“Have you experienced harassment or been hurt by the police?” That question kickstarted a day of personal testimonies and discussion on the relationship between young people in some of Chicago’s most marginalized communities and police.
“People don’t believe young people when they say things happen to them,” said Malcolm London, a 21 year-old originally from the Austin neighborhood who now lives in Garfield Park. London, who emceed the event is part of several community organizing groups, including the Black Youth Project 100 and the Young Chicago Authors.
“There needs to be spaces where young people feel safe enough to say ‘this happened to me by the police’ and not feel like it has to be routine or like nothing can change,” said London.
Speaking to the group, Ethan Viets VanLear described two of what he said were his first encounters as a young man with police officers, both before he hit the age of 16.
“I was at freshman orientation at school,” said VanLear, who is part of a Rogers Park-based organization called Circles and Ciphers, a leadership training program for young men going through the juvenile justice system. “We’re doing silly team building stuff outside at my school. Two police officers pulled up onto the grass at the school, came up with their guns drawn, put me in handcuffs and put me in the car.”
VanLear said two weeks prior he and a friend had given their information to police after a bicycling accident, and that information was later used to interrogate several young men after a crime had been committed in the area.
“There was no evidence, they just found five brown kids that they knew were around and had their names and went and picked them up,” he added
Organizers of the event and affiliated groups say stories like VanLear’s are an all too common part of a systemic problem unfairly targeting people of color.
“If you are black or Latino or a person of color, [just] being itself is policed,” said Sara Wild from the Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Oppression. “When we look at the rate of incarceration, we’re looking at 2.4 million in the U.S. prisons. How are they getting there? They focus on young African American and Latino males and females.”