Every month we host healing circles that bring together police officers and residents of Englewood and beyond. We share a meal and our voices, using restorative justice circle keeping practices. One of our yoga teachers and volunteers, Lauren, shared with us her experiences of interacting with the police and how one of these dinners shifted her perspective. Issues with the police are not simple, and Lauren speaks with complexity about the range of interactions she has had with police in her community. As we learn from each other and open up space for each other to speak their truths and share their stories without fear of judgment, we begin to untangle the web of trauma impacting us all. Change is needed but slow. We are planting the seeds of peace and justice, and they must be watered.
It is worth mentioning that when I was initially asked to attend the police community dinner I was not comfortable, not pleased, but grateful for the invite because I trust that I Grow is making and does make a difference. I am very honored to volunteer with them. Very aware that I do not have a positive image of Chicago’s police force, it was important for me to push my level of comfort to see if I could have a different (neutral/positive?) experience – after all, the event was voluntary for me to attend, and it could be an opportunity to see what would open up for me. I did not share that I was not excited about this “dinner.”
You should also know that while not a direct resident of Englewood, I am concerned about what is going on, and would like to offer what I can, when I can, to support the community. I do not have any direct interactions with police, no record, juvenile or otherwise – but very impacted by how they can exacerbate an issue in a myriad of ways. I have not personally had a positive experience with them from high school through adulthood. Sure, as a small child I was taught to respect and trust them, that they would help and protect me if I were ever I felt threatened. By high school, I would not go near a police-related function, I learned a different truth. Who protects those who the police harass? Who will believe you if the police say otherwise? That question I still do not know how to reconcile.
Attending the community dinner was my first brave attempt to tackle the complex feelings I have with law enforcement. At that dinner, I was pleased that it was well attended, but still felt very guarded in sharing anything of substance around the table. I mean sure, I understand the confidentiality and all, but I was not ready to access my personal stories with law enforcement, to share. I did not know it would be an opportunity to speak up and wanted to see the cops show their hand or share their stories first. I will say now, it was one positive evening experience for me, which left me with a sense of surprise. So, perhaps – there are some good ones. Those who attended the dinner were the first I have ever spoken to.
My stories are not spectacular, but do hold my own personal distrust and discomfort and are packed down in an effort to hide my fear and protect myself. I have an intellectual understanding that everyone is different, there are good cops and not so good cops. But what I know for sure is the powerful emotional reaction to how I have been treated in mundane exchanges, not to mention the terror and torment others have experienced in direct exchanges with them.
My personal exchanges with law enforcement? When I purchased a home 2 miles west of Englewood and began to attend CAPS meetings, over a decade ago. I tried to erase my distrust and wanted to support both my new neighbors and this new community I was now a part of. At CAPS meetings I was met with: Extremely bored looking and disinterested cops who acted as if they would rather endure a root canal than sit in a room with us once per month. Their non-verbals were very apparent, their glazed, non-interested faces made it impossible for me to connect with. I tried to ignore it, but each month regardless of what cops attended they ALL had that manner about them. After a while, my thought was – Oh these are the cops that are being punished by having to attend the CAPS meetings this month. They even snapped at you to sign in…(You know better than to say anything and being polite to them did not warrant any better communication from them.)
Gruff, harsh, condescending attitude for an hour. When my neighbors would share the suspicious activity or actual problems encountered, the police acted as if they were interrogating the neighbor, like they are trying to trip them up into saying something that was not true. I never opened my mouth and often felt like a victim after leaving those meetings. Month after month the message was always the same, report what you see, call the police, yet when those directions were followed and mentioned during a CAPS meeting, the blame was again placed back on us because we should have done this instead of that, or we somehow failed them in helping to serve our community. Again I would leave feeling like a victim, as they would recount all the things we were supposed to do – yet turning the story back on us like we deserved what had occurred. It was awful. I thought how can I partner with them when they clearly don’t want to work with us? Not at all. This is a giant waste of time, and why am I spending my time sitting here with all their attitude? Before I stopped going they kept asking us why was there such a low turn out at the CAPS meetings. I thought if I truly told you why I would probably be arrested or harassed. No one wants to be spoken to in the manner you are speaking to us. I never said a word.
Then three incidents happened to me, several years apart but that does not matter – the attitude was the same. One was a traffic incident whereby a young driver rear-ended a rental car I was driving. No injuries, we exchanged insurance information, and I went to the precinct to fill out a report. After all, I didn’t want my insurance paying for an accident to a rental car, that I was not at fault over. I was treated so rudely. I almost cried, I wasn’t at fault but the guy who was “helping” or recording this information would not look at me, engaged in several side conversations with co-workers, while I stood there, and again I felt like I was not worth his time. All this to file a report? I mean that is what we are supposed to do, right? He acted like I was taking precious time away from tracking down a homicide, or something clearly more important than filing a report. I had to just stand there, two or three different times until he decided to allow me to finish the story, thus finish the report.
Incident #2 – after having attended numerous CAPS meetings whereby we called 911, stay on the phone, give a description of the person’s height, clothing, etc., provide your name, address, etc. before the police could DO anything. There was a drunk male breaking windows to a home diagonal across the street from mine. It was 3 am and I heard the glass breaking, looked out the window and saw the man bashing in the windows. I call 911, I stay on the line, I give a full description of the male, the object he was using to bash the windows, the direction he went. on and on. (thank gosh my boyfriend was with me, he got up and supported my calling 911) why is he important? Well, I gave them my name, address, blah blah blah the police arrived, my boyfriend and I were standing outside – waiting for police and trying to keep an eye on where the guy (who was drunk) had wandered off too. So, the cop arrived and I let him know what I “saw.” The cop had that same glazed over bored look, did not want me to explain – only wanted me to answer HIS questions as if I knew this drunk guy who was breaking the windows (I did not.) So I stopped talking because I was insulted, he wasn’t listening anyway. He looked at my boyfriend and said: “Is she with you?” Like I was a piece of shit that crawled up from the sewer to stand next to my boyfriend for grins and giggles. I was so angry that he was so dismissive of me, my boyfriend walked with him across the street to see the glass shards, and continued to speak and work with them. I was too angry. They caught the guy. I found out later they did not press charges because I was not the owner of the house that was vandalized. Okay, so now I do not call the cops, I do not attend CAPS meetings, I too have put up a glaze of disinterest when I see them.
Incident #3 – my garage was broken into and tools were stolen from boyfriend’s truck – so again I endured the humiliation of standing there at the station trying to list the items stolen – knowing full well nothing would come of it. Being left to feel like the whole event was my fault. Oh but this time they followed up with a survey – I could not give them high marks.
I am a very average citizen without any police records, wanting to let you know I did find the dinner to be positive. It helped me for sure. I mean, after all, we are all in this together. If I can just tackle what makes me uncomfortable and release a bit of my fear of them, help to heal the trauma others have experienced it would be a step in the right direction.