Madelyn Ducre, one of the founding members of the Citizen’s Police Advisory Committee, addressed the City’s Human Services Committee on May 5 concerning the shooting and killing of Desrick York by Evanston police at 1810 Church St. on April 27. While residents await a report of the Illinois State Police Public Integrity Task Force, which is investigating the incident, differing stories are swirling through the neighborhoods.
After the shooting, Commander Tom Guenther, public information officer for the Evanston Police Department, issued a public statement about the incident. He said police went to the site in response to 911 emergency calls regarding a dispute between two individuals, one of them armed with a knife. Upon arrival, police encountered the man with the knife and told him repeatedly to drop it. The man ignored the requests, Cmdr. Guenther said, and “made acts of deliberate aggression toward the officers. … At this time, officers were forced to act in defense of themselves, by employing their service revolvers, which resulted in the death.” One of the officers sustained a serious injury to his hand during the confrontation, he added.
Ms. Ducre told members of the City’s Human Services Committee they should be aware of some of the things that are circulating in the community about the incident. “There’s conflicting [information], two different stories,” she reported. “Some people are calling it murder … [and] some of the people are saying that maybe the police are trigger-happy.” Ms. Ducre went on to say, “I know we need the police” and “safety,” but she emphasized the need for officers who “do the right thing.”
“I know people are hungry for information, but we have to wait,” said Alderman Delores Holmes, 5th Ward. Edmund B. Moran, Jr., 6th Ward, also stressed the need to wait for complete information, saying, “I don’t think you want to rush to judgment. I think you want to have a comprehensive understanding of what happened.”
Acknowledging the necessity of waiting for a complete report, Ms. Ducre said, “But you have to put people at ease … Mr. York had relatives who go to the high school [Evanston Township High School]. We have enough to deal with it as it is. Young people have a hard time justifying or understanding what’s going on out there.” Tensions are high, she said, and with “summer coming I don’t want to see things escalate.”
Part of the perception problem stems from “unwarranted police stops in minority neighborhoods,” said Ms. Ducre. Ald. Holmes acknowledged that a perception that “people [are] stopped for nothing” was prevalent in her ward, but added, “we want guns off the streets. Not a night goes by where there’s not a neighborhood where shots were fired.”
“I understand [that] no one wants guns in the area,” answered Ms. Ducre. “But the police cannot and should not – people have rights. Is it profiling? And that’s what they call it – profiling. Is it going on in other parts of Evanston? And people know that it is not.”
Police Chief Richard Eddington, who previously appeared with Ald. Holmes at a ward meeting where the issue of stops was raised, detailed steps he had taken to address that issue, including adding an additional supervisory presence in the affected areas.
The Chief also addressed the issue of public perception, saying in all police-involved shootings, “the crime scene is sealed and held for state investigators. … An outside body begins reviewing [the case] immediately.” The Illinois State Public Integrity Task Force, made up of State Police and Cook County State’s Attorneys, reviews the case – the Evanston Police Department does not investigate itself, Chief Eddington said.
The York case, Chief Eddington, said involved a money-related landlord-tenant dispute that escalated increasingly. He added the incident was not, as some believed, a domestic dispute. He also expressed a concern that, given economic conditions, disputes over money may increase, resulting in more similar cases in the future.
Chief Eddington also responded to the perception that the police are “trigger-happy.” Referring to the citations presented at the Police Awards ceremony that took place the previous night, the Chief said the number of incidents in which officers arrested heavily armed suspects without having to resort to the use of firearms or unnecessary force presents a picture that is “diametrically opposed to the perception that we’re trigger-happy. To look at a balanced picture, you have to look at the whole picture.”
The state task force’s report on the shooting of Mr. York is expected soon, but tensions appear to go beyond that incident. Ms. Ducre cautioned of a further problem that could result: “People will not provide [the police] information [about criminal activity]. Do not go overboard on all this stopping.”