At last Monday's City Council meeting, council members voted to approve a $1.25 million settlement with Lawrence Crosby, the former Northwestern University doctoral student who was beaten and arrested after Evanston police thought he’d stolen his own car.
The settlement released the City of Evanston from having to admit any wrongdoing or say there was any validity to Crosby’s claims of battery, conspiracy or malicious prosecution.
But Evanston resident Misty Witenberg, City Clerk Devon Reid, and Alderman Donald Wilson all emphasized that the City bore responsibility to admit wrongdoing.
Each spoke eloquently and passionately. Here's what they said.
Misty Witenberg, fifth ward resident, addressed the Council:
"I want to urge you to insist that we admit liability. We're in this mess because we refused to take blame from the start. Most of the settlement is for repetitional harm caused by the city. It was initiated because instead of apologizing to this young man, we pursued charges against him that even officers on the scene had said they knew were going to fall apart and that was at taxpayer expense," she said.
"His initial suit asked for less than $50,000, and increased to what it is now because we repeatedly smeared him, and we used city platforms to do that.
The attorneys who are advising you in this whole 'neither admit nor deny,' all represent the City corporation and its corporate interests, but you guys are supposed to represent the public interest. Protecting the city from having to admit when it's wrong to members of the public is not in the public interest."
Evanston City Clerk Devon Reid, who himself was wrongfully arrested in downtown Evanston in 2016 while he petitioned for signatures in order to run for office, left the dais to address City Council as a private resident.
"The bulk of the $1.25 million settlement is compensation for repetitional harm caused by us, the City, and our refusal to take responsibility and work toward swift justice," Reid said.
"Community scrutiny is centered on the actions of the first responders, and first responders have a tough job. They thought this was a felony stop. The police department has issued a number of reforms, including body cameras for all officers, and a cessation of the policy of forcing subjects into the prone position during felony traffic stops, and we should be proud of these steps.
"Recent conversations among community members have focused on the young lady who reported the supposed crime. The swift criminalization and suspicion of the black body and of young black men, are unfortunately engrained deeply into the bedrock of our culture, and we must, as individuals and as this institution, check racial bias, afford our neighbors the benefit of the doubt, and be willing to investigate further.
"But what I'm concerned most by is what hasn't garnered attention from the public, and most alarmingly, from some members of this dais: the City's released dash-cam footage opened with a further criminalization of Mr. Crosby, accusing him of actively resisting arrest and failing to comply with officers, and this is over a year after he had been acquitted of those charges.
"The public has an interest in the city's acknowledgment of when we do wrong. And it's beyond the financial cost. It's essential for public trust overall. And it's essential for the safety of our officers, and essential for making sure that this doesn't occur again.
"Instead of the City apologizing to Mr. Crosby after finding out the car was registered to him, he was still arrested. instead of dropping the charges, our former corporation counsel chose to pursue those charges knowing that they could be, and would be, dismissed in court, prompting this lawsuit.
"But I do know that this Council is committed to making this city the most livable city in the world. I ask that in light of tonight's settlement, the Council will review the process, that we review the use of 'disobedience to police' as a charge ... and that we'll take serious steps to make sure this doesn't happen again in the future."
Alderman Wilson spoke last:
"I want to acknowledge that the fact we're making this settlement should be a reminder that there is still a lot of work to be done, and policy changes have been made. But the harder part of all of this is to think about what underlies all of the events that transpired. Not just that night, but thereafter.
"I am sorry that this happened to Mr. Crosby, but I'm also very sorry that we live in a world where the circumstances and the policies and decisions that are made lead to these results. And that's a much harder question.
"This has to force us to dig deeper, and acknowledge prejudices that underlie these events. Excuses aren't acceptable, rationalizations aren't acceptable, and, I know that I'm never know how it feels to walk in the shoes of a black man, and I'm never going to know how it feels to be in any of these circumstances. It's also not my place to speak for anyone else's experience.
"But I have a job when I'm up here, and we all have a job when we're up here. And it's not just to listen, and it's not just to hear. I feel like part of our job, and I think that my colleagues agree, is to do everything we can to tear down the barriers that have been put up. These barriers have existed for a long time, and have been carefully constructed, but going forward we are accountable for the future. We have to look toward the future and really dig deep and effect real change and long term change."
Recently, Lawrence Crosby held a news conference to talk about the settlement and his future plans to work on issues of race and implicit bias. Here are three links to that coverage: