People and police officers attend a candlelight vigil for five police officers killed during anti-police brutality protests, in Dallas, Texas, on July 11, 2016. Five officers were killed and seven others were wounded when a gunman opened fire on a protest against recent police-involved shootings. | Bilgin S. Sasmaz/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
At a July 9 town hall-style summit held in the Austin community on Chicago’s West Side and hosted by Cook County Commissioner Richard Boykin (1st), area politicians and law enforcement officials responded to last week’s tragic shooting events with policy recommendations, personal reflections and explanations regarding the tense relationship between African Americans and police.
Last week, the country was shocked by the deaths of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and Philando Castile in Falcon Heights, Minnesota — both African American men who were shot by police officers — and the mass murder of five Dallas police officers who were protecting a crowd of people protesting Sterling’s and Castile’s deaths.
“The persistent problem of the color line is applicable not only to the 20th Century, but also to the 21st Century,” said Boykin, channeling the words of the famous black scholar and activist W.E.B. Du Bois.
“We find that a handful of communities in Chicago and Cook County are severely decimated by poverty, unemployment, drugs, guns, health disparities, abandoned and foreclosed homes, suffering under the weight of mental trauma, and a sense of hopelessness,” said Boykin, whose district includes Oak Park, Forest Park, much of the city’s West Side and other western suburbs.
“We find a lack of respect for life that has people turning on each other instead of to each other,” he said, before lauding the “tremendous job” of Austin’s 15th District police. “The disrespect of a few police officers acting under the color of law has us on the brink of a race war.”
Boykin said that greater accountability and swifter punishment should be applied to rogue cops like the officer who shot Laquan McDonald 16 times in 2014 and for cops who cover up similar abuses of power.
U.S. Representatives Danny K. Davis (7th) and Robin Kelly (2nd), the latter of whom is the co-chair of the House Gun Violence Prevention Task Force, both advocated for tougher gun laws at last Saturday’s event.
“The United States is on the edge and we need to decide whether we’re going to go over the cliff with gun violence and senseless murder or are we going to take a step back and find that space of peace, unity and solidarity,” said Kelly, who was part of a coalition of House Democrats who participated in a day-long sit-in on the House floor after last month’s shooting massacre in Orlando.
Kelly said that Congress hasn’t voted on a gun violence prevention bill since she was elected three years ago.
“You can’t kill 10 people in 10 seconds with a sling shot,” Davis said.
Oak Park Mayor Anan Abu-Taleb shared his personal testimony of growing up in occupied Palestine, where “fear and violence were part of our daily lives” — an experience similar to children living on Chicago’s West Side.
Abu-Taleb said he was 7 years old when, in 1967, Palestine came under military occupation. A typical night, he recalled, involved darkness, locked doors and multiple gunshot rounds.
“My heart is racing, fear sets in, I wonder how close those gunshots were,” the mayor said. “Who was the victim this time? Who was the attacker?”
Those with the guns, he said, create an environment of chaos and uncertainty “that has been going on for too long.” He also echoed the sentiments of many African American residents of Austin who feel caught between two antagonizing forces that control “through fear and gun violence.”
“When you’re just as afraid of the law enforcers as you are of the lawbreakers and when you live day to day and consider yourself lucky because you have just survived,” he said, holding back tears, “the future is not on your mind.”
Percy Coleman, a former south suburban police chief, recalled the death of his son, Philip Coleman, who died in 2012 while in the custody of Chicago Police. At Saturday’s summit, Coleman described the kind of entrapment felt by a young Abu-Taleb in Palestine.
“The police, with their legal guns, can kill,” Coleman said. “And the gangs, with their illegal guns, can kill you.”
Maywood Police Chief Valdimir Talley spoke in favor of more community policing in places like Maywood and the city’s West Side.
“The leaders of my community had the foresight in 1998 to adopt a policy for the police department to engage themselves in the community,” Talley said. “Ever since I became the chief three years ago, that’s been one of my primary goals and focuses. The members of the community see me and my staff, we participate in multiple organizations and I encourage their membership not only in the community but at a national level.”
Talley also touted a program, in partnership with the Proviso Township Ministerial Alliance Network, that allowed teenagers to be employed in the department over the summer.
“I think that’s one of the aspects that’s missing in the lives of our youth — that connection with the churches,” Talley said. VFP