Chicago Police Accountability Activists Score Temporary Victory as City Council Postpones Vote on Cop Academy

The Chicago City Council postponed a planned vote on building a new $95 million police academy on the City’s West Side on Tuesday amid a contentious City Council meeting that saw hundreds of protesters in and outside the building.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel presides over a City Council meeting on 5/23/18. Photo by Aaron Cynic.

Mayor Rahm 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.” Since this announcement, community activists have been organizing to oppose the academy, saying the money should be spent on resources such as schools and mental health clinics for the community.

People began lining up at 7:30AM Tuesday morning to attend the City Council hearing, many with the No Cop Academy movement, the coalition that’s been organizing against the academy. The majority of those activists however were not allowed into chambers due to alleged capacity issues. Meanwhile members of the local Fraternal Order of Police as well as members of the military were ushered inside ahead of the general public.

The FOP organized their own demonstration as well which marched both inside City Hall and in front of the entrance calling on Mayor Emanuel to “back the police,” according to a flyer the union distributed. The flyer stated that they were protesting the decision of the Civilian Office of Police Accountability’s decision to put an officer on no pay status after he shot and killed two people of color in 2015, which was ruled justified by Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson, but unjustified by COPA. The union also called investigations into the actions of other officers “bogus” and “politically motivated.”

FOP members picket outside a Chicago City Council hearing on 5/23/18. Photo by Aaron Cynic.

Though the two groups were often separated, they shared the second floor a few times, with FOP supporters chanting “back the blue” and “Rahm must go” and community activists chanting “16 shots and a cover up,” a reference to the police shooting of Laquan McDonald.

Inside chambers, three members of the FOP were allowed to speak first, despite more than a hundred members of the public who arrived earlier. Their representatives accused COPA of conducting a “political witch hunt on police officers,” and that activists were in the hall “causing chaos.”

FOP members behind a police line outside Chicago City Council chambers. Photo by Rick Majewski.

Outside chambers, activists chanted and gave speeches about why they oppose the academy.

“They do not care about us. They do not know who we are. They have decided who we are,” Erica Nanton said in a passionate speech she gave to those gathered after she was allowed to testify in the hearing. “That we are inferior, that we are incapable, that we don’t know what’s best for us. I heard police sit up there and say that accountability for them was the problem.”

In a mic check, members of Assata’s Daughters, a community group that’s part of the No Cop Academy coalition, said there were more than a thousand alternatives to spending the $95 million on the academy.

Community activists protest the building of a $95 million police academy at a City Council hearing in Chicago. Photo by Rick Majewski.

“Half a dozen schools were shut down in Garfield Park in 2013 to save money, that ain’t right,” the group chanted. “And the City suddenly has $95 million to invest on the West Side for public health and safety – there are at least 1,103 ways to do that.”

At the behest of Aldermen Carlos Rosa and David Moore, who moved to “defer and publish” the vote, the City Council will now take up the matter on Friday. “It is clear, our Chicago Police Department is not lacking in resources, it is lacking in accountability and oversight – accountability and oversight that would be provided by the Civilian Police Accountability Council (CPAC), an ordinance currently in the Public Safety Committee that counts with the support of a mass movement of 50,000-plus Chicagoans demanding democratic control of the police,” said Rosa in a statement. “I also took this action because City Hall has a long history of using the placement of public institutions as anchors and engines of gentrification.”

Community activists protest the building of a $95 million police academy at a City Council hearing in Chicago. Photo by Rick Majewski.

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