In the fraught relationship between police and the Black community there is an agreement that better relations will take time and tolerance.
18-year-old Marques Watts is a junior at Mather High School and a youth leader in VOYCE, a youth organizing alliance focused on education and racial justice. He joined five months ago after the shooting death of his friend and fellow VOYCE leader Caleb Reed.
“There’s a lot of traumatic things that we go thru, especially as young people,” he said
He said he feels empowered now that he’s found a way to channel his anger and energy in to action, working to better his community. But he still has hesitation and fear when it comes to police.
“I haven’t seen much change, police are still discriminating,” he said. “I’m not really comfortable with police because just being who I am. A Black kid with dreads, its automatically, you’re discriminated against. … I heard many of my Black friends have said when they get stopped, they don’t know what to do. They just freeze because they don’t want to make the wrong move. And that’s the same thing whether you’re driving or walking.”
Esi Koomson is a freshman at the University of Chicago. For the past four years she’s been a student organizer with the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization, or KOCO. She watched in amazement at the huge number of people who turned out across the country to protest Floyd’s killing at a time when the pandemic forced so many to stay inside.
“If they didn’t convict him of murder, it would have been hell. I know for a fact it would have been hell,” she said. “I think Covid was an influence in having that many people show out as well as knowing that this has been constantly going on for years and years. No one is talking about it. No one is making changes. No one is reforming the bills and the laws in congress.”
She believes diverting funding from the police department to communities in need of food, housing and mental health would be better spent instead of police responding to every single 911 call.
“Giving new meaning to what it is that they are supposed to do. Because what they are doing right now it not really helpful at all,” she said. “So just building a new system where we able to provide the actual resources.”
Richard Wooten spent 23 years as a Chicago Police Department patrolman. Eight of those years he worked with the CAPS program where he says he became more connected with the community.
“In order for the police to began to change, they have to change from within,” he said. “We have, you know, a great deal of African American and Latino officers that’s actually within the police department, that see the view, the violence and the imbalance of policing in our communities. And yet they don’t have the you know they don’t have the courage to stand up.”
Today he’s retired and a pastor with Gathering Point Universal Ministries. He says when he was on the force, he never felt protected or exempt from police discrimination.
“Even as a Black officer, I just feel treated like a Black man when I’m out on the street,” he said.
Which is why he advocates for young people to stop complaining and step and become the change they want to see.
“We can’t keep on standing on the sidelines complaining about being mistreated,” Wooten said. “We have an official obligations to our communities and that is to stand up and protect our communities and represent our communities. If we’re not represent our communities, then we have no reason to keep it complaining.”