Monday, May 02, 2005


We have a new police commander in the 9th district. Since I told you the district you can find out who he is if you're really interested, but I'll leave his name out of it even though the news is good. He used to work in Chinatown. Everyone says he's a breath of fresh air compared to the last guy. From the meeting I saw last week, I believe it. He's organizing a job fair. He's worked to include Chinese as well as Spanish translation at beat meetings. When asked to appear at a June event creating a memorial park near my house to honor a 12-year-old boy who got shot during a neighborhood cleanup two years ago, he committed to come on the spot.

That's pretty impressive, and I'm hard to impress about cops in Chicago. Although my brother is a prosecutor and we had a cop neighbor who used to organize the snowplow for our street every winter when I was a kid, I lost my fondness for the boys in blue almost as soon as I landed in Chicago. I spent my first year of teaching escorting my male, teenage students out the building and partway down the block so they would not be immediately hauled into paddy wagons. The fact that they had spent the entire day in school was immaterial to the cops, who knew they were trouble and would routinely pick them up, drive them around and drop them off in rival territory just to show who was boss. One of my guys, probably the only responsible father in the lot of them, who was really trying hard to get his life together, had a cop plant a bag of cocaine on him and had to face trial. Our interim executive director, a priest, went to court as a character witness on his behalf. That may have been the only thing that got him off.

Last week I also heard about the most recent beat meeting in the beat where the memorial park is going to be constructed. Apparently a resident complained that her teenage son was harassed by police while sitting on his own front step. "If he didn't have a shaved head, and look like a gangbanger, we wouldn't bother him," was their only response. And the former facilitator of this beat is a decent cop!

This guy, now known to you as D.C. for "Decent Cop," serves with me on a local board. We're on the committee to put this memorial park together. The other night he gave me a ride to my next meeting after our board meeting. We got talking and he said he's planning to go to law school. I fessed up that my dad was a public defender back in the day. "That's what I want to do!" he said. By the end of the ride, D.C. was trying to convince me I should tag along to law school with him. "You'd make a great lawyer," he said.

"I know. It runs in the family," I said. "But really, we need more people like you being lawyers than people like me."

What D.C. really wants is a law school study buddy. He wants to trade Spanish help for law school help. Hah! But he did make me practice speaking Spanish for a few sentences and tried not to let me backslide.

It is good to know I've met one decent cop in the hood, even though D.C. doesn't work in this district. I ran into him this morning as I was going to the bus stop--it was the first time I've seen him in his uniform. He and his partner had stopped at the rim shop after dropping off prisoners at 26th & Cal. I wonder if anyone I wouldn't want to see me shaking hands with a cop saw me shaking hands hello.

I was told recently there are people on the block who think I'm a cop. I wonder if this is good or bad. Everybody on the local board tried to assure me it's not a bad thing, even the guy who had to go to court because gangbangers were threatening him for his efforts to get them off his block. That is a road I really don't want to go down. The good news was about two dozen people showed up to back up my fellow board member at the harasser's trial.

I guess at the bottom of all this I wish we didn't need cops and courts for people to live in peace, and I wish we had real schools and real jobs for young people so they wouldn't hang on the corners and sell drugs and scare the neighbors. It's really sad to me that there are so few people trying to do good things in a neighborhood that the only way some people can get their heads around it is to assume they are cops.

Especially when the cops in the neighborhood aren't always doing such good things. At our first block meeting a couple of weeks ago, a 13-year-old boy told us two "Polish" cops had accosted him and pointed guns at him for no apparent reason. They were looking for a kid who had done something wrong a few blocks away. The boy was on his way home with his sister, minding his own business, when police stopped the car, took him out and started barking questions and pointing guns. Yikes.

Yet I'm still calling 9-1-1 when the kids up the street yell loudly and harshly enough at each other. I hate it, but it's hard to know what else to do.

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