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News Analysis and View

Nearly the entire Sept. 6 Human Services Committee meeting and apparently most of the Special City Council meeting held in executive session that same evening were dominated by a single issue: the detention and arrest of a 12-year-old youth for riding on the back pegs of a bicycle. The primary agenda item of the Special City Council meeting was a private, executive session performance review of City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz, an issue that was deferred despite significant budget shortfalls and other problems facing the City.

The arrest occurred on July 14. It took almost two months for the City Manager and Chief of Police Richard Eddington to issue a joint letter expressing “regret,” dated Sept. 11 and received by the 12-year old’s parents on Sept. 13.

During the intervening two months, it seemed that City Council felt almost paralyzed. Every week, citizens rose at almost every City Council and Committee meeting to demand action on the arrest.

 At this point, the details of the arrest are well-established and well-documented. That incident: Three youths on a bike, one in the driver’s seat, one on the handle bars, and one standing on the back wheel pegs, careened through a red light in front of oncoming traffic.

Also well-established is the fact the driver of the bike was not arrested, but the two passengers were. One passenger has remained relatively silent, but the other is the son of Robert Bady, a former candidate for Eighth Ward alderman. Mr. Bady, his family, and numerous concerned citizens have not been silent.

The issue of race cannot be avoided. Nearly everyone who has addressed Council has pointed out what will come as a surprise to few: The youths arrested were not white, but black. Residents, regardless of their race, argue such an arrest would not have occurred had young Mr. Bady been white. Some speakers, such as Katherine Head at the Sept. 6 Human Service Committee meeting, even told stories of how their white children were returned home because, as Ms. Head said, the police officer told her, “I could tell he comes from a good family.”

The Bady arrest is troubling for other reasons as well. Documentation prepared by the police department shows contradictory outcomes, a discrepancy pointed out with force during the Human Services Committee meeting’s public comment period by Mitra Hartman, a resident of the Ninth Ward. The official “arrest report” completed by a juvenile police officer states the 12-year-old was released “to his father at 20:45 hours [8:45 p.m.] with an Informal Station Adjustment. No further action.”

 Other documentation prepared by the Evanston Police Department shows something different entirely – a “Formal Station Adjustment,” which, Ms. Hartman said, is the juvenile “equivalent of a felony” [in that rules dictate an FSA must be reported to the Illinois State Police]. Under Illinois law, a Formal Station Adjustment must be signed by a parent, and if it is not, the minor child will be referred directly to juvenile court or for other appropriate action. The failure to abide by the conditions imposed by an FSA may lead to actions ranging from a warning to charges in juvenile court. The conditions, according to the Bady FSA, consisted of just six words – “Don’t ride bikes recklessly in traffic.”

FSAs are reported to the Illinois State Police and become a part of a child’s permanent record. Once an FSA has been prepared and reported, the only way to void it is through the formal expungement process.

 Robert Bady began asking for relief in late July, about two weeks after the arrest. He appeared before Committees and Council beginning in early August, filed a formal complaint with the Evanston Police Department in August, and has met with African American leaders to discuss strategies and possible solutions.

Alderman Peter Braithwaite, 2nd Ward, apologized publicly to the Bady family, and Alderman Cicely Fleming, 9th Ward, echoed Ald. Braithwaite’s apology, but qualified her apology by saying she needed to study all the facts. Alderman Robin Rue Simmons, 5th Ward, says she called for an executive session to discuss the arrest, but no session was scheduled until Sept. 6.

The Mayor, City Manager, and rest City Council remained silent.

For two months no one stepped up to show the leadership Evanston needs. A simple matter – a child riding on the pegs of a bike – has enmired the City, and it is unclear whether the “letter of regret” sent on Sept. 11 will resolve this issue.

The letter of regret admits the FSA was a mistake, and that it should have been an informal adjustment, rather than a formal adjustment. There is no explanation why it took two months to make this correction, nor is there an explanation why any incident involving a juvenile doing nothing more than riding as a passenger on a bike controlled by someone else should ever result in an arrest in the first place.

“It’s baby steps,” Mr. Bady told the RoundTable. “It’s small, deliberate steps. This is a process. Sometimes progress is not even measurable right away. But I think we have uncovered things that are going to make Evanston better going forward.

“I am disappointed that it took so long. I gave them a layup, and I made sure they had a two-foot shot and they would not put it in. They did not want to put it in,” he added, saying the initial response was to dig in their heels and refuse to admit any wrongdoing. “It was poor leadership all the way through.”

The Bady family said they truly appreciate the community support, and wonder whether anything would have happened if not for the public outcry.

The letter of regret is “not the end of the matter,” said Mr. Bady.

For her part, Ms. Hartman delivered a series of questions to Council on Sept. 6, all concerning the arrest and the process. None of them have been answered.

Given the national climate, perhaps it is somewhat heartening that in Evanston we worry about the arrests of black youth. But this arrest, and the way it has been addressed, show we still have a long way to go.