No Justice, No Peace

On Saturday, August 15, 2020, Chicagoans protested in the downtown area for police accountability and changes to our CIty’s policing practices. A group of six youth activist organizations gathered young people from all over our city to demand the removal of police from schools, the defunding of the police department and for the Mayor and other City leaders to take action to keep them safe.

Those youth were protesting just a week after another rash of coordinated burglaries and thefts of downtown and loop area stores. In response to the downtown mayhem, the Mayor and Superintendent of Police announced efforts to protect the downtown and loop area from any further criminal activity in this area. Tactical decisions made in response to the protests resulted in an unwarranted crackdown by the City of Chicago against young activists who were peacefully exercising their first amendment rights. While a couple of protestors responded violently to the police actions, video shows us clearly that the vast majority of protestors fled, attempting to leave the downtown area and then were prevented from doing so.

The Mayor and the Superintendent have made statements defending the police response, assuring us that it was just and in proportion to the actions of protestors. We were shown video of one protester hitting an officer repeatedly with a skateboard on the head during a standoff. They explained to us that the tactics employed against our youth were necessary in order to, “protect peaceful protestors.”

Protest organizers and participants have accused the police of unwarranted violence. They say that the police were the instigators and the only violence from protestors was in self defense. People shared stories with me of being herded and corralled by police and beaten with batons with no way to escape. They shared videos that showed unarmed, terrified young people being beaten and chased through the streets of downtown by our police officers.

Is this what safety looks like for our youth, our police officers, and the rest of our city? Is this the way we believe we’re going to restore peace to the city? One thing is clear: if we keep going this way things are only going to continue to escalate. Which is something no one wants.

“Without justice, there can be no lasting peace.” Kofi Anan spoke these words in 2003 during his address to the International Criminal Court on the occasion of the first swearing in of their judges. I’ve come back to these words often over the last few months as our city has seen upticks in gun violence, clashes between protestors and police, burglary, destruction of property and mass dissent. The idea that, as a city, we won’t achieve the peace many seek without first delivering justice to those who have been denied it because of government policies, practices or representatives rings painfully true to me. And it must ring true to others as it’s a frequent chant at protests, including many I have attended myself over the years, “No justice, no peace!”

Chicago has been in a state of conflict for decades. What we call uprisings or civil unrest are the spontaneous eruptions of this conflict that happen when the build up of injustice, racism and systemic oppression can no longer be contained by social and political constraints. We will not achieve peace in our city until we reconcile our conflict. Right now, we are in great conflict about what public safety should look like and how to achieve it for all of our residents.

Some are demanding we defund the police and reimagine public safety.

Some are demanding more police presence and action to make the city safer.

And most everyone is calling for peace, an end to police violence and impunity, and an end to gun violence in our city.

We know we need to invest in the people and the neighborhoods in our city that have been starved and pushed to the brink — some of this is already in progress — but I fear it won’t be enough. We are stuck in a loop; a cycle of uprising and repression that is killing our people and our city. We need to reconcile our past harms and current traumas before we can progress.

Reconciliation is a process where the City and our residents could build trust through dialogue, acknowledge wrong-doing and harm, and come to terms on how we can restore our City and our people. From one Mayoral administration to the next, Alderman to Alderman, Chicago seems to grudgingly recognize our most protracted conflicts only when they become impossible to ignore and then addresses them by avoiding the underlying causes, seeking to find the quickest path to ameliorating the symptoms. But before we can fully realize the benefits of any reforms, changes or reimagining of public safety, we have to come to terms with what our past and current policing practices have done to our people, particularly our youth.

We didn’t get to this place overnight and we’re not going to get past it quickly either, but I am certain that any solutions proposed that don’t include a reconciliation process to address decades of conflict between the Chicago Police Department and the residents of Chicago will fail to achieve justice and therefore not result in any lasting peace.

To begin, we need a process to recognize and acknowledge the harm that has been done to our residents. I’m working on a resolution to address this for consideration by the City Council. The residents of our city are looking to their leaders to repair the deeply damaged relationships between our police and our residents and to reimagine public safety. The time for action is now.

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