On Wednesday morning, more than a hundred people were milling about in the hallway outside the ceremonial courtroom at the federal courthouse in Chicago.
Illinois Assistant Attorney General Cara Hendrickson stood to the side of the courtroom doors, near the metal detector, when Kevin Graham, the president of the union for police officers in Chicago, marched past.Hendrickson, who is helping lead the charge for a court-enforced reform plan called a consent decree, stopped Graham with a hello and asked how he was doing.
Graham, who has been fighting to get the reform process thrown out of court, responded tersely, “Well, we’re here.”
“So are we,” said Hendrickson. Then, after a long, awkward silence, Hendrickson asked how he was doing again.
“Not well, not well,” Graham replied before walking off.
The tense exchange came before the start of a public hearing over the proposed reform plan, which was reached after a year of negotiations between the city of Chicago and the Illinois Attorney General’s Office.
Graham is scheduled to tell Judge Robert Dow his thoughts on the plan Thursday. He’s previously said the proposed consent decree violates the collective bargaining agreement between the city and the union, and will make officers and the public less safe.
Support and suggestions
On Wednesday, almost 50 people addressed Dow — the vast majority of them in support of a consent decree. Anyone could sign up to speak, but many of those who attended the hearing were people already involved in lawsuits that call for court-enforced police reform.
They told the judge a consent decree is desperately needed, but urged Dow to add more requirements.
One particular piece that came up repeatedly as missing from the proposal was a diversion program that would have social workers, instead of officers, respond to 911 calls related to addiction or mental health issues.
Another main issue was inadequate training for officers on how to identify and interact with people with disabilities.
‘Policing through fear’
Saeed Richardson of the Community Renewal Society told the judge he came to speak in support of a consent decree as a father of a 14-year-old girl who had to watch him be harassed by police in his own home, and a 9-year-old son who he has to continually talk to about “how to be and how not to be” around police officers.
Cook County Public Defender Amy Campanelli told the judge about her experiences defending victims of abuse by Chicago police officers — and her advice to clients that they not report the abuse because nothing would be done and their complaints would be used against them in court. Campanelli described Chicago officers as “policing through fear.”
“We need healing and hope in this city, and this consent decree will provide it,” Campanelli said.
Opposition from officers
Meanwhile, a handful of Chicago officers spoke against the proposal, warning it would hinder officers and lead to an increase in crime.
Officer John Catanzara talked about the responsibility that citizens have to obey police orders.
“Until we start teaching kids that their choices have consequences, no consent decree is going to change anything,” Catanzara told the judge.
But Catanzara said he did support the proposals in the reform plan to improve what he called “woefully inadequate” training for Chicago officers.
Patrick Smith is a WBEZ producer and reporter. Follow him @pksmid.