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Police Refuse To Meet Publicly With Black Lives Youth Group

 Walter Payton student Eva Lewis is trying to set up a meeting with Police Supt. Eddie Johnson. Here, she conferred with police during an August Downtown protest.
Walter Payton student Eva Lewis is trying to set up a meeting with Police Supt. Eddie Johnson. Here, she conferred with police during an August Downtown protest.
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DNAinfo/Alex Nitkin

NEAR NORTH SIDE — A promised meeting between Youth for Black Lives and Chicago Police Supt. Eddie Johnson has been stalled over disagreement over where it will be held at all and whether it will be open to the public.

Student organizers said the delay was caused by the Police Department, which initially appeared to agree to a public meeting with them Tuesday but then backed out, group member Eva Lewis said Sunday. The students also found out a request for a room they planned to use at Walter Payton College Prep was rejected, so they desperately need a place to meet.


The meeting's focus was to be the group's concern about police shootings. In July, Eva, 17, and other Youth for Black Lives members brought together hundreds of Chicago area teens and adults for a silent protest at Millennium Park against the shootings of black men by police.

Students also spoke out against the shooting of a black man by an off-duty police officer in Mount Greenwood in November.

Later that month, the group planned to protest in Mount Greenwood but canceled their protest after Johnson agreed to meet with them.

In emails setting up a meeting, Johnson appeared to agree to the students' plans for the meeting.

“I am contacting you about the monthly meetings you agreed to a little over a week ago," Eva wrote in a Nov. 30 email after the protest was canceled. "We have acquired space at Walter Payton. The location is suitable because it has space for the public to observe. Once again, we value transparency."


Johnson replied the next day to her email that he had "copied members of my staff who will now help coordinate the meeting.”

Police sent an email in mid-December when the meeting date and location at Payton was confirmed, saying: "So just to confirm, the meeting will take place Jan. 17 at 6 p.m. at Walter Payton … please send agenda when it’s available.”

Police made no objection to the meeting being public, Eva said.

But on Friday, a police representative approached a co-organizer of the student group during school hours to say that Johnson never agreed to a public meeting, Lewis said.

Next, the group learned that Chicago Public Schools district officials contacted the school’s administration to say that the meeting could no longer be held at the school, at 1034 N. Wells St. They were also told that the meeting could only be private.

“CPD expressed an unwillingness to meet with the group publicly on Tuesday, which conflicts with the agreement on Nov. 11,” the youth group said in a statement issued Sunday. “Instead they have requested a closed-door meeting with Youth for Black Lives and several of their representatives.”

The Police Department isn’t holding up its end of the deal, the group said.

“On Nov. 11, Youth for Black Lives agreed to not protest in Mt. Greenwood if their demands were met,” according to the statement. “They did not protest, keeping their end of the negotiation.”

A police spokesman did not address whether police had initially agreed to meet publicly, but said Johnson wants to meet with the students.

"Supt. Johnson conducts regular monthly meetings and discussions with several community and activist organizations," police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said. "In terms of the youth meeting, he values that ongoing dialogue and very much would like to continue meeting with them around the structure that was initially agreed upon."

He said the Police Department's area community coordinator will keep in touch with the group to discuss future meetings.

CPS spokeswoman Emily Bittner declined to comment Sunday, directing questions about why the students can no longer use the school to the Police Department.

Eva said the students hope that police will still meet and someone offers them a place to hold the meeting. As of now, they need a room from 6-7:30 p.m. Tuesday.

“My organization is in a crisis,” Eva said. “They’re trying to get us to cancel, so it looks bad on us.”

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