UPTOWN — Five years ago, police rushed into Melinda Manson's backyard in Auburn Gresham with their guns drawn only to realize the man they were searching for was a few doors down.
While her family was unharmed, the moment still haunts her then 6-year-old son, she said.
"My son had nightmares for a few years, but he's doing better now," she said, adding at one point he wanted to be a police officer.
Manson was one of more than 200 people who shared her story Tuesday at a hearing at Truman College, 1145 W. Wilson Ave., with officials from the U.S. Justice Department's civil rights division. The department is conducting a "patterns and practices" investigation into the Chicago Police Department after the police shooting death of Laquan McDonald.
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Wearing a blue T-shirt reading #Justice4stephon, in honor of Stephon Watts, a black 15-year-old boy with autism who was killed by Calumet City police in April 2015, Manson said police violence was a tough subject to talk about as a black mother who has a child with disabilities.
A few months ago, the family moved to southwest suburban Oak Lawn, but images of police shootings on the news have her children scared to go outside, she told a crowd that gathered before the Justice Department hearing.
"My fear is if he has a reaction and I have to call police, they will kill him because he can't sit still," she said. "It's unfair to us mothers to have to wonder why their cars say 'serve and protect' and they're killing them."
Manson was one of several advocates for people with disabilities who gathered before the meeting to honor Laquan McDonald, Quintonio LeGrier and Brandon Bragg — all people of color shot by police, who also had disabilities.
"In the aftermath of police shootings, disability is seldom part of the dialogue. Yet, at least a half to 70 percent of police violence reported in the media involves people with disabilities," a press release from vigil organizers Advance Youth Leadership Project claims.
Timotheus Gordon, who has autism, said he fears how he would react when confronted by police.
Gordon said he feels more at risk for maltreatment by police because he's "a black football player and dreadhead who doesn't understand commands without explanation."
Gordon, a 28-year-old Ph.D. student at the University of Chicago, said he came out because he was furious about police forces nationwide "getting away with murdering disabled black people."
Twenty-six year old Christopher Huff told the large crowd he was 15 years old when he was diagnosed with a mental illness that was categorized as "an emotional imbalance."
Two months later, the Auburn Gresham native said he brought a gun to school to defend himself against gang members, an "impetuous decision out of paranoia and fear for my safety" that brought him into police custody.
Instead of being diverted into a treatment program, Huff said he was taken to a detention center for two months, then moved to a juvenile prison for three months.
"The system as constructed wasn't designed to support or empower me as a person," Huff said.
"In order to truly fix the ills [of the Chicago Police Department ] there needs to be a fundamental restructuring of the entire Chicago Police Department," Huff said. "That restructuring should be built around empowering the community members who live there, giving them a sense of support that's built out of compassion and love rather than neglect or mistreatment.
"I believe we have the power and the ability to do that if we come together regardless of race, regardless of class," Huff said.
About an hour into the hearing, 11-year-old J'dyn Simmons, Manson's son, shared his story.
"I'm extremely suspicious of everyone. I can't trust you because I'm extremely shifty around other people and nervous," he said, referencing his disability.
The bespectacled boy said he wants to be a cardiologist, but he believes the wrong encounter with police could end in a nightmare.
"I believe police brutality can stop that from happening someday," J'dyn said. "And I could be killed for probably having a dream."
The next Justice Department meeting on police misconduct is scheduled for Thursday at the Kroc Center Chapel, 1250 W. 119th St., from 6:30-8:30 p.m.
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