Testimony on Police Shootings, Excessive Force and Other Misconduct
This past Saturday, July 21, there was a Peoples Hearing on Police Crimes held in the Englewood neighborhood on the South Side of Chicago. The hearing was organized by the Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression with the purpose of providing a public forum for individuals to share their experiences with police misconduct. Over 100 community members came out to the event, including activists and representatives of organizations, People’s Law Office among them.
The event consisted of testimony from victims of police brutality and family members of individuals who were killed by police officers. This testimony was powerful, as members of the community described the brutality and torture they personally experienced at the hands of police in the Chicagoland area. The especially poignant testimony came from people who had lost loved ones because of police violence. The parents, siblings and spouses painfully described how their family members were tragically shot and killed by police or died in police custody. It is significant to note that these individuals who were injured, abused and shot by the police were all people of color, demonstrating the systemic racism that exemplified by police misconduct.
There were representatives from many organizations in attendance and several were asked to make statements in solidarity, including Occupy Chicago, Jericho Movement, Committee to Stop FBI Repression and Arab American Action Network. The speakers also brought up the historical role of police forces in the U.S. and their implementation in upholding white supremacy, which continues to this day. These speeches also addressed the police brutality that occurs every day in the African American community and the connection to police repression of social justice movements, tying it to the history of the FBI’s COINTELPRO, which targeted progressive and radical movements generally and the African American community in particular. It was also discussed how the FBI’s current strategy of targeting the Arab American and Muslim American communities is interconnected to local police forces harassing African American communities throughout the country.
There was also a presentation on the Independent Police Review Authority (IPRA), the organization responsible for holding Chicago Police officers accountable for police brutality and misconduct. It discussed many of the weaknesses of IPRA, particularly how rarely they determine that misconduct actually occurred. The presentation stated that IPRA comes to a finding of “sustained” in less than 1% of the total complaints filed. (Read an analysis from People’s Law Office of IPRA and their recent Quarterly Report here).
There was discussion about how to respond to the widespread problem of police brutality, which one family member described as an “epidemic.” One concrete proposal brought by some of the organizers of the event was to create legislation for an elected Civilian Board of Control of the Police. (Read more about this proposed legislation here: Legislation for Police Accountability) Most significantly, those present left with a sense that this hearing was only the first step toward building a city-wide movement to demand police accountability, led by the most affected communities.
As civil rights lawyers who have handled police brutality cases in Chicago for many years, the stories we heard were heartbreaking and all too familiar. For decades we have listened and responded to the African American, Latino and Arab American communities describe the abuse, racial profiling, brutality and other rampant civil rights violations they are regularly subjected to by police in Chicago and throughout Cook County. As lawyers and legal workers, we are deeply committed to responding to these injustices and we continue to file civil rights lawsuits for individuals subjected to police misconduct and represent the organizations and movements that take a stand to put an end to police brutality in Chicago.