Misplaced Brutality: Are Police Really Making Us Safe?

Tanya Calvin

About a month ago, I heard on the news that a man was taken to the hospital in critical condition after an officer used a Taser on him. The man had stolen something from the Walgreens on North Ave. and Wells, a store I pass everyday on my way to Latin. The next morning when I walked by, I couldn’t help but feel disturbed when I pictured what had happened that night. Police brutality isn’t a foreign concept in urban settings, though. I told myself to just move on.

That worked until a week ago I was talking to a friend of mine who said “Tanya, that was Damo” after I brought up the incident. The same sinking feeling I wrote about previously in my article about Chicago violence came to me again. I didn’t know Damo that well, but he had been at my house before when I had friends over, and when I hung out at the beach or at a park, he was usually there.

Damo, or Dominique Franklin, died two weeks after his injury. He was only twenty-three. And so, as I mentally added his name to the list of young people I knew who had died in Chicago due to violence, I realized there was a different side to the epidemic that haunts me. A lot of the homicides here occur between gang members and civilians who are caught in the middle, but Damo was neither of those. He had committed a crime, yes, but since when does arresting someone for retail theft become so violent? Some of you are reading this and thinking “okay, it’s sad, but he was resisting arrest.”

Okay, fair enough. But what about the time a friend of mine was shoved against a wall by an officer and had bruises down her spine even though she was already leaving the party they had shut down? Or when my sister woke up with a bruise the size of an officer’s hand because he was trying to push her out of a party she was hosting? Both of them were cooperating, neither were doing anything illegal, and yet there was violence.

 I’m not saying that the CPD is full of aggressive officers who never do any good. They provide a service that is much needed in such a hectic city. The CPDs job is not an easy one. There’s no quick fix to such a ridiculous homicide rate, and the consequences are obvious.

Even with retail theft, like in Damo’s case, Bridget Cato, whose father is a police officer, says “if he ended up escaping and committing another crime, the officer would have been looked down upon for letting him go…it’s the officers job to make sure criminals do not get away.” Pilar Neumann, however, says “it’s hard for many people to come to terms with how poorly many police officers are treating the people they’re supposed to protect because we all know that many cops are good, hard working people…in the end we first have to focus on the ones not doing their jobs before we can focus on the ones who are.”

Pilar is talking about cops like Jon Burge, who was convicted for torturing suspects and is still collecting his pension from the Chicago Police Department with no opposition from the Mayor. That’s an extreme case, but the fact that it happened at all is reason for concern. Notice I said concern, not blame. As citizens, we have to work together with authorities to better our city, not just continue to oppose them, which would result in only more violence. MJ Porzenheim suggests asking “what is causing police officers to act this way?” She feels police officers “are likely products of their environment.” We need to understand that they are going through the same tragedies we are; they live in Chicago, too.

Jeffrey Marks, Erika Marks’ dad, used to be a police officer. He says “the problem is anytime you arrest someone, they cry police brutality-it’s their way of ‘getting even.’” It’s a human inclination to respond with anger rather than cooperation when someone is arrested, but the tension that has been created between the police force and the citizens of Chicago has only resulted in sad headlines and frustrated protests.

So I write this article in dedication to Damo, and anybody else who has suffered from the unfortunate police brutality that comes with living in a violent city, officers and civilians alike. May we work together to make Chicago a great place to live, without fear and with plenty of space for the youth to thrive.]]>