The death of Tyre Nichols after a brutal beating by police in Memphis, Tennessee, brought more than 40 people to the Second Baptist Church Monday night to discuss two things: community and police.
Nichols was a 29-year-old Black father of a 4-year-old son. He adored skateboarding and photography, according to The Associated Press. He died Jan. 10, three days after the assault by five officers.
Gruesome body camera footage of the incident, released Jan. 27, has caused a resurgence of concern about police brutality in many communities, including Evanston.
The Rev. Michael Nabors, senior pastor of Second Baptist and president of the local NAACP chapter, and Police Chief Schenita Stewart joined together to host Monday’s community meeting on police conduct.
Stewart released a statement addressing the police brutality Nichols endured on Jan. 27, ahead of the release of the video.
“With the assistance of the city manager, I thought it was extremely important to be proactive,” Stewart said.
“I don’t think I need a video to tell me or show me what police misconduct looks like. I think when you’re running an agency as a chief of police, and you are creating a culture of community policing, and what that embodies, especially with trust, you have to put out not only internally, but externally, how you want to move going forward as the chief of police.”
Nabors also posted a response to the video’s release. Nabors began the meeting on Monday by painting a larger picture of the issue.
There have been 55 mass shootings from Jan. 1 to Feb. 2, he said. Additionally, he said at least seven unarmed people have been shot and killed by police nationwide since the start of 2023, all of them are Black and brown men.
“We have a problem in this country,” Nabors said. “We have an issue in this country when it comes to law enforcement and Black and brown bodies. And so instead of trying to be reactive, in terms of something that could potentially happen in our area, we want to be proactive.”
Nabors opened the floor to residents to ask questions. Beth Emet Rabbi Andrea C. London asked if it were possible to reduce traffic stops and instead rely on technology to document traffic violations.
“Many of the incidents we’ve seen happen are after traffic stops, including in Tyre Nichols’ case,” London said.
Stewart said the department is reviewing the number of traffic tickets it issues. But she says EPD’s traffic stops have significantly decreased.
Dana Deane, another resident, inquired about EPD’s process for reviewing and disciplining officers with multiple citizen complaints against them.
“It also seems like some of the national incidents that we’ve read about have involved officers with significant numbers of citizen complaints against them,” Deane said. “What’s Evanston’s process?”
Stewart said that complaints can be filed against officers anonymously and online.
“We do have an aggressive discipline system,” Stewart said. “As those complaints go up, more discipline will be based off of the amount of complaints.”
When Ndona Muboyayi, who said she is the mother of two Black teenagers, took the microphone, she reminded the audience the obstacles Black families face in the U.S.
“We often tell our children how to conduct themselves [with police],” Muboyayi said. “There’s no way we can tell our children how to act accordingly knowing the history of this country. What can we do as a community to try and help our children?”
Stewart, in only her fourth month as police chief, said she’s working on getting answers to this question.
“I too am a Black female with Black nieces and nephews and males in my family, too,” Stewart said. “I mean, it’s unfortunate in 2023 we’re still having these conversations. But I’m hoping these conversations help us get better as a community. I don’t have an answer. I’m looking for help too as a police chief in trying to figure this out.”
EPD engagement programs
The chief and the two other officers present at the meeting, Officer Enjoli Daley and Officer Adam Howard, mentioned several city programs designed to connect with the community.
As part of an effort to connect with the Spanish-speaking community, the department is launching its six-week community police academy class in Spanish for the first time.
Officers from the department’s community policing unit frequently attend community ward meetings and nonprofit events. Howard is the monthly bingo host for the Foster Senior Club.
Residents also tossed around some ideas on how to improve the department. Maria Tolpin asked about officers coming to certain calls unarmed.
“There are a lot of good reasons for police to carry firearms,” Tolpin said. “But I wonder about the sort of militarization of policing versus a more community-oriented model.”
Stewart opposed sending officers to calls unarmed, but she welcomed the idea of unarmed specialists such as community service officers responding to certain calls.
“It is two-fold for me, because to be really quite honest, you still got real crime in Evanston,” Stewart said. “So you got to pick and choose, you want the police or you don’t, because we’re not talking about a city where there’s not real crime and shootings happening.”
Niki Moe with the Center for Independent Futures recommended that the chief meet with parents and children at the ETHS Transition House.
The Transition House is a special education program that teaches individuals between 18 and 22 independence skills. Many of the parents of children in the program worry about their children having hostile encounters with police, Moe said.
“I will tell you that about 80% of the students there are the BIPOC [Black, Indigenous, Person of Color] population, and so they have they have intersectionality of having a disability, but also they’re of color,” Moe said. “And you will hear the majority of the mothers say that they don’t let their children walk the streets of Evanston or get on public transportation because … they’re too afraid for them.”
Stewart said she’d like to meet with Moe to discuss a collaboration between the department and the Transition House.
Residents praised the EPD and Chief Stewart throughout the meeting. Resident Joey Rodger encouraged residents to report their good interactions with police officers, too, to assist with EPD morale.