Evanston Fight for Black Lives presented the following statement at the June 8 City Council meeting:

Introduction:

Thank you for having us here. We are Evanston Fight for Black Lives. While we stand here appreciative for this opportunity to speak, we are extremely frustrated that we have 10 minutes to address and provide solutions to issues that have been cultivating for over 400 years. You asked us to “share with our Community what you think are the most racially systemic issues [you] as a City Council need to address and any suggested solutions”. Knowing that this is an irresponsible ask for us to fully cover within 10 minutes we hope to provide just a tip of the iceberg as to how Evanston is failing its black families through the frames of: policing, housing, education, health, employment and community. In addition we will elaborate on how the police are used as a violent and detrimental means to fix the failures in Evanston’s laws and legislature. You asked us to share the racially systemic issues you all as City Council need to address, well here you go:

Policing:

In regards to policing, the divide between police and Black Evanston residents is clear. Since 2016, Black people have made up almost 60% of all arrests, but only take up 17% of our population. How is this possible? Black people are not more likely to commit crimes than their White counterparts. This is because Black communities are underfunded and overpoliced. We are sure that you all have heard of the current national movement that focuses on finding alternatives to police funding, and instead focusing more on investing in the community.  

For decades, we have accepted police to answer calls for events such as drug overdoses or mental health crises. We believe that these should instead be answered by mental health professionals, or addiction experts. Police officers are forced to take on the role of social workers, emergency medical personnel, welfare caseworkers and more. These calls have all been answered by armed police officers, which leaves room for escalation, violence, and potentially murder. Currently, Minneapolis Council members are fully disbanding the police and creating a community-oriented, nonviolent public safety. We believe that defunding the police would be a first step in creating a just, safe society. 

Housing:

In regards to housing in a town that prides itself so heavily on its racial diversity, we must address the growing issue of gentrification and the increase in property taxes that are causing Evanston to lose its Black population. Evanston’s history of encouraging generational wealth has disproportionately displaced black and brown families in Evanston. 

This disparity becomes clear when we see that 62% of white households in Evanston are homeowners compared to Black households, which are 38% homeowners.  This could likely be caused by the financial discrepancies that exist within Evanston as well, due to the fact that the average median income for white families is 93,000 dollars compared to their black counterparts that make a median amount of 50,000 dollars. 

With these given conditions it’s clear that Evanston cannot sustain its black community. In fact, statistics have shown that Evanston’s black population has been diminishing slowly. According to U.S census data, in 2000,  22.5% of  Evanston’s population identified themselves as Black compared to an estimated 17%, per the latest  American community survey estimate. The money redirected from the police department could go towards proper affordable housing since Evanston has continuously been losing it’s Black residents to high property taxes. 

Education:

In regards to education Evanston fails its black youth through our educational system starting from D65 all the way up to ETHS. This is reflected in a number of ways. In the 2016 Report on Black Student Achievement in D65. “34 percent of Black students enter district 65 with the level of early literacy skills considered ‘kindergarten-ready”. In addition to walking in at an educational disadvantage, Black students are continually exploited by policing and punishment through discipline referrals and suspensions. “1 in 4 Black students received an office discipline referral for behavior classified as major in 2015”. Our education system fails to recognize that many black students are walking into a space of education with minimal food, home support, or resources to allow them to perform at their best within educational settings, increasing the cash flow from policing to community services could directly address these challenges. 

These systemic failures are then further perpetuated as black students head into high school. Based on the 2018-2019 Annual Achievement Report for Evanston Township, White students have a collective mean GPA of 3.35, while their black counterparts have a collective mean GPA of 2.6. 

Our failures in Education bleed into Evanston’s current state of policing. Prison should not be the solution to our educational shortcomings through the school to prison pipeline, and the presence of resource officers in places that are supposed to be dedicated to learning perpetuate that. Divesting money from the police department into education could ensure that more black students and families have the resources to help diminish existing racial gaps between kindergarteners in D65.

Health:

In regards to health… 

Worldwide Coronavirus has disproportionately affected Black people. According to the US census, In Evanston, 34% of Coronavirus cases are Black residents although they only take up around 17% of the Evanston population. 

