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Defunding and City Council: an update from Evanston Fight for Black Lives

Evanston Fight for Black Lives, a group of activists that has been pushing to defund the Evanston Police Department since soon after the murder of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers in May, released an update on Wednesday, July 15, about meetings they've had (or haven't) with Evanston city council members and the mayor about defunding the Evanston Police Department.

The group's initial demand, which they announced in June, was for City Council to publicly commit to defunding the police department by Wednesday.

The group says that since releasing its official statement, members have reached out to the Mayor and aldermen requesting meetings to discuss the logistics of defunding in Evanston, but has only been able to meet with four alderpersons.

EFBL has held two community meetings (one at Mason Park and one online) to help Evanstonians understand what defunding means, and has organized a variety of actions and mobilizations around defunding, including a protest that started at Mayor Hagerty's house (during which his wife told protesters she disagrees with her husband's stance and supports defunding), and sit-ins this past Monday at each city council member's home during the weekly City Council meeting.

In its update, the group provided the responses (or lack of response) they've received from each alderperson. To date, only Ald. Don Wilson, 4, Ald. Rue Simmons, 5, and Ald. Fleming, 9th have publicly committed to defunding EPD. Fleming was the first to do so in a statement she released in mid-June.

Here's the rundown on where the rest of the City Council stands, as reported by EFBL:

First Ward Alderman Judy Fiske, the group reports, didn't reply to an email request for a meeting, and didn't come out to speak to her constituents or organizers at the sit-in.

"We are left to assume that she does not support defunding the Evanston Police Department. In fact, Fiske believes that the city’s approach to policing is 'just enough.'" the group says.

Second Ward Alderman Peter Braithwaite has not committed to defunding and says he will not do so, the group reports.

The update says Braithwaite told his constituents at Monday's sit-in that he doesn’t understand the need for defunding in Evanston. "He wrongly assumes that police only need to be defunded when they commit violent crimes, that police brutality and trauma has to be blatant to matter," the update reports.

"Braithwaite insists the Evanston Police Department is not so bad that they have to be radically altered, and seems to misunderstand that the point of defunding is to build community, not to allow crime," says the report.

Braithwaite said he would hold a conversation about defunding at one of his ward meetings, but did not provide details.

The group says Braithwaite centered the discussion around the City's budget process and that he doesn't seem willing to engage in a meaningful conversation about the police budget until the budget process begins next month.

The group says it wasn't able to schedule a meeting with 3rd ward Alderman Melissa Wynne and that Wynne didn't come outside to address constituents at the sit-in.

Evanston Fight for Black Lives organizers say that at an initial meeting with 4th ward Alderman Don Wilson, Wilson told the group that he understood the Evanston Police Department needs to change.

"It wasn’t until the sit-in during the city council meeting on Monday, however, that Wilson committed to defunding," the group reports. In an email to The Daily Northwestern, Wilson made it clear that “he supported redirecting funds from the police to other community services.

Fifth Ward Alderman Robin Rue Simmons committed to defunding the Evanston Police Department at the group's initial meeting with her, the report says.

The group says 6th ward Alderman Tom Suffredin has not committed to defunding, but seems interested in doing so.

"In the initial meeting with Fight for Black Lives organizers Suffredin showed interest in the concept of defunding and altering the police department. He was overly focused on how the ordinances surrounding defunding could get passed," the update says.

Suffredin spoke to constituents at the sit-in outside his house on Monday. The report says Suffredin "implied that he is in favor of defunding, but worries about committing to something nebulous when he’s not sure that it can be passed."

Until there are five council members in favor of defunding, Suffredin said, he doesn’t understand the purpose or power of his commitment to voting with the “minority”. But the group points out, Suffredin voted against the last three budgets and they did pass, "so he doesn’t care about being in the minority on city council."

The group agrees with Suffredin that defunding won't pass without community buy-in and says that it's "committed to building buy-in, educate folks of all ages and all colors, to field community concerns and questions, and to construct a solution to the over-policing in Evanston that our community can get behind."

The group reports that 7th ward Alderman Eleanor Revelle did not reply to its initial request for a meeting, but she did speak with constituents and organizers during Monday's sit-in outside her home.

"Revelle explained that she was uncomfortable committing to defunding because she is still learning about what the concept means and why it is necessary," the report says.

"If you have a Black Lives Matter sign outside of your house, as Alderman Revelle does, then defunding shouldn’t even be a question," organizers say.

Eighth Ward Alderman Ann Rainey did not reply to a request from Evanston Fight for Black Lives to meet.

"We were left to assume that Rainey does not support defunding, and she only made this opinion more obvious on Monday when she stated that she does not know what defunding is and made a truly off-color joke about police shooting protesters outside her home," the group says.

After the sit-in on Monday, Rainey suggested an 8th ward Zoom meeting. The meeting was co-moderated by Evanston City Clerk Devon Reid and Jersey Shabazz, an activist with the Chicago Freedom School.

"The conversation was lively and informative," the group reports. "It seems like Alderman Rainey has been educating herself on the concept of defunding and some likely policy proposals that could begin the process of defunding in Evanston." Yet, the report says, she was still unwilling to commit to defunding and a communal understanding of her role in perpetuating systemic racism in Evanston.

Ninth Ward Alderman Cicely Fleming was the first elected official to publicly commit to defunding the Evanston Police Department.

As for Mayor Steve Hagerty, the group reports that it's had several meetings with him, and that "he has made it very clear that he is not in favor of defunding."

In its report, the group also criticized a comment made by EPD Chief Demitrous Cook, on a Dear Evanston Facebook post, suggesting Evanston residents visit Englewood to see why policing is necessary.

Editors note: While Chief Cook's comment was unhelpful at best, he has publicly seemed to support defunding the EPD. During a Community Coffee last Saturday morning organized by Advocates for Action, and featuring the Chief, Sgt. Scott Sophier, and Officers Tosha Wilson and Adam Howard, Chief Cook said:

"I take it that defunding the police means taking a critical look at budgetary resources that are allocated to the police department from public money--and let's make no doubt about it, we are funded by the public--and how the public wants to utilize that money creates public value in my estimation.

So taking a critical look at our budget and being efficient in the utilization of these public funds and defund any perceived excess of funds--whether it's a program that's not needed or that the public doesn't value any more and putting that money in a way that helps stop over-policing, minimizes the negative interactions between police and the public. So putting funds where they can be better utilized.

For instance, mental health. When I first became a police officer, we did very little with the mentally ill, other than transport them to mental health facilities that no longer exist. So it's putting resources into other avenues, social services, and things of that nature."


In related news:

  • This Monday, July 20 at noon, Mayor Hagerty will host the third in his Q&A on Policing series, which will focus on EPD's role in Evanston schools and its collaboration with Northwestern University's police department. You can watch the last two meetings in the series on the City's You Tube channel.

  • This past week, the D202 board discussed the presence and role of School Resource Officers (the two EPD officers, not the safety staff) at ETHS. No vote was taken in terms of retaining or removing them. The board discussed the need for input from students about their experiences with the SROs and discussed developing a survey. A summary of that meeting will be posted soon. In the meantime, Evanston Fight for Black Lives has created this link and encourages ETHS students and graduates to share their experiences with SROs at the school. The group may share your comments on its social media so only share what you're comfortable with and omit any identifying information.

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