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At its Nov. 5 meeting, the Human Services Committee accepted a report on the Diwani Greenwell detention prepared by the Evanston Police Department’s Office of Professional Standards.
The report cleared the department and the individual officer who was the subject of the underlying citizen complaint of any wrongdoing.
Diwani Greenwell, a 13-year-old African American, was detained briefly on Aug. 30, because he fit a broad and limited description of a burglary suspect in South Evanston. He was handcuffed by an Evanston police officer while his mother, Ava Greenwell, protested and accused the officer of “a racial incident” or “racial profiling.”
The entire encounter lasted between five and 13 minutes, according to time stamps on audio and video recordings. The Greenwells filed a federal lawsuit as a result, initially naming the City and the officer. The City has since been dropped from the suit.
Sergeant Angela Harts-Glass of the Office of Professional Standards presented the 23-page report to the committee, expanding upon the written report with audio and video recordings taken from the incident itself. In a professional, even tone, she chronicled the events of the day beginning with the 911 call that initiated the encounter.
The call came from a resident who found a person she described as a black youth wearing cargo shorts and a t-shirt in her home with her possessions in hand. The color of the clothing is subject to some dispute, though “khaki” shorts and a “dark” t-shirt ended up being the color sought. Once seen, the youth dropped the objects in his hands and fled, the victim said, and she called 911. The call came in after 11 a.m. Dispatch alerted police in the area, and a search for subjects matching the limited description began.
By 11:21 a.m. police had located and detained two black youths in cargo pants and t-shirts, though again the color of the clothing was not as described. One of those detained was Diwani Greenwell.
According to the report, the officer in question believed Diwani was fleeing, based upon certain behavior. He rode his bike across the school grounds into the neighborhood behind Chute Middle School, “flung” his bike to the ground and ran toward a back yard. He then reached over the gate, leading the police to believe he was planning to flee “into the yards.” These perceptions, said Sgt. Harts-Glass, were “understandable” but “inaccurate”: Diwani was instead entering his own home through his own back yard.
Because the police believed Diwani to be fleeing, the officer handcuffed him over the protests of his mother. Diwani remained handcuffed between 11:21 and 11:26 a.m. At 11:26 a.m., the burglary victim was driven to the Greenwell home and confirmed that Diwani was not the youth she encountered in her home. The other youth detained was similarly eliminated as a suspect.
The complete 23-page report, with a fuller description of the details leading up to Diwani’s being handcuffed, can be found on the City’s website under the “agenda” link for the Human Services Committee meeting. The online report does not contain the audio and video presented to the Committee.
The report concluded that the police acted appropriately, given the information they possessed. A “show-up,” a process by which a victim is taken to a suspect rather than a “line-up” in which all parties are taken to the station, is a quicker and less intrusive way of eliminating or identifying suspects. The flight risk perceived by the police was understandable, the report says, making the decision to handcuff – always a judgment call – acceptable.
Diwani’s parents, present at the meeting, vehemently disagreed with the report’s conclusion. Ava Greenwell began by pointing out that the alleged burglar has not been caught, “if he ever existed.” The report deflects blame, as could be expected when a department investigates itself, she said. She later said she was “disappointed but not surprised” by the report. Particular inaccuracies and discrepancies will be addressed specifically by the ongoing federal lawsuit, she said.
Police Chief Richard Eddington, in a memo that is part of the EPD report, wrote, “Demeanor is a facet of any interpersonal communication, which is a two-way street. In this particular case, the complainant’s initial verbal accusations regarding racial profiling and the general conduct of police set a tone for a less than positive resolution.” Speaking with reporters later, he noted that in this incident, no one was hurt, no one ended up in the hospital, and no one was accused of even using harsh language.
The incident should be used to educate both the community and the police department about police-citizen interactions, said Chief Eddington. “Though we cannot influence communication skills of members of the public, we can influence the communication skills of our officers,” he wrote in the memo. To that end, the police will add a training component led by Dr. Aaron Thomson, “a noted scholar from Eastern Kentucky who is an expert in the field of race relations as they pertain to police departments.”
The incident highlights a disconnect between the police department’s vision of itself and its perception by some members of the community. Trust is an ongoing issue with the police, said the Chief. “Every time the police show up, we’re carrying hundreds of years of baggage with us.”
Several members of the community spoke about police interactions with African Americans in Evanston, all in support of the Greenwells. Carliss Sutton, for example, said that the Greenwell incident was not isolated, but that he and other experienced “racial profiling” and the City should focus on how the incident could have been avoided.
Alderman Delores Homes, 5th Ward, said she reviewed the professional standards report and the audio-video presentation before the meeting. She was able to stop and ask questions, she said. “It certainly makes us wonder,” she said. “Are we listening to each other? Can we hear each other?”
Chief Eddington said that training will be ongoing in a effort to bridge the disconnect between officers and the community.
Amnesty International’s Definition of Racial Profiling
Speaking with members of the press outside the meeting, Police Chief Richard Eddington said that the Greenwell incident should not be considered racial profiling. He urged reporters to look at the Amnesty International definition of racial profiling, adding that AI is no supporter of police departments in general.
Amnesty International USA defines racial profiling as the targeting of individuals and groups by law enforcement officials, even partially, on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin, or religion, except where there is trustworthy information, relevant to the locality and timeframe, that links persons belonging to one of the aforementioned groups to an identified criminal incident or scheme.