Closing arguments in the trial of former Minneapolis police Officer Derek Chauvin, who is charged with murder and manslaughter in the death of George Floyd nearly a year ago, are set to begin Monday.
As the country awaits an outcome in that case, the manner in which police operate in Black and Latino communities – in particular, how they use deadly force — remains very much in the spotlight. In recent weeks, two more names have been added to the grim tally of police killings: 20-year-old Daunte Wright in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota, and 13-year-old Adam Toledo in Chicago’s Little Village neighborhood.
In both cases, police body camera footage has been released and the communities in which Wright and Toledo lived are reacting with shock, grief and protests.
Aislinn Pulley, co-executive director of the Chicago Torture Justice Center, said she believes Mayor Lori Lightfoot has responded to the Toledo shooting “horrifically,” in particular the raising of the Lake Shore Drive river bridge. (The Chicago Department of Transportation has said that the bridge raising was part of its regularly scheduled maintenance plan.)
“The AG report that came out just a few months ago revealed that when the mayor raised the bridges during the uprising over the summer, hundreds of people were brutalized, hundreds of people were detained and the brutality was horrific … and this is all a result of the chaos and the confusion because people were trapped downtown,” she said.
Equity and Transformation Chicago lead organizer Alonzo Waheed is also critical of the city’s response to the video release. He says he would like the city work with community organizers much earlier in the process.
“I believe that they should have taken the necessary precautions to contact community organizers that were on the ground, understood the pulse of the community and had them directly involved with how to move forward,” Waheed said. "There’s this misconception that they know the best way to handle our community, which keeps us divided, with us understanding from their actions that we can’t trust them. There is no transparency and without working in collaboration with us to solve these problems, there’s going to always be these issues where they’re showing that they cannot be trusted, they should not be trusted, they are the perpetrators of this harm. Without working with individuals that can bridge us together, this will just continue to happen.”
Retired Chicago police Officer Richard Wooten says he sees mistakes in how the video’s release was handled as well.
“It’s evident that the police department needs to do more of involvement with parents and family members of individuals who are suffering from this traumatic experience … The family should not have to wait two-three weeks to see a video when everyone else actually within the department and COPA already saw the video,” Wooten said. “I think it will be much easier for them to actually have more legitimacy … with the family to show them what actually happened … and making them part of the process.”
Pulley points to past reckonings of police violence to illustrate her belief that no change has ever come to how the Chicago Police Department operates in the Black community.
“In 1927, there was an Illinois crime report that revealed that although Black people only made up 5% of the population at that time, we were killed at a rate 10 times that of white folks,” she said. “And so the DOJ report that was created after the political crisis that resulted from the video showing Jason van Dyke murdering Laquan McDonald reported that same exact statistic … So no, nothing has changed.”
A lack of accountability in police killings, including Toledo’s death, demonstrates deep, systemic problems within the Chicago Police Department, Waheed said.
“When you have individuals that have been nurtured in a culture where they believe that a whole community is criminals and that they have the responsibility or the wherewithal, because they have a shield of protection around them to protect them after they go into a community and kill these individuals, then I believe that that system needs to be overhauled,” he said.
And Wooten says that until police departments begin addressing the racial inequities within their ranks, they cannot improve their relationship with the communities they are charged with serving.
“As long as racism is not being addressed, as long as we’re not hiring from within our own communities, as long as we’re not making the officers look like the communities that they’re serving, we’re going to continue to have a problem and we have to actually begin to fight that,” he said. “So the change is not happening as fast as we want it to be, but we have to actually continue to get more involved as a community within our departments and allow our departments to actually bridge the gap again with communities.”