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“Calling the cops on the cops”: 1980s Evanston, IL — 2020 USA

The second part of this email contains a “Citizen Comment” that I submitted to the Evanston City Council in November 2019. The first part of this email provides some context for why I am sharing this now, in June 2020. 

I submit this to all of you — fellow Evanstonians — as my contribution to the city-wide and national outrage at: 
— the killing of Mr. George Floyd by 4 Minneapolis police officers
— the police riots and official support of those riots in response to protests all over the country
— the decades-long ineffective leadership of officials and other elites in addressing systemic inequities, hypocrisy, corruption, and climate destruction

Nichols Neighbors 
(neighborhood group around Nichols school, area bounded by Dempster, Ridge, Main, Chicago Ave.)
Evanston media
Evanston political groups
Other individual Evanstonians in my networks

Hi, all —

My Citizen Comment from 2019 contains some historical personal information about incidents that I have witnessed regarding Evanston police in my 42 years of living in the Nichols neighborhood. As you can read, the first incident turned out to be me “calling the cops on the cops” — although I didn’t know it at the time.

The Citizen Comment also contains some self-reflective thoughts on my own evolution from my 30s (in the 1980s) to now. For the record, strangers in my life have perceived me as:
—a human being
—a woman
—a brown person (Middle Eastern, Jewish, Hispanic, Indigenous, east Indian, etc.)

I answer best to “retired gardener” and “democracy activist”.
I sometimes answer to “sacred manifestation of Mother Earth” (LOL).

WHAT’S NEXT—for the U.S., for Evanston?
With this email, I am not trying to provide a rigorous plan as to our next policy steps. Mostly, I wanted to make sure that my experiences in Evanston are on the record. Nevertheless, here are two thoughts about next steps.

National Action?
I agree with other Americans who, as my Citizen Comment recommends, are advocating for a national discussion about the history and purpose of U.S. police departments.

According to independent candidate for U.S. president, Mark Charles, the video of Minneapolis police killing George Floyd last Memorial Day contains an anguished comment by one of the anguished bystanders about “how do you call the cops on the cops?” 

You can listen to Mark Charles’s 20-minute statement on the killing of George Floyd and the state of race, gender, and class in the U.S. here (a video posted on his Twitter account — anyone can watch):

I think Americans will find Charles’s over-arching platform compelling: a national truth and conciliation process on race, gender, and class.  More specifically, he advocates as I have been advocating for the last five years, a complete rewrite of the U.S. Constitution.  I call it updating. Mark Charles calls it editing.

Please note that this is not an election statement. I agree with most other Evanstonians that voting Trump out of the White House is the most important presidential vote we can cast. But we can take good ideas, platforms, and messaging from other candidates and push for their adoption by the Democratic Party, the eventual Democratic nominee, and by any other candidate for any other office (as appropriate).

Evanston Action? 
In terms of timely City of Evanston action, one of the first things that should be considered is reducing the police department’s budget in favor of the basic needs that Evanstonians have right now—food, housing, income.

I am not advocating that any police officer lose her/his job. A workshare program such as is being proposed by 19 unions at Rutgers University might be a good start for investigation.

Perhaps the Citizens Network for Protection will take the lead on this question.

If you think this adds to the Evanston and/or national conversation about rethinking police departments, please share.

From: Debbie Hillman
Subject: CITIZEN COMMENT #1 for 11/11/19: Citizen Police Review Commission
Date: November 11, 2019 at 10:14:19 AM CST

Ald. Don Wilson (4th ward)
cc: Nichols Neighbors
City Clerk Devon Reid
Betty Ester – President, Citizens’ Network of Protection
bcc: Other concerned Evanstonians in my networks

Ald. Wilson:
This is a busy night at City Council, so I am sending TWO separate emails on two separate items.

Please consider this my official comment on the proposed ordinance creating a Citizen Police Review Commission (79-O-19).

I request that you vote “no” on adopting this ordinance, for two reasons:

1. The grassroots group that has been studying these issues (Citizens Network for Protection) has made a proposal that varies widely from the City’s proposal. An easy-to-read comparison drafted by CNP is attached.

2. As a 68-year old American and lifelong activist, I have finally come to understand that police culture in the U.S. is toxic. Just as many of us now understand that the U.S. Constitution was not written for women, Indigenous peoples, and African-Americans, many of us are now understanding that the genesis of American police departments was not the safety and peace of everyone, but only certain segments of society.

I can confirm that Evanston’s police department shares that DNA. In approximately 1983, when I was living at 1145 Oak, I was a witness to a beating right outside my living room window. In the dark of a summer evening, from my open second floor windows obscured by tall evergreens, I heard someone getting beaten up, very viciously. I called 911 immediately. It turns out I was calling the police on a cop; the cop was doing the beating. (A sargeant took my testimony a few days later because the suspect made a complaint.)

About the same time (mid-1980s), in broad daylight, I witnessed a number of police officers yelling at a suspect sitting in a police car outside the Mexican Shop. He had clearly been arrested by the swarm of police cars and was probably in handcuffs, of no danger to anyone at the moment. As one by one, each officer looked in the back window and yelled profanity at the suspect, my 30+ year old mind framed the behavior as “unprofessional”. I now know better and categorize it as police brutality that seems to have been tolerated and/or encouraged in the U.S. and Evanston for a long time.

More recently (in the last 3-5 years), there have been other questionable incidents involving Evanston police (and police associates) that either (a) I have been the subject of, and/or (b) was citywide news (e.g., the arrest of Devon Reid while he was gathering signatures on a petition). The incidents that I have been subject to occurred after Trump’s election created a heightened (even before inaugurated) culture of fear & profiling. As you know, I am dark-haired and often pass for many different cultures—Middle Eastern, Hispanic, Indigenous, etc. (Post-election in late-2016, early 2017, I experienced this kind of profiling at my own bank, where I had been a charter member for 20 years.)

These incidents suggest to me that ALL U.S. communities need to start from the beginning:
—Why do we have a police force?
—Are we expecting police officers to do too much, that other citizens should be doing or that our society as a whole should be doing (e.g., mental health, education, eliminate stresses of economic inequality)? It seems to me that we have been asking our public educators, police, and fire departments to deal with the fallout of gross economic inequality and climate destruction.
—Are we expecting police officers to do contradictory tasks?
—What are the professional standards that we expect?

I believe that CNP has already started this process and I thank them for all their time and effort. Clearly, the City’s process has not been sufficient and probably not broad enough.

Thank you for voting “no” on the proposed ordinance. I would leave it up to CNP to suggest a next step.