Last month, Chicago hip-hop artist and activist Che “Rhymefest” Smith said he was robbed at gunpoint in his car on the South Side. According to his account, he was mistreated when he reported the crime to police.
You wonder we don’t report crimes? The police treated me disgustingly pic.twitter.com/fY9VQrqDpz— Rhymefest (@RHYMEFEST) August 27, 2016
Since then, Rhymefest has organized what he calls a Truth and Reconciliation series, where police and community members can share their stories in an attempt to create a dialogue.
Morning Shift talked to Rhymefest about the robbery, his encounter with police, his subsequent meetings with Mayor Rahm Emanuel and CPD brass, and his plans for Truth and Reconciliation in Chicago. Here are the highlights:
On sympathizing with officers under duress
- “I don’t think Chicagoans really know what the job entails. I believe many of our officers are suffering from trauma and PTSD … and still have a gun and a badge and are encountering high-intensity situations that they don’t know how to deal with. And the officers themselves aren’t getting the help they need.”
- “I think when officers put on their badge we forget that they are our neighbors.”
- “To a certain extent, people are going to have to let their guards down and trust the officer. I think that is the one thing in this whole thing that we’re talking about regarding police reform: No one is really talking to the officer. To not take care of our officers and citizens has cost our city more than it’s given us.”
“The city is stressed”: Rhymefest on Chicago’s history with stress and duress
- “It’s not just officers; it’s Chicagoans in general. We need citywide therapy. We can go back to Daley, Jon Burge torturing people. We’re dealing with the children of torture victims who were also tortured … and the city has never had a healing or reckoning for the trauma that its citizens endure. And I’m not just talking about black people or the South and West sides. If you go to Lincoln Park, people are getting robbed. The Gold Coast isn’t safe anymore.
- How can we have reform if people are unable to tell their stories? … I got an apology because, okay, I have an Oscar etc. But what about all those people who wanted to file reports and didn’t get an apology? … We need therapists on deck because the solutions that we have to deal with often don’t have much to do with city policy, but have to deal with trauma. The citizens of Chicago have become normalized to trauma in a way where we don’t even do fight-or-flight anymore.”
“Chicago is a city built on communities… You can’t work the city from the top down.” -@RHYMEFEST— Morning Shift (@WBEZmorning) September 19, 2016
On the Black Lives Matter movement and how communities can make a change
- “I believe we have to come from positions of leverage and not that of me begging for my life, or telling [law enforcement] why [they] should let me breath or asking you not to shoot. No. I am a taxpayer who employs the mayor, employs the police. I believe we have to come to them as their employer. If we go to the police and the mayor as [if they are] oppressors, then we have no leverage. What I do believe is effective: healing, discussion, and policy after the healing.”
Tony and Rhymefest hit the phones and asked, “What’s your experience been when trying to report a crime in Chicago?” Click play above to listen to the full conversation.
This interview was edited for clarity and conciseness.