by Melanie Jongsma
LANSING, Ill. (August 16, 2017) – An estimated 125 people gathered in the auditorium of T. F. South High School for a Community Meeting to discuss police/community relations in Lansing. Alongside The Lansing Journal, media coverage was provided by Fox 32, WGN, the Northwest Indiana Times, and LNN. The meeting was part of a series of responses to a June 24 incident involving an off-duty police officer and an African-American teenager. Video of the incident was posted to Facebook on June 26 and soon went viral.
“I recognize the importance of the reason we’re all here tonight,” said Mayor Patty Eidam in her opening remarks, and she assured the audience that the videoed incident “does not define our community.” After offering several examples of positive programs that Lansing residents are involved in, the Mayor included diversity in a list of qualities that make Lansing special.
Lansing Police Chief Dennis Murrin took the floor and apologized for not being able to speak in specifics about the event due to the ongoing investigation by the Cook County Sheriff’s Department. Murrin admitted that he is “not proud of” what happened, and he invited community members to offer ideas about changes that need to be made.
The community had opportunity to do that during the Community Dialogue section of the meeting, which was moderated by Pastor Leroy Childress of Grace Church and Ken Bergeron of the U. S. Department of Justice. Approximately 10 community members came forward to voice concerns about the Lansing Police Department. Each speaker was limited to two minutes, and Chief Murrin and Mayor Eidam answered questions directly whenever possible. Two T. F. South students served as scribes, summarizing and recording the concerns on a large whiteboard and pad of paper for the audience to see. At the end of 40 minutes, the list of concerns included:
- Lack of diversity in Lansing government and police force
- Diversity training for police
- More community dialogue on race
- De-escalation training for police
- Limited bilingual staff in government and police force
- Lack of communication with the public
- Lack of communication with youth
- Limited online information in Spanish
- Unclear status of Human Relations Commission
- Need to improve police complaint process
The next step involved making recommendations to address these concerns, and residents again stepped to the microphones to offer ideas. At the end of 20 minutes, the list of recommendations included:
- Create the Human Relations Commission ASAP
- Show support for police
- Teach conflict resolution to youth
- Develop pride between police and youth
- Increase civic engagement in government
- Use the Library chat room as a public forum for youth
- Find new ways to communicate to our diverse community
- Encourage community discussion of race and implicit bias
- Arrange book discussions about race
- Encourage block parties
- Use Social Media to promote public forums as events
“I paid very close attention to all of your comments and concerns—and your suggestions,” said Mayor Eidam in her closing remarks. “Your suggestions will be taken to heart.” Mayor Eidam specifically promised to start a Human Relations Commission immediately, and she implied that she already has people in mind whom she will appoint to that Commission.
Though the mood following the event was generally positive, some residents expressed doubts about the administration’s intentionality to make meaningful change.
The Community Meeting was organized by a coalition of Lansing’s elected officials, staff, school administrators, police department leaders, and clergy, with guidance from the Department of Justice.
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