Explicitly Remove Police Traffic Enforcement from the Vision Zero Chicago Action Plan
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Explicitly Remove Police Enforcement from the Vision Zero Chicago Action Plan and Implementation Strategy
I am Olatunji Oboi Reed, Co-Founder of The Slow Roll Chicago Bicycle Movement. I am writing on behalf of advocates and researchers working to ensure the City of Chicago implements Vision Zero Chicago in a manner where this important policy and plan will do more good than harm in communities of color here in Chicago.
We are calling for the City of Chicago to explicitly remove police traffic enforcement from the Vision Zero Chicago Action Plan and their implementation strategy. While police should continue to enforce citywide traffic laws, we do not support the role of the Chicago Police Department (where racism, implicit bias, inequity, corruption and overpolicing are all present) in executing a police traffic enforcement strategy as part of Vision Zero Chicago in communities of color.
We are also calling for the ownership of Vision Zero Chicago to reside with the residents, stakeholders and community-based organizations who live and work everyday in the Vision Zero targeted neighborhoods on the Westside and Southside of Chicago, nearly all of whom are low- to moderate-income communities of color.
I am a 43 year old Black man, born and raised on the Southside of Chicago, spending most of my life in the Chatham neighborhood. Here's my story...
Myself, my Slow Roll Chicago Co-Founder Jamal and several members of a brotherhood we joined as Sophomores at Lindblom Technical High School in Englewood (all of whom I consider brothers to this day) were hanging out one night in front of my mother's building and gathered around one of my brother's car. Yes, we were loud and clowning around, because we were uproarious and loved to have fun. No, we were not drinking, smoking, carrying guns or engaging in any other illegal activities. As we were talking, laughing, chanting, stepping and all the other social activities befitting a boisterous group of male teenagers, we began hearing the faint sounds of police sirens. We brushed it off, we hear police sirens all the time in our neighborhoods. It was nothing new and it was unworthy of our attention, for we had more important things to attend to that night. We continued what we were doing, as the sirens became louder and obviously closer. Suddenly, we see flashing police lights at the end of the block. We turn around and see similar police lights at the other end of the block. We immediately understand there are several police cars, with sirens blaring and lights flashing, racing in both directions on a one-way street toward us as we stand frozen around my brother's car in front of my mother's home. Within seconds, about four police cars had descended on us. Like something out of a well choreographed movie, before the the police cars even came to a full stop, their doors were opening and about 6-8 police officers were jumping out with their guns drawn on me and my brothers.
We stood there, confused, shocked and scared, as the officers quickly approached on foot, guns drawn on all of us. Perhaps, a couple seconds tick off, then an older Black male officer yells out at the top of his voice, "Same ol' nigger shit". As me and my brothers stood there, the officers searched us and quickly realized their level of aggression and tactical readiness was completely unwarranted. With little conversation and no acknowledgement of their having put us all at risk and within a matter of minutes, like the experience was all a dream, the officers were back in their squad cars rolling away.
In front of my mom's home, on the very block I was raised on, in Chicago, a city I dearly love, to that officer who yelled out, I was nothing more than a nigger, worthy of the loaded gun he was pointing in my direction. To all the other officers, me and all of my brothers were niggers that night. And, their guns pointing at us was necessarily deserved.
Now, read this paragraph, then close your eyes and experience how easy it is for you to see this reality played out with a different ending. Imagine my hotheaded self jumping into the face of the officer who had just let us all know we were all "niggers doing nigger shit". Imagine my brother Jamal, who has always been comfortable challenging authority, "mouthing off" at one of the officers. Or, imagine my brother Nate instinctively reaching into the car to grab his wallet.
Over the past several days, I've cried many times imagining what may have been. One of us may have been abused that night. One of us may have been arrested and convicted. One of us may have gone to jail. One of us may have been shot. And, yes, one of us was the twitch of a finger on the gun's trigger away from being killed unjustly at the hands of the Chicago Police Department.
The advocacy work we do on Vision Zero Chicago is rooted in our commitment to dismantling structural racism in our society and ensuring my nephews and all the young brothers and sisters coming up never have to experience what I experienced that night, or worse.
Here we are, many centuries later, experiencing the same White Supremacy and structural racism first endured by our ancestors. Here we are, nearly 30 years later, experiencing the same White Supremacy and structural racism which gave way to guns being pointed at us that night, continuing to give way to Black, Brown and Indigenous people being murdered unjustly at the hands of the police, here in Chicago and around the US.