Compared to the 33% white residents cases who take up 59% of the population.

This disproportion is increasing and there is a need for our city to be transparent with these statistics. 

According to Havard’s school of public health “Black people have higher rates of diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease than other groups, and black children have a 500% higher death rate from asthma compared with white children.”

What aid are we providing black residents to improve and maintain their health? There is a need to have this information accessible to our people. In addition to anti-racist bias training in hospitals and other healthcare facilities. 

“where we live determines opportunities to access high-quality education, employment, housing, fresh foods or outdoor space which are all contributors to our health.”

Our surroundings have a strong influence on our health. It is critical to provide equity in all oppressive institutions to better the health and wellbeing of our black residents. 

Employment:

In regards to employment… 

Black work is devalued in an economy that was built off $14 trillion of stolen slave labor. This devaluation has occurred through explicit and implicit segregation, through legal racial oppression, and through racial workplace segregation. All of which Evanston has either historically been a part of or presently perpetuates. Based on 2010 census data, 23.5% of businesses are POC owned in a city with 43.43% POC. Moreover, in May of last year Evanston was celebrating a 2.8% rate of unemployment. However, no matter how low this percentage gets, the truth remains that Black residents are unemployed at a higher rate than white residents and on average receive a lower salary and less benefits than their white neighbors. That being said, these problems are not unfixable — we can and we should pass policies and create programs that prioritize the needs of Evanston’s Black community. 

We can solve these problems and many others by looking at both the community needs and what the city does and can provide. We can close the wealth gap, and the business owning gap, by investing in Black-owned businesses as a community. This can come in the form of grants, loans, and other benefits. A good place to start is with the City of Evanston Reparations Fund. You have projected that $10 million will be created by this process in a matter of 10 years. With the current rate of police funding about $600,000,000 will be spent on policing in that time, we believe that money is better spent on investing in Evanston’s Black community, not criminalizing it. 

Community:

The concerns stated before me, have highlighted a larger communal issue of systemic racism and anti-blackness. While we are just scratching the surface, it is clear that Evanston should and needs to start thinking about these issues in order to address the harm it is currently inflicting upon black lives and black families. Even the very name of our city honors a white man who orchestrated a mass genocide of Indigenous folx. It is upsetting and painful to see how collectively those in leadership have a very base level of understanding that is slow and ineffective as compared to what we know and have had no choice but to know as Black youth growing up in America. If we are a community that proclaims we value Black lives, it should be a shame that Evanston consistently ignores the collective voice of its black residents. It is a shame that if we value community, the 5th ward, which houses the majority of Evanston’s black residents, is relying on barely standing community centers while also being one of the most heavily policed areas following the 4th and 8th wards. If we care about the community we should be funding programs for children before we fund the very people that arrest them. 

It is interesting to watch our elected officials say that they are actively fighting for Black lives when I see my black peers beg to be heard by a system that does not see their Black Life. When I think about community, I wonder why in 2020, policing alone receives 56 million dollars, accounting for 18% of Evanston’s budget while Community development, Health, Parks & Recreation, and Library in total, only account for 12% of the budget. Again, It is clear that Evanston would rather fund a system that is founded on anti-blackness than support areas of our community that are in dire need of assistance. 

We demand 100% transparency in the selection of elected officials, specifically with the appointment of the City Manager. We encourage everyone to vote to protect the communal hiring process and vote against the amendment proposed by the mayor later in this meeting. Before we leave, we demand to know when our first meeting of many more meetings will be, because we have no intention of leaving today satisfied. We will not be satisfied until we begin to see real change. We also encourage the members of the city council, the mayor, and the city manager to join us on Wednesday in “Evanston Fight for Black Lives: Defunding 101” a conversation around what defunding police looks like in Evanston.

So I want to ask, when you think about community, do you include my Black life when you are not mentioning our self-proclaimed diversity? And if so, how can we truly call ourselves a community when the Black folx included are not being protected and loved? What does it look like to truly fight for Black Lives?

Evanston Fight for Black Lives, Sinobia Aiden, Maia Robinson, Liana Wallace, Julia Shoaf, Phoebe Liccardo, Mollie Hartenstein, Amalia Loiseau and Nia Williams