What’s Happening in Chicago?: End of the Year Appeal

by Vân Huynh, NAPABA Law Foundation Community Law Fellow

When the story of the gruesome police shooting of Laquan McDonald, a 17 year-old Black youth in Chicago, began to unfold a year after the actual incident took place, followed by reports that elected officials fought the release of the video, coupled with news that there were missing footages from a surveillance tape at a local Burger King that could have casted light on the final moments of Laquan’s life before his deadly encounter with police officers, Chicago reached a breaking point. Community members, led by Black youth-organizers, stormed Downtown Chicago seeking justice and accountability, calling for the resignation of Mayor Rahm Emanuel, State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez, then-Superintendent Garry McCarthy, and demanding police reform. What resulted was the firing of Supt. McCarthy and the resignation of Scott Ando, head of the Independent Police Review Authority (IPRA).

Meanwhile, at Asian Americans Advancing Justice | Chicago, we received news of IPRA’s recommended punishment for police officers involved in a 2013 police brutality case involving a young Chinese-American woman, Jessica Klyzek. In that case, Chicago Police officers raided the tanning parlor where she worked and were caught on camera beating Ms. Klyzek and yelling derogatory remarks threatening to “put [Ms. Klyzek] in a UPS box and send [her] back to wherever the f— [she] came from.”

For many Asian immigrants in Chicago, the release of the Jessica Klyzek video in the summer of 2014 triggered historical trauma: for Japanese Americans, recollections of the internment during World War II; for Cambodian and Vietnamese refugees, their escape from oppressive police states. And for so many others, it was that ever-pervasive feeling of being looked at and treated as foreigners in their home city.

In response, the community organized a town forum, attended by IPRA, Alderman Ameya Pawar, representatives from the Mayor’s Office, and officers from the Chicago Police Department. There, community members denounced the unacceptable actions of the officers in the Klyzek video, not only of the two officers involved but of the culture that exists in the Department where officers stand idly by as these egregious acts take place.

Of our list of demands, to this day, only one has been met: a public statement from Mayor Rahm Emanuel denouncing the conduct of the officers involved. The City did not fire the two abusive officers; and there has been no collection and disclosure of data on complainants who are members of protected classes under the City of Chicago’s current discrimination ordinances.

Additionally, up until now there has been no change to the city’s sanctuary ordinance to prohibit city employees from threatening deportation. However, Advancing Justice | Chicago continues to work with city officials to amend the Welcoming City Ordinance (WCO) barring city employees from threatening deportation and to provide for a better reporting process from IPRA on these matters. The amendment was introduced by Alderman Scott Waguespack with 12 City Council co-sponsors. However, the WCO amendment is currently sitting in the Human Relations Committee waiting to be called for a vote.

The Asian American community was once again disappointed when it was announced that the punishment doled out for the officers involved, were a meager 25 day-suspension for the officer screaming derogatory remarks, 8 day-suspension for the officer who hit Klyzek as she was handcuffed on the ground, and one day, which was later increased to 10 days suspension, for the Sergeant in charge.

Additionally, to properly place in light what is happening in Chicago, December marks the seventh month (and counting) that the state of Illinois has been without a budget. Funding to vital services for low-income and immigrant communities were slashed; and organizations and agencies providing these services have had to skim down bare-bones to keep their heads above the water and to weather the budget impasse. At the federal level, with the putrid views spewed by conservative Presidential candidates, communities in Chicago are all feeling the wrath of the anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim, and anti-Blackness sentiment that is placing our communities in real danger. A prime example of the detrimental effect the growing anti-immigrant sentiment has on the community can be seen in the vicious beating of a Sikh man in Darien, Illinois, which is being treated as a hate crime by the DuPage County State’s Attorney.

One positive thing that did happen in Chicago was that the Mayor and City Council renewed their support for Syrian refugees coming into the city. Yet, although the publicity around it was necessary, no policy changes were committed to offer protection and services relevant to the immigrant community.

For 2016, what we desperately need are new policy considerations that put the causes of those most vulnerable in our society at the forefront in order to fix the problems that have plagued the City of Chicago for so long. Fortunately, New Year is around the corner, and with it comes the now-blasé concept of hope. And yet, it is what communities hang on to. This past year, Advancing Justice | Chicago hosted the first Mayoral Candidate forum for the Asian American community, which allowed many community members to engage in the political process for the first time. In addition to this type of civic engagement work, we will continue our legal advocacy work in this long game towards racial justice.

Vân Huynh is the NAPABA Law Foundation Community Law Fellow with Asian Americans Advancing Justice | Chicago. Contact Vân at vhuynh@advancingjustice-chicago.org