For those among us who still doubt the existence of White Supremacy, structural racism, inequity, corruption, overpolicing and implicit bias in the Chicago Police Department and other City of Chicago departments, this is all for you:
- In 2016, Mayor Rahm Emanuel and, in 2017, Chicago Police Department Superintendent Eddie Johnson, both publicly acknowledged the existence of racism within the Chicago Police Department and other City Hall departments.
- Earlier this year, the United States Department of Justice (USDOJ) announced their findings of its investigation into the Chicago Police Department and publicly released its accompanying investigation report.
- Chicago Tribune article by former U.S. Attorney Zachary Fardon of the Northern District of Illinois, entitled Commentary: Chicago, get that consent decree.
- The Intercept exhaustive, 4-part treatise on corruption within the Chicago Police Department, entitled CODE OF SILENCE: Two Chicago police officers uncovered a massive criminal enterprise within the department. Then they were hung out to dry. Read Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4.
- The Atlantic article entitled The Corrupt System That Killed Laquan McDonald.
- New York Times article entitled Chicago Police Routinely Trampled on Civil Rights, Justice Dept. Says.
- Chicago Tribune article exemplifying police enforcement inequity here in Chicago, entitled 'Biking while black': Chicago minority areas see the most bike tickets.
- Do your own Googles to uncover the many videos and articles documenting CPD's horrible track record of unjust murders, civil rights abuses and rampant corruption.
In the city I love, I am still considered a nigger by many. I am considered a nuisance, actively attempting to disrupt the City of Chicago's beautiful, equitable and well thought out Vision Zero Chicago Action Plan, dutifully crafted by mostly well meaning White people who don't live or work in our neighborhoods and without consultation from the very people of color impacted by Vision Zero here in Chicago.
The Vision Zero Chicago Action Plan is not beautiful, it's ugly because it explicitly states on pages 44 and 48 that police traffic enforcement is part of the plan. The plan is ugly because it does not explicitly acknowledge the role of racism in our city toward causing traffic violence, continuing to only address the symptoms while putting an out-sized burden on people assaulted daily by racism in Chicago. The plan is ugly because the process of developing the plan was inequitable, where Vision Zero targeted neighborhoods were not engaged in the plan's development prior to the plan's release. The plan is ugly because it is another, consistent example of the City of Chicago's tireless commitment to harmful, top down policy-making and paternalism. The plan is ugly because it is owned by the Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) and given the existence of racism in City of Chicago departments, including CDOT, Vision Zero should be owned by the people and organizations being impacted by the Vision Zero action plan and implementation strategy at the neighborhood level. The plan is ugly, biased, inequitable, paternalistic and potentially deadly in communities of color.
All this said, the City of Chicago, Mayor's Office and CDOT enjoy my full support on Vision Zero reducing traffic deaths to zero within 10 years, by primarily focusing on the nationally-accepted Vision Zero strategies of Engineering (redesign streets to make them safer) and Education (implement a compelling, comprehensive educational campaign to teach and inspire people to drive safer). I do not support the role of the Chicago Police Department (where racism, implicit bias, inequity, corruption and overpolicing are all present) in executing a police traffic enforcement strategy as part of Vision Zero Chicago in communities of color.
I am not a nigger. I am a strong, proud, powerful Black man. And, all of the brothers and sisters who stand with me are strong, proud, powerful Black, Brown and Indigenous men and women. We are organizers, advocates and activists. We love our neighborhoods and we love our people. We have faith and we believe intensely in our own capacity and all of our collective will to make the world a better place for those descendants of men and women who first encountered White Supremacy on the shores of Africa, North America and around the world.
We will do the work to ensure the City of Chicago implements Vision Zero Chicago in a manner where this important policy and plan will do more good than harm in communities of color here in Chicago.
We will do the work for the City of Chicago to explicitly remove police traffic enforcement from the Vision Zero Chicago Action Plan and Implementation Strategy. While police should continue to enforce citywide traffic laws, we do not support the role of the Chicago Police Department (where racism, implicit bias, inequity, corruption and overpolicing are all present) in executing a police traffic enforcement strategy as part of Vision Zero Chicago in communities of color.
We will do the work for the City of Chicago to transfer the ownership of Vision Zero Chicago from the Chicago Department of Transportation to the residents, stakeholders and community-based organizations who live and work everyday in the Vision Zero targeted neighborhoods on the Westside and Southside of Chicago, nearly all of whom are low- to moderate-income communities of color.
Or, this strong, proud, powerful Black Man, from the Chatham neighborhood on the Southside of Chicago, will die trying.
Olatunji Oboi Reed
Co-Founder, Slow Roll Chicago
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