Black police officers talk trust to students


Courtesy Charles Jefferson

Students and community members listened to Chicago police officer Yasmia Dunn speak about her relationship with residents at a Dec. 9 forum at 33 E. Congress Parkway.

By Metro Reporter

Chicago police officers of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives, ranging from new officers to commanders, encouraged students to view police as people, rather than just cops, at a Dec. 9 discussion forum hosted by Columbia’s Black Student Union.

The forum, at 33 E. Congress Parkway, was titled “Excessive or Reasonable Force? Bridging the Gap Between Community and the Police,” but discussions focused more on building trust between police and residents, rather than police officers’ use of force.

Seven law enforcement officers and nearly 40 others attended the forum, which Columbia’s Black Student Union President Brooke Thomas said was very successful. Thomas is a senior business and entrepreneurship major.

Thomas began by asking attendees to “listen to understand and not to respond.” Everyone respected that request, remaining quiet and friendly, even when asking tough questions of officers.

“I thought there would be more hatred because of the things going on in Chicago,” she said. “It gave a perspective of them as humans and the understanding that they too have fears.”

CPD officers shared their sides of stories that often upset or offend residents. Officer David Anderson, a 9-year CPD veteran, described pulling over a driver because his vehicle matched a description police were searching for. The description said the man was armed, so he approached the car with his gun drawn. Anderson said he felt confused when the man asked if he was being pulled over because of his skin color.

He asked attendees to consider that they may not always know why an officer interacts with them and encouraged people to communicate with officers and ask for those explanations if they feel bothered by police.

Shakayla Eaddy, a freshman fashion studies major, asked Anderson why he had his gun drawn before any confrontation with the man. Hamilton

responded by saying officers are often shot by seated passengers. He explained that it’s difficult for officers to know what passengers will do.

Eaddy said she understands his reasoning, but does not find it fair.

“I’m satisfied with the answer but I don’t really agree with it,” Eaddy said.

Carla Kupe-Arion, an attorney for the City of Chicago’s federal civil rights division, said she shares the communities pain.

“It’s a difficult time for me as a black person in the law department,” Kupe-Arion said. “Yes, we need law enforcement, but law enforcement needs to be right and do right.”

Several audience members shared frustrations that complaints against officers seem to go unheard by the department. Kupe-Arion urged them to continue filing complaints, but also to make sure the process is completed.

“The majority of the complaints I see have been closed because the person who filed the complaint stopped showing up,” she told them.

Another officer, Yasmia Dunn, also encouraged residents to file complaints when they feel harassed.

“You can win that battle,” Dunn said. “You don’t have to agree to being mistreated.”

Officer Janelle Hamilton, who works in the department’s narcotics division, said she was glad to hear residents’ concerns and thought the event went well.

“The most important part is taking what they had to say back to our district and our fellow police officers,” she said. “It’s a great start. We both know work still has to be done.”