A Chicago Police Department off-the-record Zoom meeting June 30 with hand-picked leaders from LGBTQ organizations and new CPD Superintendent David Brown resulted in a public response calling for major changes in CPDincluding "substantial defunding" of police. More than 110 LGBTQ people signed a statement included at the end of this article.
Windy City Times was only made aware of the meeting when activists posted the information on social media. A number of these uninvited activists were also on the call.
According to the email that was posted on social media, the goal of the call was to introduce Brown, who has been on the job for eight weeks, to local LGBTQ leaders and find out how CPD can support LGBTQ community needs in Chicago. The Zoom link was only made available to the invited guests so this reporter was only able to call in via cell phone and was unable to introduce herself.
The 45-minute call came two days after the Pride Without Prejudice/Reclaim Pride march that took place on Chicago's North Side amidst the worldwide #BlackLivesMatter protests against police brutality. The march focused on Black and Brown trans people and was held on what would have been the date of Chicago's Pride Paradethe parade had been canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
CPD Assistant Director of Policy and Strategic Initiatives Mike Milstein facilitated the discussion.
During Brown's opening statement, he called the #BlackLivesMatter protests civil unrest. He said he was looking forward to working with the invited guests and mentioned the CPD officer who used a homophobic slur that was captured on video. Brown added that he took immediate action and relieved that officer of his police powers and launched an investigation that is still pending.
Brown said he knows there are issues between the CPD and the LGBTQ community and added that when it is safe to do so he will be having a meeting with trans activists to hear their concerns. Brown also said he wants to appoint five CPD LGBTQ liaisons.
While answering callers' questions, Brown spoke about "increasing violence against our police officers" with 16 officers being shot at as well as the challenges he has faced since taking this job. He added that he was in favor of having more social services in the city; however he does not want to reduce the $1.76 billion CPD budget and re-direct those funds to Chicago Public Schools and other entities.
Many of the participants said they advocated for defunding and de-militarizing the police and investing in LGBTQ and Black and Brown community's futures. They said that their stakeholders are telling them the same thing and added that many times the police do not make these communities safe and, at times, contribute to more violence in Chicago. Additionally, they said Brown needs to look at the detailed information activists have published regarding what they want to happen with the CPD and put them into action.
A number of invited leaders emailed statements to Windy City Times reacting to what transpired during the call.
"Anytime the superintendent of the Chicago Police Department reaches out to community for feedback, it is a positive step," said Center on Halsted CEO Modesto "Tico" Valle. "Sometimes the feedback is going to be difficult to hear and will test their leadership. Walking into a high-profile position as the head of a highly scrutinized police department in one of the most segregated cities in the country, cannot have been easy. What the groups on the call were demanding at the very least is that Superintendent Brown needs to understand that this is not business as usual. We must have systemic change. We must listen to and act upon the needs of LGBTQ Black communities, particularly Black trans communities, here in Chicago. There is a real opportunity in front of us to go beyond the Consent Decree and effect change where it is needed most."
"At a time where there's a national conversation about defunding the police, I was heartened to see that Superintendent Brown was willing to talk with and listen to LGBTQ community leaders," said AIDS Foundation Chicago President and CEO John Peller. "LGBTQ people, and especially trans women of color and people living with HIV, can experience life-long consequences from interactions with the police. Chicago, the state and federal government must invest in services and supports like job training, better neighborhood schools, increased access to culturally competent substance use and mental health treatment to keep LGBTQ people out of harm's way."
When Windy City Times reached out to Milstein to ask him about the meeting, what the catalyst was for setting up the call, why it was not made public, how the CPD came up with the invite list and why activists were not invited on the call he sent this response via email to the paper:
"Superintendent Brown hosted a call with LGBTQ+ organization founders and leaders with the purpose of introducing himself to them, meeting them and learning about their organizations. This is the first of many conversations we hope to have with members of the LGBTQ+ community as we work to strengthen our relationships with the community and find ways to collaborate more on how to better support the community. Being new to Chicago, this was the Superintendent's first opportunity to connect with many of these organizations and learn about the work they are doing. There will be many more meetings with members of the community.
