Residents Call for Accountability in Police-Involved Shootings
HYDE PARK — There has been a lot of outcry about murders in Chicago, but not enough for those who die at the hands of police, said an organizer of "A Peoples Hearing on Police Crimes" Saturday.
More than 100 community members and relatives of those affected by police-involved shootings and police brutality attended the forum at the University of Chicago.
"Politicians are flapping like a flock of wild geese about gun control and stopping killings like that of Hadiya Pendleton," said Frank Chapman, of the Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Oppression. "They say nothing about police killing... We have come today to break this silence."
Chapman said the group doesn't oppose police when they serve and protect the public. But the group takes issue when they see instances of police abusing their power.
"We must separate the good officers from the bad officers. That's what we're here to do," Jeff Baker, a member of the steering committee for a group called Stop Police Crimes.
Earlier this month, the city settled a case with the family of Flint Farmer, who was shot and killed in 2011 by a police officer who thought Farmer was armed. He was not. That officer, Gildardo Sierra, had been drinking prior to his shift, and was responsible for two other shooting deaths.
In January, the city paid $33 million to other victims of police misconduct. Alton Logan spent 26 years in prison after being tortured by infamous police Cmdr. Jon Burge to get a confession. And Christina Eilman, a mentally ill California woman, was sexually assaulted and thrown from a high-rise in 2006 after police released her from custody near the now-demolished Robert Taylor Homes.
Speakers called for the creation of an Civilian Police Accountability Council, whose members would be democratically elected, to oversee cases of alleged police misconduct. The current oversight committee, the Independent Police Review Authority, is staffed by civilians, and its chief administrator is appointed by the mayor.
The authority investigates any officer-involved shooting, allegations of misconduct and more.
The hearing touched on mental health as family members who felt their loved one had died because of police misconduct spoke out.
Renee Watts, sister of Stephon Watts, who was killed by police in February in Calumet City, called for legislation that would require police to get training for dealing with those who have autism.
Coleman said police on the scene told him, "We don’t do hospitals. We do jail."
"The police are not going to investigate themselves," he said, calling for someone to go to jail for his son's death.
Martinez Sutton, brother of Rekia Boyd, who was shot by police in June 2012, couldn't stop the tears running down his cheeks as he spoke about his sister.
Sutton focused on the future and getting justice for his sister.
"Last year, I felt like I went 15 rounds in the heavyweight battle with Tyson. I was tired and weary...I pushed away all of my friends and everybody that wanted to help us," he said. "It’s a new year. I'm gonna make sure my sister didn’t die in vain."
Catherine Ortega, 17, attended the hearing with her mother, Lisa Simeone, a teacher and graduate student at the University of Chicago.
Catherine said was impacted by Sutton's emotional speech. She said it is easy to become desensitized to violence when she so often hears about her friends being shot and general violence across the city.
"Then family talks, and it's like, 'woah.' I'm just glad people are coming together and talking about it," she said.
Mildred Williamson, who lives in the Beverly/Morgan Park neighborhood, attended the hearing. She said there is a long history of distrust between the Chicago Police Department and communities of color, citing the infamous Burge police tortures in the 1970s.
"It's not just random people, its disproportionately people of color, certainly all of my lifetime," said Williamson, who is 59. "This is not a new issue."
"That's why people don't feel comfortable speaking up when they have a lead," she said about people adhering to a "code of silence" when police are seeking help in solving a crime.
From January 2009 through September 2012, Chicago police have killed 61 people and shot 149, and 94 percent of the victims were non-white, according to a pamphlet from the hearing citing the Independent Police Review Authority.
The organizations sponsoring the event Saturday plan to come together in late May or early June to march on City Hall and get petition signatures, Chapman said.
"We are not here to mourn but to organize," he said.