Hundreds of people came together at about 6:30 p.m. on Aug. 27 to march through downtown Evanston in response to the shooting of Jacob Blake, who was severely wounded at the hands of a Kenosha, Wis. police officer. Marchers, led by Evanston Fight for Black Lives organizers, chanted “Jacob Blake matters.” The protest was peaceful throughout, ending by about 8 p.m. Evanston police officers blocked off local streets for the march.
Evanston resident Heather Hancock said her daughter, a graduate of the ETHS Class of 2018 and currently a student at Emory University in Atlanta, called to make sure that she would attend the march.
“I follow Evanston Fight for Black Lives. When I learned about it, I knew I wanted to go, to help get attention and keep attention on this issue. It’s not going away,” said Ms. Hancock.
In a span of 48 hours in Kenosha, Wis.: An unarmed Black man, Mr. Blake, is shot seven times in the back by local law enforcement on Aug. 23. A short time later, a 17-year-old white man with an assault rifle appears to move freely through the streets, in front of police officers, with seemingly no effort on the part of law enforcement to stop him before he shoots and kills two peaceful protesters.
Evanston Fight for Black Lives is currently comprised of 12 young activists who have graduated from ETHS or are current students. They are all young women, between the ages of 17-25. They started out as a group of eight people who organized the May 31 Evanston Fight for Black Lives protest that drew more than 5,000 marchers who called for justice following the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis law enforcement.
Organizer Nia Williams said some new folks have joined the group because of the varying schedules of those who are now in college.
“It is about availability, and who can do what and at what time,” said Ms. Williams.
After spending three months meeting with Evanston aldermen, citizens, community leaders and other officials including Mayor Stephen Hagerty, the group released “Defunding the Evanston Police Department Plan of Action” on Aug. 27, after the march.
Ms. Williams said the release of the packet just happened to coincide with the protest on Thursday evening.
“We were going to release the packet regardless [of the protest]. We wanted to make a plan of action that the local government could put into place, but then another Black person gets shot, and of course we have to respond, so we decided that we were going to do the march and put out the packet as well,” said Ms. Williams, who was among the original members of the group.
The “Background” section of the document, states the group’s purpose in creating the plan as follows:
“In this document, we hope to show you why we need to defund our police department, how to remodel the current police force, and immediate action steps to take into consideration. We include a thorough model for defunding the police and its impact, alongside real-world alternatives. It is our intention that this document can be used to shape conversations on defunding occurring at a governmental level, both in the Health and Human Services Committee and in the City Council at large.”
“Defunding the police” is a term that has the potential for being misunderstood. However, it is widely acknowledged that racial bias was deeply rooted in American policing during the Jim Crow era, and that these biases continue in many forms today.
The members of Evanston Fight for Black Lives and their supporters are focused on shifting resources away from the police department and investing them in other areas of the community. Ms. Williams said some of the resources currently allocated to the police department could be invested in areas such as housing, food insecurity, identifying and treating mental health conditions, and programs aimed at preventing domestic violence.
“What would the world look like without police? How do we hold people accountable for the harm they have caused? When we call for de-funding the police, it’s really a call for us to re-think the ways we hold people accountable and respond to harm.”
The plan of action includes “How to Begin the Defunding Process,” based on the T.S. Mayaki model, “Prioritizing Prevention: A Guide to Saving Black and Brown Lives.”
Ms. Mayaki “urges city leaders to find a system that works to balance accountability while focusing on de-escalation and treating Black citizens as people, not inherent criminals,” according to information provided in the packet.
The plan of action compiled by members of Evanston Fight for Black Lives suggests that Ms. Mayaki’s model should be used by government officials as a reference for alternatives to armed police officers.
Four “Requested Commitments” are listed on the final page of the Evanston Fight For Black Lives Plan of Action document:
1. “We call on the City Council to defund EPD by 75%.”
2. “We demand a subcommittee of civilians and aldermen to be formed by 9/21/20.”
3. “We urge this subcommittee to hold a series of meetings once a week from 9//21/20 to 11/23/20.”
4. “We demand complaints made by citizens against any and all officers and EPD as a whole, as well as any budgetary, disciplinary, and office records that may be necessary be made available to the committee by 9/21/20.”
Ms. Williams said, “As conversations happen, we can get people to understand where we’re coming from, but we’ll still be here, fighting to do what we have to do.”
In addition to Ms. Williams, current members of Evanston Fight for Black Lives include: Maia Robinson, Mollie Hertenstein, Amalia Loiseau, Sinobia Aiden, Julia Shoaf, Liana Wallace, Phoebe Liccardo, Kayla Henning, Sarah Bogan, Katia Bell and Anna Grant Bolten.