"This was an introduction meeting to learn about different organizations in the LGBTQ+ community and was the first of many conversations with members of the community. We worked with a few of the LGBTQ+ organizations we have existing relationships with to create the list and ensure we were reaching all communities. This meeting was meant as an introduction meeting so the Superintendent could learn about the different organizations in the LGBTQ+ community. The Superintendent plans to meet with more members of the community, including activists."
Following the meeting, more than 110 LGBTQ community members and organization leaders, including more than a dozen who were present on the call, released the below statement that they shared with this publication.
Statement from LGBTQ Community Members Regarding CPD Forum
To whom it may concern,
A small group of LGBTQ community members participated in a virtual forum on Tuesday, June 30, 2020, set up by the Chicago Police Department ( CPD ) to "introduce Superintendent [David O.] Brown to organization founders and leaders in the LGBTQ+ community." The goal of the 45-minute meeting via Zoom was to foster a discussion on how CPD could better support the needs of the Chicago trans and queer community.
The ideas Superintendent Brown and other personnel presented in the forum were nothing new, nor inspired: Follow-up on the long-failed consent decree, introducing more LGBTQ community liaisons, changing the official language of certain documents to be more gender-inclusive, community dialogues, etc.
What was new was the response: Nearly every trans and queer person on the call, representing a range of organizations, identities, and communities, called unequivocally for the defunding of CPD, and investment in the social programs that actually prevent trans and queer people from experiencing violenceincluding the violence that emanates from the police themselves.
Some of the most consistent demands raised were:
#PoliceFreeSchools for trans and queer students
The decriminalization of sex work, and of the lives of Black trans women and queer women of color
The substantial defunding of CPDno more money wasted on community outreach, sensitivity trainings, LGBTQ liaisons, and other failed reforms
The reopening of closed schools and mental health clinics
Robust investment in public education, housing, free mental healthcare, after-school programs, healthcare, drug treatment, and community-led interventions to address violence
As trans and queer leaders, organizers, and community members, we demand the funding of community programs and social services IN PLACE OF and NOT ALONGSIDE more policing and incarceration. We remain steadfast in our value that policing is as inherently transphobic and homophobic as it is anti-Black, racist, and harmful to all our communities.
Even when asked to do so, Superintendent Brown and other CPD personnel refused to agree to, nor support any of these demands. What they describe as a "disagreement" we understand to be irreconcilable differences in how we value and prioritize trans and queer, Black and brown, immigrant and undocumented lives. What they refer to as "public safety" is solely a vision for how our communities are surveilled, harassed, and caged. Our vision for public safety is fundamentally about how our communities are supported, nurtured, healed, and given room to thrive.
Let the record show that we have sat at their table and made our demands through their channels. We refuse to be gaslit into doing so again, with the same inevitable lack of results.
Alexis F. Abarca put it best: CPD is like the abusive partners so many of us are familiar with as trans and queer people. They hold all the power, all the resources, and continue to dialogue with us about how they mean well, how they will change, how the dynamic between us will soon become more equitable. Yet they keep failing to deliver, and we keep coming back. They keep making promises, and we keep being brushed aside, ignored, and harmed. We, the undersigned, commit to breaking this relationship off permanently.
The demands of our community were made clearly in this forum, and we make them again here. We are not interested in any more time-wasting, face-saving conversations. We are not interested in any more superficial engagement with an institution built on and bent on our destruction. Meet the demands of trans and queer communities, of sex workers, of youth, or get out of our way.
Alexis F. Abarca
Rev. Jason Lydon
Modesto Tico Valle
Aymar Jean Christian
La Tony Alvarado-Rivera
Alyssa Vera Ramos
Tiffany M. Favers
Karla De Jesus
Carlos David Fragoso
Darius R. Parker
Rogelia Lily Ibarra, PhD
Jenn M. Jackson
Johannes Mosquera Wilson
Brianna Simone Montague
Terry L. McKenzie
A.D. Sean Lewis
Jocelyn Munguia Chavez
Sarah Jane Rhee