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Open Letter to City Council From Evanston Fight for Black Lives

June 19, 2020

Dear Mayor Hagerty, Alderman Judy Fiske, Alderman Peter Braithwaite, Alderman Melissa Wynne, Alderman Donald Wilson, Alderman Robin Simmons, Alderman Thomas Sufferdin, Alderman Eleanor Revelle, Alderman Ann Rainey, Alderman Cicely Fleming, & Chief of Police Demitrous Cook,  and other officials in the Evanston Community: 

Our nation is currently grappling with both discussions and action steps to reconcile the remnants of structural racism that exist in the United States today as a result of 400 years of slavery. The national push towards transforming the current system of policing has caused us as Evanstonians to become increasingly aware of how our dollars are being disproportionately spent in our city, where 35% of Evanston’s 2020 general fund goes to policing while only 3.5% goes to Community Development. We demand that an official statement committing to defund the Evanston Police Department be released to the public by no later than July 15th for the reasons stated below, and that this demand be reflected in the fall of 2020 when the Fiscal Year 2021 Evanston Budget is discussed and finalized.  

We, as members of the Evanston Community, are asking you, our officials, Mayor, Aldermen, and Chief of Police to imagine what shifting funding away from police and into early childhood education and community centers could do to address existing racial disparities. We are asking that in crafting the 2021 Budget, you consider not only pouring money into community resources but actually finding ways to ensure that under-sourced and predominantly Black neighborhoods and families receive the care that you would provide your own families and your own children. We are very aware that when we talk about reallocating money into community resources many might immediately imagine police funding going towards what Ronald Reagan coined as “The Welfare Queen,” a derogatory term used to describe predominantly Black women in the U.S. who manipulate programs in the welfare system to their benefit.

Although almost equal numbers of white and Black women received welfare in the 1990s, the stereotypical face of the welfare mother was Black. We in Evanston ask that when we talk about reallocating funds to community resources in Black communities, that we do so without the pity and criminalization of Black motherhood, but rather with genuine love and an informed understanding. The Black community is not a broken place that needs fixing.

Reallocating funds means finally giving a community that was stripped of its hospital, school and local YMCA, the ability to grow and raise families with the same love and freedom that white families have generationally been provided. We are asking that you take the first step as leaders just as the City Council of Minneapolis, and the Mayor of Los Angeles have done, in beginning the process of dismantling the police by placing our beloved City of Evanston’s money in the same place where many of you have professed that “Black Lives Matter.”

Defunding the police is the first step towards a world in which we no longer need police in the traditional sense. Defunding means redistributing city dollars away from the police and toward real forms of community engagement. Anything and everything that the city should be funding, can be paid for with reallocation of the police budget. We in Evanston know that defunding is not the same as abolition and we believe defunding the police is a necessary first step.

Because abolition is a gradual process which starts with defunding the police, we understand that reform will need to be implemented simultaneously. In understanding that reform will need to happen in parallel with or even before we begin to defund the police, in no way do we think reform is the solution to a system that was intended to be violent against black people from its inception. Reform cannot stand against the culture of policing. A former police officer in a major metropolitan area in California wrote, “Whether you were my sergeant legally harassing an old woman, me, legally harassing our residents, my fellow trainees bullying the rest of us, or ‘the bad apples’ illegally harassing ‘shitbags’, we were all in it together”. 

According to the City of Evanston’s 2020 budget, 14 million dollars, which is 25% percent of the police budget, goes to patrol operations, while collectively 2 million goes to problem solving teams and the Office of Professional Standards (OPS) whose essential role is to “investigate allegations of misconduct made against the Department or its employees by citizens or other employees of the Department/City.” In comparison, Gibbs Morrison Center and Fleetwood Jourdain, community centers located in the 5th Ward where 41.5% of the population identifies as Black according to 2010 U.S. Census data, receive under 2 million dollars collectively.

Childhood education programs in Evanston ranging from early learning literacy and cultural arts programs receive even less than that of our community centers with a collective budget of just slightly over 1 million dollars. This is appalling considering that based on a 2016 report on Black Student Achievement in D65, “34% of Black students enter District 65 with the level of early literacy skills considered ‘kindergarten-ready.” How is it that around 13% of the 2020 budget went to policing while under 2% of our Evanston Community budget goes to Health & Human Services? We would like to see a large portion of police funding in Evanston be invested in local community resources such as mental health, marriage counseling, job training, maternal healthcare, and education.

The City of Evanston can begin to fulfill its duty to ALL Evanston Community Members by 1) issuing an official statement committing to defund the Evanston Police released to the public by no later than July 15th and 2) honoring that public statement by working with members of the Evanston community to reflect the requested commitments written in this Detailed Commitment Statement & FAQ through the release of the Fiscal Year 2021 Budget in the fall. With these aforementioned concerns, the organizers of Evanston Fight for Black Lives and the Evanston community request that you take the first step towards transforming the statement “Black Lives Matter” into a reality right here in Evanston.

REQUESTED COMMITMENTS

  • Provide a clear and updated guideline on the steps that the City of Evanston is taking as it begins the process of defunding the police.
  • Full transparency in which community organizations and resources police funds will be reallocated towards. 
  • Transparency in police hiring and existing practices. 
  • Commit to sending out frequent surveys to communities in Evanston that are most heavily policed asking them which resources in their community they can’t afford and may need more of.  

Sincerely,

Evanston Fight for Black Lives, & the Evanston Community 

Sinobia Aiden, Maia Robinson, Liana Wallace, Julia Shoaf, Phoebe Liccardo, Mollie Hartenstein, Amalia Loiseau and Nia Williams, along with more than 500 names supporting the letter.