A social-justice coalition representing religious congregations and senior citizens is praising Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel for meeting with them about police accountability — and complaining that his words at the gathering fell far short of their demands.
Rev. Eddie Knox Jr., pastor of Pullman Presbyterian Church, says the activists had been trying since October to get a meeting with Emanuel but could not nail him down, even as the police conduct issue boiled over in the wake of an officer’s fatal shooting in Ferguson, Missouri.
“Congregations heard over and over again — in our neighborhood canvasses — that our communities were being terrorized by police,” Knox said.
The Emanuel meeting took place in his City Hall office Saturday morning and lasted almost an hour — a distraction from the campaign trail during the last weekend before voters decide whether to reelect him Tuesday. The meeting included several of Emanuel’s senior staff members but not police Supt. Garry McCarthy.
The coalition includes the Community Renewal Society, the Jane Addams Senior Caucus and the Chicago Religious Leadership Network on Latin America. The ages and religious bent of the activists distinguish them from the young adults and leftists who have led many Chicago street protests since the Ferguson shooting.
The demands span three topics: the police department’s body-camera program, the department’s “stop-and-frisk” tactics, and the city’s police-oversight agencies.
On the body cameras, Rev. Sara Wohlleb of the Latin America network said the coalition wants “discipline for officers who fail to turn on the camera during any interaction with the public” and discipline for the supervisors of those officers.
“We also need the assurance that the recording will never be erased by the police department or any authority,” Wohlleb said. “We are asking for disclosure of videos and, in the case of flagged recordings where there’s a particular concern, we need that recording to be released to the public. We are also asking for public participation in the evaluation of the program.”
On the stop-and-frisk tactics, the coalition is demanding that data on the stops be collected and made public, that training for officers about legal requirements be improved, and that the people who are stopped get detailed receipts.
On police oversight, the coalition is calling for a “complete” overhaul of the Independent Police Review Authority, a city agency now led by former law-enforcement personnel, the activists noted. They also called for an independent police auditor or an “elected civilian accountability council.”
The coalition criticized the police department’s handling of indicted Cmdr. Glenn Evans and demanded that the police chief no longer be able to “alter, adjust, veto or fight” steps recommended by IPRA or the police department’s Internal Affairs Division.
A statement from Mayor Emanuel’s office calls the meeting “positive and productive” and says the city is already implementing some of the proposals, including discipline for officers who do not use their body cameras. The statement also says state law and the city’s contract with the police union would block some of the proposals. The mayor’s office agreed to another meeting with the coalition by early next month.
Speakers at the press conference included three of the most prominent supporters of Emanuel’s mayoral challenger, Cook County Commissioner Jesús Chuy García. Those three were Rev. Jesse Jackson, U.S. Rep. Danny Davis and Cook County Commissioner Robert Steele. Their role led to questions about whether the coalition was trying to hurt Emanuel in Tuesday’s election.
Nora Gaines of the Jane Addams Senior Caucus responded. “People have been asking to meet with the mayor for months and months,” she said. “The mayor chose to meet with us this Saturday morning before the election. You would have to ask him why he did that.”
Asked about the meeting’s timing, a spokesman for the mayor did not answer.
The coalition said it had met with García and that he had promised, if elected mayor, to approach police accountability with more “sensitivity.” But the issue has taken a backseat in García’s mayoral campaign. Instead the challenger has pledged to hire 1,000 new police officers — something he says Emanuel promised four years ago.