Recruiting minorities is not the solution to police reform, say community groups

Police Recruitment Event
The Chicago Police Department puts on a show at a recruitment event on Jan. 9, 2015. (Meggie Morris/MEDILL)

By Meggie Morris

Community-based organizations demanding police reform say recruiting more minorities to better reflect Chicago’s demographics is not enough to improve police-community relations.

The recruitment campaign, which is to end this week, will be ineffective unless the city first addresses the policing system as a whole, the groups say.

“It certainly is a prerequisite for improving police relations,” said Ted Pearson of the Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression. “However, until the community has control of the police it really doesn’t matter who they hire.”

When the Chicago Police Department announced late last year that it was hiring officers for the first time since 2013, the city said the recruitment drive’s most important objective was to increase the force’s ethnic diversity.

“This effort will not only help ensure our department remains fully staffed as we work to fight gun violence,” Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel said then in a written statement. “But will also help ensure that the makeup of the force better reflects the makeup of our city.”

The ethnic makeup of the Chicago Police Department as of January 2016

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According to the Chicago Police Department, white police employees account for more than half the police department. (Meggie Morris/MEDILL)

According to Camesha Jones of Black Youth Project 100, encouraging individuals to join the CPD to initiate reform from the inside will never be feasible.

“Our stance is pretty much that the system of policing is flawed,” she said. “We’re against the system of policing, it doesn’t matter… if it’s a black or a white person.”

Recruitment is just one of the initiatives that surfaced in 2015 as part of the city’s response to the issue of police accountability. In May, the City Council approved a $5.5 million reparations fund for victims of police torture. In August, the CPD agreed to an independent evaluation of investigatory stops, after the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois published a report questioning the constitutionality of “stop and frisk” procedures.

And in November, three weeks before the city released dash cam video showing a white police officer fatally shooting black 17-year-old Laquan McDonald, the recruitment campaign was announced.

For community advocacy groups, replacing cops is not the solution. A civilian-elected board that not only monitors policing, but has authority over how communities are policed, however, is.

A coalition of organizations supports the establishment of the Civilian Police Accountability Council. According to legislation they drafted more than two years ago, 25 elected civilians representing each of the city’s districts would be authorized to select the police superintendent and investigate misconduct complaints and all police shootings. The board would also have the power to discipline officers and determine police procedures, rules, and use of force guidelines.

“An independent police account board would be a more fair and just solution to dealing with police misconduct and harm reduction,” said Hatem Abudayyeh, executive director of the Arab American Action Network, which is part of the growing coalition.

Some members of the communities these organizations represent are not waiting for the city’s approval of the Civilian Police Accountability Council to begin the process of police reform. Instead, they are applying to join the CPD as police officers, optimistic that in time they can make a difference.

Danielle Wright, who is hoping to help her city with the tools she learned as an Aviation Ordnanceman in the U.S. Navy, said improving attitudes in Chicago towards police and within the CPD towards the communities depends on shared responsibility.

“We can play a part as individuals, but it takes more than one person to change anything,” she said. “You can stand here and say ‘I want change, I want better, I want peace’, but if you just standing alone, it’s going to be a difficult task to overcome by yourself. It has to be everybody – one sound, one team – everybody in for the same cause.”

Southside native Katina Hewitt agreed, but said in order to make that happen, the police need to start the process themselves.

“The youth are not going to agree with trying to join the police when they’re shooting the youth, when they’re killing youth,” the 22-year-old said. “This needs to be a slow process, but both sides gotta put in the work.”

Photo at top: The Chicago Police Department puts on a show at a recruitment event Jan. 9, 2015. (Meggie Morris/MEDILL)