(On Jan. 26, the National Association of Black Journalists — Chicago chapter and Public Narrative held a two-hour panel discussion at Columbia College Chicago: “What will it take? Reforming the Chicago Police Department.” Here is a brief wrap up, a quick video and contact information for the sources as well una noticia en Español de La Raza.) 




It will take time, work, the media and more than just a new superintendent if reform is truly to happen at the Chicago Police Department.


That was the consensus of a four-member panel held recently. It’s more than just reform of police, said G. Flint Taylor, (Flint.taylor10@gmail.com), an attorney and founding partner of the People’s Law Office in Chicago, whose been litigating civil rights and police brutality cases for more than 40 years. He said, at the heart of the matter, “postage stamp reform won’t work.”


It’s about eliminating systemic racism and turning the focus to getting children better education and more people jobs.


Moderated by WBEZ producer Steven Bynum and geared to helping journalists navigate some of the research and case law surrounding police reform, the panel spoke to about 70 people at Columbia’s Stage Two, 618 S. Michigan Ave., Jan. 26. It included Taylor and:


We want to thank Sara Freund for this video recap of our discussion.

Both Watson and Mallette cited statistics about how many of the issues police are dealing with are a result of criminalizing people with serious mental illness. As Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart has said, 25-30 percent of inmates at Cook County Jail are people with mental illness who would be better served by treatment than incarceration.


Watson said her research has shown that people with mental illness and their families are “really scared” to call police, and police are frightened as well, since many feel they don’t have the training and tools to deal with these crisis.


Mallette said it’s also about building stronger relationships between the police and the communities, which can be very hard in a city such as Chicago where people often grow up, live, work and raise families in the same community. They don’t experience diversity in their lives.

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This perspective comes as the Chicago Police Department conducts a national search for a new superintendent. Mayor Rahm Emanuel fired Supt. Garry McCarthy Dec. 1 amidst protest, outrage and questions of a cover-up surrounding the city’s 13-month delay in releasing a video of the fatal police shooting of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald.


This was a companion panel to one held by the NABJ and the local chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists — “Covering #BlackLivesMatter, an in depth discussion about covering the civil rights movement in Chicago. (CAN-TV has the complete program on its website here.)


Two points all three of the panelists agreed upon: That this is a seminal time in history when reform is possible and a strong media is also a necessary ingredient for reform to happen.


Taylor said investigative reporters are some of the few who have no fear of posing questions to power. Indeed, it was the persistence of investigative reporters filing Freedom of Information requests and a lawsuit that resulted in the McDonald video being released. Taylor cautioned, that the media must dig and push beyond the party line to get the real story.


Yet, Mallette said the media should be careful to paint neither community members nor police with one broad brush. Both populations are filled with good and bad, neither are a monolith, he said.