and not a sop to government workers with little benefit to the community), that will actually lead to better training outcomes, and is a wise expenditure of limited city resources (instead of funding jobs and education).”

“If they believe that, they should be able to defend those positions in open debate and with true scrutiny. But they ran from that debate and violated the law to avoid that debate.”

Erica Nanton was the only organizer able to participate in the public comment period during a city council meeting. Photo by Rick Majewski.
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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."