Time For Change
June 9, 2020
The young boy, looking small but sharp in his suit, recounted how police officers stopped his mother for a supposed traffic violation, berated her, traumatized her and then sent her on her way. With painful earnestness he asked the panel, “Why? Why would they treat my mom that way? She didn’t even do anything wrong.”
I can vividly recall so many moments from the Chicago Police Accountability Task Force, but that one has really stayed with me. You remember. Desperate to move on from the aftermath of the killing of Laquan McDonald at the hands of former Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke, then-Mayor Rahm Emanuel appointed the Task Force and put the head of the Chicago Police Board in charge. That was Lori Lightfoot and the rest, as they say, is history.
Providing communications support for the Task Force gave me and our team the opportunity to hear hours of open-mic testimony in neighborhoods across the city, mostly in the communities most impacted by aggressive policing.
That was 2015, and today that young man is around 16 years old. I wonder what he’s thinking and doing right now, and what his own experiences with the police have been since then. It’s a valid thought. About 1 in 1,000 black men and boys in America can expect to die at the hands of police, according to an analysis of deaths involving law enforcement officers released last year.
Think about that.
According to the study, police use of force accounted for 1.6% of all deaths of black men between the ages of 20 and 24 between 2013 and 2018. It was also responsible for 1.2% of deaths of Latino and Native American men. White and Asian men? 0.5%.
It has to be said that most police officers strive every day to do the right thing under difficult circumstances. But the Task Force exposed that the deck is stacked against them. The good cops know that promotions aren’t fair; that seeking mental health support can be problematic; and that there’s no reward for exposing bad behavior on the force. Much has been done to address these problems since the Task Force released its recommendations, and the CPD is now under federal oversight. But the problems are systemic. And many are built into the 178-page police union contract. How much longer does that young man have to wait until things improve out on the streets?
I don’t have the answers. I know I’m heartened by the thousands of peaceful protesters who are keeping the pressure on. I’m proud that Chicagoans picked the mayor who said from the get-go that she was here to balance the scales, to bring real equity and investment to our south and west side communities. This is a tipping point. You can feel it. Almost seven years after Laquan McDonald’s shocking death, the sight of a police officer applying lethal force until George Floyd died an agonizing death leaves no more room for equivocation.
And what do we do, white folks? How about we listen, we educate ourselves, we get involved. We aren’t smug because we believe we are not racist; we learn how to be anti-racist. We march, we do what our black and brown communities ask of us. We must welcome affordable housing in all our communities. We must invest in lives. We have to demand better and do better ourselves.
Over the last three years, Grisko LLC has contributed over $58,000 to non-profit organizations, primarily those serving Chicago and Illinois. Among them are ACLU, Shriver Center on Poverty Law, National Alliance on Mental Illness, Better Government Association, Restore Justice, League of Women Voters, Women Employed, Human Rights Watch, CHANGE Illinois and several non-profit news organizations. Our team members use their annual volunteer day and their own time to work at the community level at food banks, shelters and in getting people to vote. We will be more intentional and transparent about our efforts going forward, especially as we focus on helping to rebuild our south and west side communities.
We commit to the most urgent fight ahead. Two weeks ago, we thought that was COVID-19 and of course it hasn’t gone away. There is no magic wand in that desk at City Hall and the lift ahead is a heavy one…more than one mayor, one new police chief and one City Council can face alone. Let’s do this. Together.
June 9, 2020