ECPS Banner. Photo By: Alec Ozawa
ECPS Banner. Photo By: Alec Ozawa

Op-Ed: Communities Deserve to Have a Say in Our Own Public Safety

Chicago can’t afford to wait any longer to fix its police department; pass the Empowering Communities for Public Safety ordinance.

On April 15, the world saw that thirteen-year-old Adam Toledo, pursued down an alleyway by a Chicago police officer, had his hands in the air when the officer shot and killed him. Before the video of his fatal shooting was released, Mayor Lori Lightfoot called for a new CPD foot chase policy. Once the truth came out, she called for calm. But community residents have been calm in crying out for decades for an end to the police abuse that costs this city far too much in lives needlessly lost and dollars squandered on police misconduct lawsuits. 

As leaders in the two largest community coalitions that have led the fight for police accountability in Chicago, we know all too well a simple truth: the lack of real police reform in this city will continue to result in injury and death at the hands of those sworn to protect us. 

Chicago is still without the civilian oversight board that was a central recommendation of the Police Accountability Task Force Lightfoot chaired in 2016. It is a terrible irony that if the civilian oversight board had been created in the first 100 days of the Lightfoot administration, as the mayor pledged, CPD might have had a foot pursuit policy in place today and Adam Toledo might still be alive.

As a city, we cannot tolerate this anymore. Lives are being lost because of our inaction. Our coalitions, the campaign for an elected Civilian Police Accountability Council (CPAC) and the Grassroots Alliance for Police Accountability (GAPA), joined forces because we have to act now. 

The Empowering Communities for Public Safety (ECPS) ordinance, crafted by this unified coalition, would create a citywide police oversight commission that would give civilians a powerful new role in ensuring police policy reflects both community values and nationally recognized best practices. CPAC and GAPA know that giving civilians a central role in police department policy-making is an essential part of strengthening the police accountability system. The ECPS ordinance has broad support within City Council—but it is being blocked by Mayor Lightfoot, who has refused to join forces with our coalition and who has had important Public Safety Committee meetings canceled to stop our work. 

Communities deserve to have a say in our own safety. Nobody ever asked residents to democratically sanction the police department tactics that ultimately led to Adam’s death. Instead, these decisions are made without us, with no democratic representation of our rights. The CPD sets its own rules, often with little or no public input. The Community Commission on Public Safety envisioned by ECPS, made up of people with relevant expertise and supported by a full-time, expert staff, can play that role. And, just like in other parts of our democratic government, when policies are made in an open process, where the people have an opportunity to participate, we’ll get better policies, and broader support for those policies.

As communities, we have to have the power to determine who runs our police department, what policies it operates under, what problems it is suited to address, and what role the police force plays in a more comprehensive, community-driven, holistic vision of safety. Both police reform advocates and police officers agree that police officers spend a lot of their time dealing with problems for which they are unprepared and ill-equipped, and for which there could be a more effective non-police response. Non-police alternatives can help keep both civilians and police officers safer.

For decades, Chicago’s leaders have turned a blind eye to this problem, as evidenced by the hundreds of settlements and millions of dollars approved to make these problems go away. Despite positioning herself as a reformer, Mayor Lightfoot has joined this trend and has been blocking real efforts at reform for months. Now Chicago is faced with another child murdered by the police, and the mayor has blood on her hands. This time, the city council has rallied around a solution, which is ready to become law, despite Lightfoot’s opposition. 

We mourn the loss of Adam Toledo and we grieve with his family and the entire city. As a community, we cannot bear to be in this place again. It’s time for the city to seize this historic opportunity to institute fundamental and enduring public safety reforms. The moment is now to pass the Empowering Communities for Public Safety ordinance. 

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Frank Chapman is the Field Organizer of the Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression (CAARPR), the Executive Director of the National Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression (NAARPR), and a leader in the campaign for an elected Civilian Police Accountability Council (CPAC). Desmon Yancy is the Director of Community Organizing at the Inner-City Muslim Action Network (IMAN) and a leader in the Grassroots Alliance for Police Accountability (GAPA) coalition. The GAPA and CPAC coalitions came together to create the unified Empowering Communities for Public Safety (ECPS) ordinance.

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