ACLU At Odds With Activists*
By Kevin Gosztola
Last week, the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois announced a “landmark” agreement with the Chicago Police Department and the City of Chicago on stop and frisks by police officers. However, in the days following, it became evident that activists from the local movement for police accountability were upset because they believed the ACLU’s settlement undermined their efforts.
Local activist groups planned to introduce an ordinance in the Chicago City Council to hopefully bring about “mandated collection and publication of CPD’s stop and frisk data.” Yet, secret negotiations led city council persons, who support the bill, to not file the legislation on July 28, even though a packed press conference was held. Activists see the ACLU as being complicit in helping the CPD avoid stronger measures that would have brought more scrutiny to stop and frisks.
In March, the ACLU issued a report showing Chicago had a bigger problem with stop and frisks by police than New York at the “height of the practice” in 2011. The ACLU informed the city that the organization planned to bring a lawsuit on behalf of individuals to address issues described in the report. That led to a “series of settlement negotiations to address the lawsuit,” according to Karen Sheley, senior staff counsel for the ACLU of Illinois.
An ACLU press release indicates the agreement [PDF] will be evaluated and overseen by former US Magistrate Judge Arlander Keys. The magistrate judge will produce “public reports twice each year on investigatory stops and pat downs by Chicago police.” Keys’ reviews will apparently examine whether the Chicago police are complying with the Fourth Amendment and whether the stops are having a “racially disparate impact prohibited by the Illinois Civil Rights Act.” Keys will have the authority to make recommendations to the CPD so that policies are changed.
Additionally, the agreement will require data collection to help determine whether the city is abusing the law. This includes:
“the name and badge number of the officer, the race/ethnicity of the person stopped, the gender of the person stopped, all the reasons for the stop, the location, date and time of the stop, whether or not a pat down resulted from the stop (along with the reason for the pat down), whether contraband was discovered and what happened as a result of the stop (including an arrest, warning, or no action at all).”
Asked how the agreement will bind the city and Chicago police, Sheley stated,
“We entered a settlement agreement that is binding in state court, and most importantly, we have an independent magistrate who has access to all of the city’s data and any other information that he wants about the stop and frisk program that he thinks would be necessary to assess it.”
The independent magistrate is “going to issue public reports. We believe that process is going to ensure that the city is working hard to comply with the agreement under which they’ve agreed they’re going to follow the law.”
However, Black Lives Matter Chicago and We Charge Genocide (WCG), a grassroots organization which travelled to Geneva last year to present a “shadow report” on police violence to the United Nations Committee Against Torture (UNCAT), wrote a disapproving and harsh letter to the ACLU about the agreement.
“We are writing in complete dismay and utter disgust upon learning—on the very day we were filing the Stops Transparency Oversight and Protection Act (“STOP Act”) in Chicago’s City Council—that you were in the midst of finalizing a “settlement” with the Chicago Police Department (CPD) and Mayor Emanuel’s office on the collection of stop and frisk data by the CPD,” the letter begins.
It suggests Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel requested sponsors of the STOP Act—Proco Joe Moreno, Roderick Sawyer, and Roberto Maldonado, delayed filing the ordinance until September. Months of organizing and outreach for the press conference to “scores of youth of color in the City of Chicago” was rendered insignificant.
WCG expresses dismay that the ACLU did not invite any representatives to the table to be part of negotiations and argues this settlement “directly undermined and undercut the organizing and advocacy efforts of black youth who are targeted by stop and frisk and discriminatory policing in Chicago.” The letter accuses the ACLU of “excluding” the input of community partners, particularly “youth directly impacted by the issue.”
Furthermore, the letter protests the fact that there are not stronger measures in the settlement for ensuring stop and frisk data will be made available to the public.
Sheley told Shadowproof,
“Given the attention being paid to this issue, not only by the ACLU, but by other groups, we fully expect the data to become public.
“It’s important to remember that the data in the ACLU of Illinois’ March 2015 report was obtained through FOIA,” Sheley added.
Asked how the agreement will hold CPD accountable for excessive use of force by police during stops and searches, Sheley did not specifically address the issue of use of force but said,
“The agreement provides immediate data collection and has independent review of the data and lawfulness of the stops. We are confident there will be fewer stops in Chicago.”
On August 13, the ACLU put out a statement, which indicated,
“Some groups determined that the most effective strategy was the pursuit of an ordinance now known as the STOP Act. Because that ordinance comported so closely to the goals articulated in the report, the ACLU supported the STOP Act when it was shared with us, and we continue to support it today. We hope the ordinance will move forward.” (It appears to be one of the ACLU’s first public expressions of support for the ordinance.)
“We’ll continue to fight on all fronts to ensure that there’s transparency and accountability for all police behaviour. This is one good step that will make a measure of that accountability and transparency. And we strongly believe that it is going to reduce the number of stops,” Sheley declared.
The ACLU report in March highlighted specific communities impacted disproportionately by stop and frisks. When asked if the ACLU would seek input from those communities, Sheley said,
“We welcome community input, and we’re going to work hard so that everyone has an opportunity to participate in this process.”
Unfortunately, a number of activists find the ACLU’s commitment to community input to be disingenuous.
The letter contains a timeline of events prior to the announcement of the agreement.
The ACLU Illinois has known for several months that WCG intended to seek mandated collection and publication of CPD’s stop and frisk data through Chicago’s City Council. It was first raised to the ACLU-Illinois in November 2014, and later when WCG members met with the ACLU-Illinois at your office on April 7, 2015. At that meeting, WCG shared a draft of the proposed ordinance, and you indicated the ACLU’s plan was to amend Illinois state law. You also informed us that you supported the STOP Act. You never suggested that WCG should not pursue the campaign to pass the STOP Act in Chicago’s City Council or that the ACLU was interested in working with the City to address this issue. You only asked us to refer any potential plaintiffs to you for a hypothetical lawsuit regarding stop and frisk. We subsequently emailed the ordinance to you and you provided us with feedback and edits which we wholeheartedly accepted.
“You only disclosed the terms of your deal to us on August 6th, the day you signed off on the deal with the CPD and Corporation Counsel,” which was the same day the ACLU of Illinois apparently had a meeting with WCG activists. Only then did they learn how the efforts of Chicago Votes, WCG and black youth had been undercut.
Additionally, local activists resent the fact that the ACLU would claim credit for the agreement without acknowledging how the organizing of activists created an environment, where the city felt compelled to pursue a settlement.
It was only a few months ago that the Chicago City Council passed reparations for police torture under Commander Jon Burge. That was a product of a vibrant grassroots movement in Chicago, which had tirelessly worked for some semblance of justice for decades and been reinvigorated by the movement for black lives.
Unlike New York, the ACLU opted to pursue a settlement instead of a time-consuming and potentially costly lawsuit.
“When the city was willing to sit down and negotiate and create the same measures that we would have been seeking in our lawsuit, we were willing to jump over the process of having to go through litigation and focus on the remedy,” Sheley explained.
However, Page May, an organizer with WCG, recalled how it took New York more than ten years to successfully sue the city for access to data. The STOP Act was intended to not put the community in the position where it would have to sue for access to data, but she argued that is exactly what the ACLU did. Chicago will now be where New York was prior to when the landmark lawsuit was filed and the settlement may negatively impact the ability of activists to move the STOP Act through the Chicago City Council.
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