Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl, Police Chief Richard Eddington, Johnathan Thomas, Lisa Hayden and Vernon Clark at the Jan. 31 Town Hall meeting.                                                                                                                                                   RoundTable photo  

Larry Murphy of Garrett Theological Seminary moderated a discussion on Jan. 31 at the Levy Center, with a panel composed of Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl, Police Chief Richard Eddington, Evanston Township High School Associate Principal Vernon Clark, Lisa Hayden, ETHS student and president of the ETHS Youth Chapter NAACP; and Johnathan Thomas, a Northwestern University adjunct professor and business owner. About 40 people attended the afternoon event.

“What’s bubbling beneath the surface?” asked Dr. Murphy. “What is the rather penetrating reality that black bodies don’t matter?” He said some people in this country have “a visceral hatred of [President] Barack Obama,” because “for a significant segment of the population, race still matters.”

Rev. Michael James of Chicago, founder of HOPE (Helping Oppressed People Emerge), convened the meeting “to discuss collaboratively the recent issues between Law Enforcement and the Community at large-including African Americans,” according to information sent to the media.

It is not clear whether Rev. James had intended to focus on problems in Evanston, but the panelists for the most part praised the direction Evanston is going, even as they acknowledged some problems.

“We have a lot of things that are wrong with Evanston,” said Mayor Tisdahl. “It is not perfect, but we are not Ferguson. The Evanston Police Department reflects the racial composition of Evanston and we are incredibly youth-driven.” The City has concentrated efforts on outreach to youth up to 25 years of age, helping them find jobs and continue their education, she added.

Chief Eddington said the Evanston Police Department still continues the policy started by Chief William Logan in the 1980s of trying to ensure that the makeup of the police force reflects the demographics of the community. The problem-solving team and those on foot patrol, he said, “work very hard at finding solutions [to problems] that will not result in arrests.”

He invited community members to arrange to attend the “Shoot/Don’t Shoot” training that Evanston police officers receive.

Referring to the possibility – mentioned by President Obama – of police departments having cameras that are always turned on, he said, “We’re going to have that conversation in Evanston once the state law is established. This is going to be a very serious topic. The issue will involve community discussions. In Evanston the issue will be how much erosion of your right to privacy [will Evanston] be willing to accept. … Should camera always be on? … I’m not sure the community’s going to be comfortable with that.”

Mr. Thomas, who teaches small business management and entrepreneurship at Northwestern University, said, “Entrepreneurship is the only way we can create jobs and wealth that will last for generations. We have to support small businesses and those who run them. … If you’re dissatisfied with your boss, become your own boss.”

 “Our country has moved past individual racism [but there is still] institutional racism,” said Lisa Hayden. But she spoke positively about Evanston and described the recent sit-in, when nearly 3,000 students, faculty and staff lined the halls of ETHS for four-and-one-half minutes, recalling the four-and-one-half hours the body of Michael Brown lay on the street in Ferguson, Mo.; and said, “Evanston should be an example and show that we’re not satisfied with the way our country is leaning right now – even though it may not be happening in Evanston.”

“The sit-in was a great event,” said Mr. Clark, adding, “Evanston is a microcosm of the nation.  … If we are going to go anywhere, we have to realize that we’re all important to the community. ETHS recognizes that they have to be a part of this. We are working with Peaceable Cities and the Mayor’s Summer Youth Employment Program. We are starting a program for 19- and 20-year-olds to get their high school diplomas – not just the GED.”

Reverend Martha Holmes, who attended the event, said the community should “continue the dialogue and not come together [only] occasionally.”

Mary Gavin

Mary Gavin is the founder of the Evanston RoundTable. After 23 years as its publisher and manager, she helped transition the RoundTable to nonprofit status in 2021. She continues to write, edit, mentor...