Activism | Police | Politics

West Garfield Park residents reject proposed police academy, organizers argue

#NoCopAcademy surveyed 500 Garfield Park residents for their new report

#NoCopAcademy organizers Sammy Aly Ortega, Destiny Harris, and Ardamis Sims at the #NoCopReport release at Bethel Lutheran Church in West Garfield Park (#NoCopAcademy / Twitter)

Does police spending reduce harm or cause greater harm?

That’s the question that #NoCopAcademy, the youth-led campaign against Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s plan for a $95 million police and fire training academy in West Garfield Park, aims to answer in its thirty-page #NoCopReport, released August 29. To produce the report, #NoCopAcademy organizers surveyed 500 residents of the 37th and 28th Wards, seeking community members’ opinions on the mayor’s police academy proposal. In the resulting document, they argue that Garfield Park residents want investments in schools, youth activities, and housing, rather than the proposed police academy.

“A lot of people think ‘police’ means ‘safety,’ but no, not in my community,’” said Dream Cannon, an organizer with Assata’s Daughters, at the report’s launch at Bethel Lutheran Church in West Garfield Park.

#NoCopAcademy organizers say that their survey shows that residents of the wards surrounding the proposed academy site agree: “Ninety-five percent of the 500 [community members] surveyed recommended the city invest in something else beyond the Chicago Police Department,” the report reads. Other key findings include that “seventy-two percent [of community members] had never heard of the Cop Academy until approached by one of [the organizers], seventy-two percent said they do not want the Cop Academy built in their neighborhood … [and that] eighty-six percent said they do not believe the Cop Academy is the best use of $95 million on the West Side.”

Destiny Harris, an organizer with #NoCopAcademy, hopes that the survey and its results will legitimate their campaign.

“When resisting against the cop academy, we’ve gotten a lot of pushback from aldermen,” Harris told the Weekly. “What they say is, ‘You guys have never voiced your concern until now.’ So having tangible evidence of the people living here in this community for decades saying that their community isn’t going to look the same…really shows that we aren’t just a bunch of young people making noise, who don’t know what they’re talking about.”

The academy’s supporters, such as Alderman Emma Mitts, whose 37th Ward includes West Garfield Park, have lauded the proposal for driving economic opportunity and improving public safety, stating that such a building would be in line with recommended reforms from the Department of Justice’s investigation of the Chicago Police Department. The report called for investment in the “resources, facilities, staffing, and planning required to train a department of approximately 12,000 members.”

The #NoCopReport attempts to address these points by arguing that there are other, more important Department of Justice recommendations for the city to implement first—such as developing better policy for police foot pursuits and providing the public with more information on police misconduct settlements.

“A new training building does not mean new training,” states the #NoCopReport. “The Cop Academy offers more of the same, but with added resources and advanced technology for cops at the expense of our communities.”

The offices of Mitts and Emanuel did not respond to requests for comment on the report.

Though Harris believes the academy will eventually be built, she said #NoCopAcademy isn’t done yet, urging those interested to show up to the final round of City Council voting to decide the construction company responsible for building the facility.

Organizers also say approval from City Council isn’t the only way their campaign can succeed. The report states that the movement can build power merely through disruption.

“One of the key messages in the campaign is not just saying ‘we don’t want this building,’” added Harris, “but to disrupt the narrative that police [improve] public safety. We know this isn’t the case for Black and brown [people] … It’s about changing the narrative around the ideas that this [academy] is built on. Who is this [building] really for?”

Even if the academy is built, Harris said that no matter what, #NoCopAcademy will fight for investment in Black and brown communities—not police.

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David North is a contributor to the Weekly. He’s a student at the University of Chicago. This is his first article for the Weekly.

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