Offensive North Chicago Police brochure is no laughing matter
BY MARY MITCHELL firstname.lastname@example.org February 25, 2013 10:18PM
Updated: March 27, 2013 6:32AM
With all the stumbles the North Chicago Police Department has made recently, no one should have time for foolishness.
But somehow the beleaguered department managed.
Last week an employee came up with a brochure that used offensive images.
It included a mug shot of a bug-eyed black man, and another of comedian Dave Chappelle as a crack fiend. There were also photographs of overweight cops, Judge Judy, Barney Fife and Lindsay Lohan. The only thing missing was Honey Boo-Boo.
The brochure was used in a presentation on trial procedures and a handout for participants in the new North Chicago Citizen Police Academy.
North Chicago Police Chief James Jackson had said the pamphlet was created by an African-American police officer, but at a City Council meeting Monday night, several people in the audience disputed that statement.
On the eve of a mayoral election, the controversial brochure became a battering ram.
“Our city has gone through a lot in the last couple of years. We are not building up the hope and trust in our police department. What are we really teaching the people in our community?” demanded Valerie DeVost, a city council member who is running for mayor.
“What types of relationship are we building? Is everything about color? Crime has no color,” she said.
Jackson, who must have his hands full, said the brochure was an “ill-conceived” attempt at humor and wasn’t authorized.
That something so offensive could be circulated to a group that was put together as a way to restore trust between the police department and citizens shows the depth of the problem.
Worst yet, the brochure reinforces the stereotype that blacks are criminals, and thus a problem, while whites are the judges, the sheriffs, the cops who have to deal with them.
It was the worst message possible to send to citizens in a town that is still trying to repair its image.
In the past couple of years, North Chicago has gotten the reputation for not taking police abuse seriously.
In 2011, the death of Darrin Hanna, after police officers used a Taser and a baton during an arrest, caused a public outcry.
Last month, the Lake County coroner reclassified the death of Hanna, 45, as a homicide. One police officer was fired and another was suspended in connection with the fatal beating. But four other officers are still on the force.
Another police officer has been accused of handcuffing an 11-year-old boy and pushing him into a locker in retaliation for an altercation between the boy and the officer’s son.
Corruption also has been uncovered at the very top of the department.
Late last year, the former police chief, Michael Newsome, was arrested and charged with stealing more than $140,000 from a fund that held money seized from drug dealers.
At the City Council meeting, Jackson’s vow to investigate how the offensive pamphlet ended up as a teaching tool was met with hoots and howls.
The most vitriolic criticism was from Hanna’s relatives.
“You’re a bald-faced liar,” Ralph Peterson yelled during public comments, pointing at Jackson.
According to Peterson, no black officer came up with a brochure loaded with negative stereotypes about blacks.
“He threw the black officers under the bus. He shamed them and angered them all at the same time,” Peterson said. “Instead of giving the white officer some sensitivity training and removing him off the police academy, he chose to blame it on the black police officer. That is the level of mentality we are dealing with.
Peterson is Hanna’s cousin, and he’s a consistent critic of Mayor Leon Rockingham and the police department.
“We are still fighting,” Peterson said. “I question why are the officers in the police academy? They are the same officers that killed Darrin Hanna and have cost the city hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Other speakers blasted the police chief for letting the ill-advised presentation get past him.
Jackson acknowledged the brochure was “unprofessional and showed a lack of good judgment.”
Obviously, the offensive brochure should be dumped in the trash.
But the harm has been done.
It may be hilarious to see Chappelle play a crack addict, but in a town trying to heal from the scars of police brutality, there’s nothing funny.