What We Can Learn From What Really Happened in Chicago

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Chicago Peace Fellow

On Sunday, August 9, I was at home with my kids, just a regular day to chill and watch Netflix, when I checked Facebook Live and saw that there was something going on nearby at the corner of 65th Street and Aberdeen Avenue. On my phone, I saw a crowd as well as police, and heard screaming. It was pretty intense.

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I instantly went out the door with the idea that I had to go and help my community, even though realistically, I didn’t know what I was walking into.

The corner of 65th and Aberdeen is residential, and when I got there, it seemed the whole neighborhood was outside, children as young as six years old, women and men of all ages. A lot of people were very upset.

I talked to a few neighbors gathered there. Some told me that a 15-year-old was shot 15 times by police, but when I talked to CPD officers on the scene, they said they didn’t know the age of the person and that he was shot after pulling a gun on officers, and that was injured but not expected to die.

Anytime someone is shot by police it is a tragedy that causes pain and a lot of tension, but this situation was made even worse by a lot of people who had the wrong information, so I stayed to mediate.

Community members were spread out, the police were being very aggressive, and there were agitators out there too. As I was working to find out what was happening, there was a lot of pushing and shoving, and when a police officer grabbed a guy and ripped his shirt, the crowd moved in. It took some serious effort to stay calm and separate the police from the community.

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I knew the district commander, so I worked with him to create a buffer between the people and the police. I thought about Dr. King and the organizers from the old days, and asked some of the other Englewood men I knew to build up a human wall to keep everyone apart. We locked arms to form a barrier, and they didn’t cross and we didn’t cross.

It was a tense stand-off, and people were there to fight for justice and do the right thing. I felt that people were looking for guidance.

We have to fight for what’s right, but we also have to do it the right way, together.

The right way takes everyone, including the police. The police had been aggressive and abusive, and by the end there were 200 officers from multiple districts. But they ended up leaving, and because of the organizing and de-escalation from neighborhood leaders, the community opened a passage in the middle of the street for them to march out.

I thought that was the end of it. Everyone went back in their houses, or back to their porches and just chilled. It was beautiful.

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Looters?

That night, news reports suggested that the incident led to looting in the central business district and once again Englewood was seen as the source of the problem. Later news reports confirmed that none of the looters were from Englewood. On top of that, I know that tensions would rise upon the news that the officers who chased and shot Latrell Allen were not wearing body cameras which is part of why there was so much misinformation spreading which further inflames the lack of trust in our neighborhood.

On Tuesday, my social media had messages that there was a protest at the 7th District police station in my community put together by folks from Black Lives Matters and their allies. Of course, the concept that ‘Black Lives Matter’ is something all Black people support because Black lives are being hurt every day. The message resonates here in my neighborhood, but BLM as an organization doesn’t have a grassroots presence in Englewood and all Black people do not necessarily stand behind the organization.

Fearing more dangerous confrontations with police, I went out there with a group of other Englewood residents; we weren’t trying to protect the police station, but rather to protect the community.

We were concerned the protest could turn into a riot, which would make our relationship with the police even worse, so I went to speak with every group out there. Some media outlets reported it was a BLM event, but it was actually put together by a lot of organizations. I tried to mediate, asked each group who their leader was, and explained the community’s concerns. We too believe in justice for Black lives, but they should have shown respect for the community’s leaders and coordinated with those of us who live here before deciding to hold this protest, I told them. There were a lot of college kids, and I understood they wanted to fight for the same issues that we also care about, so I wanted to help them navigate.

“Don’t come in and start a whole lot of stuff and then our families have to deal with the consequences after you go home,” I remember telling one leader.

Other Englewood residents, older gentlemen, arrived and started yelling at the kids, but the protestors said they had the right to free speech, so they protested for 5-10 minutes.

I was quoted in a few reports from the scene, and then was contacted afterward by many national media outlets about this incident. Some have tried to make it “Englewood Residents vs. BLM,” but this is not about kicking anyone out of any community or any lack of commitment to justice for Black communities. It is about everybody respecting one another, and decreasing tensions on all sides, and that means improving the relationship with the police as well. The last thing we need is to escalate the tensions we already have here.

Moving Forward

The police today do not approach our communities with de-escalation tactics, and we need to figure out how to increase their community engagement to make sure they are really invested in building relationships so when incidents happen, they can communicate, talk to people right then and there on the scene. We need relationships, not tension, to make things better in the future.

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Sometimes the loudest agitator can be a peacemaker, and even the SWAT team could come with empathy. We need to listen to each other and realize the vast majority of us want safety and justice.

The City of Chicago, and the Police Department in particular, need to establish proper relationships with communities they serve. Despite our economic status in the city, we’re still tax-payers who deserve fairness and equity. The people who make decisions need to listen more to the people their decisions affect. The Police need to rebuild their bond with the community by getting out of their cars, putting away their militarized gear and hostility, and get to know our names and hear our stories. When we call for help, too often we end up getting hurt by the people sworn to protect us.

People in Englewood look at the police with suspicion because of all they’ve done in our community. But in order for a protest to be successful, to actually help, the organizers have to listen and respect others. They have to know the community they’re “fighting for” and not just show up with bull horns and signs. You need someone on that end to listen, too.

Listen to all sides. That’s best way to get results. And everyone needs to Fact Check.

While it can take a long time to build trust, this approach works. As a Chicago Peace Fellow, I know there are great people in every neighborhood doing this hard and unsung work. It adds up every day, and that’s why I have hope for a future where we can all live in peace and where Black lives matter.

If we all focus on building relationships rather than boosting tensions, something like this can start off small but can have a really big impact on society.

 

Joseph Williams founded the Mr. Dad’s Father’s Club in 2017 to get fathers actively involved in children’s lives through mentoring and literacy. Joseph is a Chicago Peace Fellow and a life-long Englewood resident where he raises his 5 children.

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