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Black Lives, Police Lives Shouldn't Be An Either/Or, Alderman Says

"As a city, we have to address social problems," Ald. Ameya Pawar said. "It can't just be 'Are you for or against police?'"
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DNAinfo/Evan Moore

NORTH CENTER — A Police Lives Matter rally planned by Ald. Nicholas Sposato (38th) and Ald. Anthony Napolitano (41st) might be well-intentioned, but pitting the movement against Black Lives Matter does more harm than good, said Ald. Ameya Pawar (47th).

"It's always either/or, and that's not fair," Pawar said. "If you make the conversation either/or, then the truth never comes out."

Yes, crime is up; yes, police morale is down, the alderman said.

But showing support for Black Lives Matter — a civil rights movement that's responding to police brutality and inequity — doesn't make a person anti-police, he said.

At the same time, acknowledging the dangers of being a police officer and the increasing responsibilities being placed on officers' shoulders doesn't make a person racist, Pawar said.

Turning the discussion into "'you have to pick a side' ... puts everyone in the position of ignoring the underlying issues," he said.

"As a city, we have to address social problems," Pawar said. "It can't just be 'Are you for or against police?'"

Instead, he said, it's time to have the hard conversations about what's brought Chicago to the point of nearly 300 murders in the first half of 2016.

Today's violence is a direct result of "our really horrid history the city"— redlining, segregation and institutional racism, he said.

"What we're seeing today is in many ways a disaster ... as it relates to concentrated, systemic poverty," the alderman said.

Black Lives Matter activists are loud, get in people's faces and make them uncomfortable.

They should, Pawar said.

"We all need to realize people are fighting for big, transformative change," he said. "It's supposed to be uncomfortable."

The alderman said he understands that people across the city, and specifically in his ward, are on edge, with break-ins, robberies and shootings on the rise,  but simply bringing in more police isn't the answer.

"I'm not going to pound my fist and say I need 100 policemen" to keep crime from "there" from spilling over into "here," Pawar said.

Though the alderman said he doesn't have any magic solutions to the city's ills, he believes there's a way forward.


"We need a large jobs program. We need a stimulus at the local level," he said. "The only way out of this is jobs."

He's also pushing for equitable distribution of development.

"We need to have greater investment in communities," which might mean neighborhoods that are doing well, like the 47th Ward, get less in the short term, Pawar said.

Though he's used tax Increment financing dollars to fund major infrastructure improvements to schools and parks in his ward, Pawar said he would be willing to "blow up" the TIF system to help other neighborhoods.

"I'm totally willing to put it all on the table," he said.

Reduce the burden on police.

"We're asking police officers to respond to failed public policy," the alderman said.

The defunding of social services has in many instances turned officers into social workers, he said.

"We're asking them to provide mental health care and medical care," Pawar said. "We're asking them to respond and be reactive to poverty."

Either equip officers with the skills and tools to deal with more than crime, or elect representatives who prioritize funding social services, he said.

"If people want real change ... the people we elect is a reflection of what we believe," Pawar said.

We're all Chicago.

The attitude of "'I don't care what happens elsewhere' needs to change," the alderman said.

"We have to stop seeing other communities as 'the other,'" he said. "What happens on the South and West Sides affects what happens here."

"The only way for all of us to feel safe is to start solving the broader problems," he said.

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