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Evanston’s Reimagining Public Safety Committee – a group that reevaluates the City’s Police Department policies, functions and funding – is working to build trust with the community.
The Moran Center for Youth Advocacy, an organization that provides legal and social services to youth and families in need, proposed the use of restorative practice circles, in which residents and committee members sit in a circle and discuss public safety and the reimagining of Evanston policing.
The Moran Center invited Mayor Daniel Biss, who serves as chair of the Committee, and potentially other members, to participate in a restorative practice circle to consider how to foster community building.
Biss created the committee in May with a plan to present a report and show findings and recommendations to the City Council in the fall, prior to the 2022 annual budget process. Committee members include City staff, Council members, community leaders and representatives from a variety of organizations including Evanston Fight for Black Lives, Connections for the Homeless and Citizens Network of Protection.
Patrick Keenan-Devlin, Executive Director of the Moran Center and a member of the committee, presented the restorative practice circle idea at the Aug. 17 Reimagining Public Safety Committee meeting, and the committee members agreed to pursue this idea. These circles could be one of several tactics for the committee to gather community input.
The staff at the Moran Center, many of whom are attorneys and social workers, provide legal support and social services so young adults have equal access to justice in court, jails, school and in the communities. Keenan-Devlin said the Moran Center as well as the City’s Youth and Young Adult division have spent years learning how to build community trust and have trained everyone from teens to the elderly as restorative justice practitioners and non-violence practitioners.
“There is a divide between City Hall presently and the community, and I think that in order to solicit feedback intentionally, authentically, the community really has to feel welcomed,” said Keenan-Devlin. He said that before asking community members for input, it is essential that the Reimagining Public Safety Committee form a relationship with the community.
Keenan-Devlin asked attendees at the Aug. 17 meeting how often they had experienced community forums in which community members stood up and spoke of harm, perpetrated by the City, and then a City facilitator quickly moved on to the next speaker, unsure of how to address the concerns. This lack of responsiveness furthers the harm done to this person, said Keenan-Devlin, and if the facilitator had a relationship with the individual, they would know how to properly acknowledge the harm.
At the meeting, attendees brought up the concern that circles could be re-traumatizing to survivors. Nathan Norman, Youth and Young Adult Program Supervisor for the City of Evanston, said he appreciated the speakers who brought up these concerns and recognized that they are valid, but at the same time he said survivors need to be a part of the discussions happening within the City.
“In order for us to start to heal the community, we have to know the symptoms,” said Norman. “In my experience of almost a decade working with individuals that fit this criteria, we have to give them a seat at the table.”
Keenan-Devlin will organize the restorative practice circles and be in communication with committee and community members.