Tension between the need for police protection and the feeling that the police are not sensitive to the needs and problems of the City’s west side surfaced at Alderman Delores Holmes’s regular Fifth Ward meeting on May 21.
About 40 residents attended the meeting to discuss the recent shooting of Desrick York by police. Many of them were angry about the incident, which they felt was yet another betrayal of trust of the community. Others appeared to take the meeting as a call to renewed community action to reclaim the neighborhood from guns, drugs and the potential for violence.
At that meeting, Police Chief Richard Eddington presented “the facts as we know them now” about the shooting of Mr. York. The Chief said he was convinced by those facts, as well as by the preliminary report from the State Police Integrity Task Force that the shooting was “legally justified.”
Explanation to Ward Residents
The Chief extended condolences to Michelle Andrewin, the mother of Mr. York’s twin children, who also attended the meeting. He stood firm, however, in saying the police acted justifiably and that the “actions of the perpetrator determine police response.”
He focused on what he termed Mr. York’s “state of rage” and said that applying rational hindsight to a moment of chaos and violence would not help in understanding what happened and why.
“A man in a state of rage advancing on three [armed] police officers – it doesn’t compute,” he said.
“I know the most controversial part of this incident is that 11 shots were fired,” Chief Eddington said. He also said it took only about three seconds for the three police officers to fire the 11 bullets that struck Mr. York. He said the officers repeatedly commanded Mr. York to relinquish the knife but he continued to advance on them until they were “literally backed up against the wall,” at which point the first two officers – followed closely by the third – fired at Mr. York. He said the officers continued to shoot because Mr. York kept advancing toward them.
Residents at the meeting raised questions of fact about what happened, saying they did not understand why lesser force was not employed, since ultimately Mr. York was nearly within arm’s reach of one officer, and why 11 shots were fired.
“The police are trained to handle rage,” said Ms. Dyer. “There were three officers trained to serve and protect – why all these shots? You don’t know if you want to call police any more. These officers don’t know us – they don’t live in our community. Eleven shots. Dear God, what are our police thinking about?”
“Why did they let him get so close?” Ms. Andrewin asked. She also said she objected to the characterization of Mr. York and said he was a caring man and a good father.
Chief Eddington said the fact that the officers waited so long to shoot gave him more comfort that if they had fired from across the basement.
In a meeting with local media representatives he said a club would not have been effective against Mr. York and that police officers, in Evanston and across the country, are trained to shoot at the “center mass” rather than the extremities and that they are not trained to shoot only to wound a suspect.
“People are entitled to police protection; they are not entitled to police brutality,” said Carliss Sutton, a long-time Fifth Ward resident.
Alderman Jean-Baptiste said everyone the City Council was concerned about the matter and they would continue investigating. The alderman spoke in addition of the recent police recognition awards ceremony at which several police officers were commended for having diffused potentially volatile situations.
Ald. Holmes referred to a shoot-out on Emerson Street the night before and said, “We have a problem with guns. … We need to talk about guns. We know people put their lives on the line for us, but we need some accountability [from police].”
Chief Eddington distributed maps showing the locations of more than 100 calls of “shots fired” to which the police responded last year and locations of similar calls in the first quarter of this year.
“The solution lies as much with you as with me,” Chief Eddington said. “I can understand the peer pressure [in not wanting to report neighbors or family members].”
Saying he was not asking anyone to confront anyone else but to “say, ‘This [gunfire or dealing in drugs] is inappropriate for where we live.’ It will clearly make your neighborhood safer and your children and grandchildren safer.”
Only some residents appeared to agree with him. Others spoke of the lack of trust between the police and the community.
“The key issue is the loss of trust by people in the community,” said Bennett Johnson. John Fuller said police officers need better training. “They need to develop better relationships with the people in the community. There’s a trust issue.”
Roberta Hudson, as well as Ald. Jean-Baptiste, said much of the problem stemmed from youth who dropped out of high school and were unemployed. They said they felt job training and employment would address the problem.
Lonnie Wilson, who helped establish a workforce of local youth to help build BooCoo and Church Street Village, said the police “are cleaning up our mess. Those black boys out there are hurting. … All they want is to give their children something and they don’t have the discipline to do it. The problem is us and our schools.”
Renee Black said, “We have to call the police if we see something. … We have to teach our kids the difference between right and wrong.”
City Clerk Rodney Greene, attending the meeting as a private citizen, said, “We cannot depend on outsiders to help us. We in the neighborhood control our neighborhood. If you allow guns, then it’s your fault. We can call upon our neighbors to say we’re not going to allow this.”
Ald. Jean-Baptiste said, “Our youth need to have a value system that says, ‘You cannot shoot where you live.’”
In a follow-up conversation with the RoundTable, Chief Eddington said, “We’re not happy with the situation. We’re still going to investigate. … My condolences, again, go out to the family. It’s a tragic event and I realize that we’ll never be in agreement. I have a great deal of sympathy for the family and the officers.”
In police departments nationwide, he said, “There is often attrition [after an incident like this – even when the officers have been held blameless.” He also said he felt meetings such as the one on May 21 were valuable. He added he appreciated Ald. Jean-Baptiste’s putting this incident in the context of other incidents where police action prevented escalation and even quelled the problem without violence.
As for community involvement, the Chief said, “We can always do better.”
On May 19, Ald. Holmes told the RoundTable, “It is a big thing, this interaction between the police and the community. … The officers have to be sensitive, have to know how to deal with people. At the same time, I want the neighbors to know if there are shootings. I tell them, ‘You have to take your neighborhood back.’”