We spend years building relationships with high school students on the South Side of Chicago. The goal is to learn what discipline and policing feel like for young black people in Chicago. In order to join Y/PP, participants must commit to a minimum of five hours a week for an entire school year. This substantial investment of time leads to stable relationships with the kids, and leads to the trust necessary to kindly hold each other accountable.
In October 2018, I sat down with one of my high school students to talk.
Chaclyn: Who are you?
Keyonne: Who am I? I am Keyonne Barnes. I am a senior at a neighborhood Chicago public school located on the East Side of Chicago. But I grew up and was raised on the South Side of Chicago.
Chaclyn: What kind of feeling do you get from the police in your neighborhood?
Keyonne: I be scared. I know I shouldn’t feel like that, but I do. I be scared because the police supposed to serve and protect, but from the experience that I had with watching people encounters with the police. And me personally in an encounter with the police, instead of protecting I feel like they’re the ones to attack.
I’ve seen the police just jump out the car and push somebody up against the wall, and just start searching them for no apparent reason. I saw the police call people bad names and tell them that [there] is a very slight chance they are gonna make it in life. Just basically downgrade people.
The Chicago Police Department (CPD) created an Enhanced Foot Patrol Unit, known colloquially and notoriously as the “Jump Out Boys,” in 2003 to patrol high-crime neighborhoods. The official unit, composed primarily of new Probationary Patrol Officers, was closed soon after in 2004, but a similar “jump out” initiative was renewed in 2013 under CPD Superintendent Garry McCarthy’s Operation Impact.
In 2017, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) published its investigation findings into the CPD stating that “jump outs” are common practice: Officers in plain clothes or unmarked cars will often drive suddenly near a group of pedestrians in a high-crime area, and then an officer is tasked to chase or “zero-in” on a fleeing person. The DOJ report states, “Some of the most problematic shootings occurred when that sole officer closed in on the subject, thus greatly increasing the risk of a serious or deadly force incident."
Chaclyn: When [police] say there’s a good chance you’re not gonna make it, that doesn’t have anything to do with crime or what policing is meant to do in society. That’s about people as human beings. Why do you think the police go that far?
Keyonne: This is society we live in, everything is based off statistics. It’s sad to say, [but] it’s kind of true now. It’s very rare a young black person, to be specific, a young black male, make it to their 18th or 21st birthday. But not everybody is like that. When you just automatically assume that because he’s African American, I just feel like it’s racist. It’s discrimination.
The Centers for Disease and Control Prevention (CDC) 2015 report on the leading causes of death in black males states that homicide accounts for 49.5 percent of deaths among black males ages 15–19, 49.7 percent among ages 20–24, and 35.5 percent among ages 25–34. Black males in these age groups are the only demographic with homicide as the leading cause of death.
Chaclyn: You get boxed in by the police, who they think you are. How does that make you feel?
Keyonne: It makes me feel less of a person. I grew up to be unique, to be different. But when I see the police, they make me think less of myself because of how they talk to us. They make me feel as if I’m just no one, I’m just like everybody else, when, in reality, I’m different. They try to put me in a category based off what other people have done in the past, just because I’m the same skin color.
Chaclyn: Do you feel the same way about the police? When you see the uniform, do you make assumptions about them?
Keyonne: No! Because I personally have experienced a good cop, and personally experienced a bad cop. I don’t just automatically assume that every cop is bad, but I have had personal experiences where the majority are.
Now, police in my school. I feel as if it just isn’t fair. Why is there policemen only in the black community schools? I went downtown to Jones College Prep, basically a selective enrollment school that is downtown. Being in that environment, of course they don’t have to walk through metal detectors. They don’t have police officers. I feel like everything is put out for the African Americans, as if we’re just bad.
Chicago Public Schools (CPS) has a contract with the Chicago Police Department to provide more than 250 police officers to 75 primary and secondary schools. Officers complete no specialized training and have access to computer terminals within the school buildings to process arrested kids. Repeated public information requests for a comprehensive list of which officers are assigned to which schools have been denied because there are “no responsive documents.”
The most recent public data is from 2011, reported by WBEZ [a Chicago-based radio station], showing 3,500 misdemeanor arrests on CPS campuses. It is very difficult to access updated data; a CPD Freedom of Information Act officer told me that they report arrest rates over the phone to CPS administrative staff, leaving no written information to request.