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Wednesday, December 12, 2018

‘No Cop Academy’: Activists stage day-long demonstration against police academy to be built in Chicago

The protest was the latest in a series of actions organized by a coalition of more than 50 community groups dubbed “No Cop Academy.”

Youth of color in Chicago staged a day-long demonstration at City Hall on Wednesday to voice their opposition to the planned construction of a new $95 million police academy to be built on the city’s West Side. The protest was the latest in a series of actions organized by a coalition of more than 50 community groups dubbed “No Cop Academy.”

“If you’re going to make a decision so-called ‘for our community,’ then you should ask the community, you shouldn’t just make the decision for us,” said Sumaria Howell, a 16 year-old student at Simeon Career Academy and member of the group Simeon Young Activists, who are part of the coalition. “We know what we want because we’re here. You guys aren’t in our community, you don’t know what it’s like for us to be out here.”

Students and their supporters from groups including Assata’s Daughters, Simeon Young Activists Club, and Good Kids Mad City chanted, staged die-ins, and read the names of people of color who have been killed by police. The youth activists also set up a cemetery featuring handmade gravestones with the names of victims of police violence as well as schools and mental health clinics that the city has closed under mayor Rahm Emanuel’s tenure. More than a dozen police semi-encircled and supervised the protest, which lasted several hours.

Mayor Emanuel announced the construction of the “public safety training” campus in July of 2017, to be built on 30.4 acres of vacant, privately owned land in Chicago’s Garfield Park neighborhood, made up of two buildings that would include conference rooms, labs, simulators, a dive training pool, shooting range, and space for “active scenario training.”  Community activists began organizing to oppose the academy in the months following, saying that the money would be better spent on resources for underfunded neighborhoods of color, who have seen their schools and mental health clinics close at a rapid pace over the years. 

A mission statement from the No Cop Academy coalition reads:

“Chicago already spends $1.5 billion on police every year—that’s $4 million every single day. We spend 300% more on the CPD as a city than we do on the Departments of Public Health, family and support services, transportation, and planning and development (which handles affordable housing). This plan is being praised as a development opportunity to help local residents around the proposed site, but when Rahm closed 50 schools in 2013, six were in this neighborhood. The message is clear: Rahm supports schools and resources for cops, not for Black and Brown kids.”

Activists with the group have staged walkouts, protest marches, flash mobs, and train takeovers in the past few months. On Monday, the coalition filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against the Mayor’s Office for allegedly refusing to disclose “crucial emails and records” regarding plans for the facility. The group says they filed numerous FOIA requests requesting communications from the Mayor’s Office and other entities, including the area’s Alderwoman, Emma Mitts and while that some information was shared, other critical information has not.

Proponents of the facility have touted it as a way the city can fulfill recommendations the U.S. Department of Justice made after an eight month investigation into the Chicago Police Department, as well as a potential economic engine for the neighborhood. The coalition however, says some of the documents released from FOIA requests show evidence that planning for the academy began some four months before the DOJ released its findings. 

“As a librarian and information worker who believes that people have the right to access and scrutinize city plans involving their communities, I’m dismayed to see that the Mayor’s Office continues to prioritize secrecy regarding a plan that will have a substantial impact on Black communities across Chicago,” said Erin Glasco, one of the individuals filing the suit on behalf of No Cop Academy.

Members of the group packed a morning City Council meeting, where a few members were able to speak before Aldermen before the group was escorted out of chambers.

Maria Mora, an organizer for No Cop Academy, told the Council the group surveyed some 500 residents of the neighborhood and that 88 percent of people were opposed, with 7 percent saying they wanted more information. “There’s a myth that this project is already settled. It is not,” said Mora. “The vote last fall was only for the land appropriation. When a vote comes here for the contractor, we will be back to make sure the contractor is not selected for a project that does not reflect actual community needs and wishes.”

After the City Council meeting, activists then moved to the first floor of City Hall, where they spread out the tombstones emblazoned with the names of people killed by Chicago police including Laquan McDonald and Rekia Boyd, as well as resources shuttered by the city. McDonald was shot 16 times and killed by Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke, and the release of the dashcam video sparked major protests throughout the city. Boyd was shot and killed by Chicago Police Officer Dante Servin while he was off duty after he opened fire on a group of people in a park on the city’s West Side during a reported disturbance. Van Dyke is currently awaiting trial on first-degree murder charges, and Servin resigned before possibly being fired by the department. A judge threw out charges against him in 2015.

“Some kids fear for their lives when they do see police that aren’t around all the time,” said Howell. “It shouldn’t scare you. When you see someone you should be like, ‘Oh, he’s here to protect me,’ you shouldn’t think ‘Oh, he might shoot me or hurt me in any type of way.’ It shouldn’t be fear.”

Chance the Rapper, who’s from the West Chatham neighborhood on the city’s South Side, tweeted his support for the group, and later bought pizzas and had them sent to City Hall. “Students in Chicago are staging a SIT IN at City Hall right now,” Chance tweeted. “I ask that you stop by and show them that you are in SUPPORT of their REVOLUTION. Bring food if you can, these children are fighting for our future kids as well as themselves.” Chicago Police however, refused to allow the pizzas past the front door, and members of the group piled them along the outside wall of City Hall. Throughout the day, police attempted to deny the group access to food, water, and bathroom facilities, though many items managed to get dropped off to the group by supporters.

Though the nation is presently seeing a massive wave of youth activism, the ongoing #NoCopAcademy campaign hasn’t enjoyed the same national press as movements such as #NeverAgain. Student and community activists have also been met with hostility from many local politicians. Regardless, members of the No Cop Academy coalition have promised to continue fighting the training facility every step of the way. As 20-year-old Assata’s daughter, member Jawanna Goodwin, said outside City Hall during the protest, “Mental health clinics, schools, and other stuff were closed down because they said we didn’t have funding for it, but they came up with $95 million for [the academy]. And I just feel like that’s unfair for the people of the city in many ways.”

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