Lawmaker wants police officers taught how racism, ‘ignorance’ prevent them from doing their jobs fairly

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State Rep. La Shawn K. Ford speaks during a news conference last year about the death of Caleb Reed, an activist who was fatally shot in West Rogers Park in 2020.
State Rep. La Shawn K. Ford speaks during a news conference last year about the death of Caleb Reed, an activist who was fatally shot in West Rogers Park in 2020. | Pat Nabong/Sun-Times file

“If we want to change the behavior of police, we have to educate them,” state Rep. La Shawn Ford said.  But the head of the Chicago union for rank-and-file police officers said the bill is “redundant and ridiculous.”

A state lawmaker who represents the city’s West Side introduced legislation Monday that would require all police officers in Illinois to be schooled on the intersection of law, race and racism in the hopes of teaching officers “the culture and the lifestyles of different communities and people.”

“If we want to change the behavior of police, we have to educate them,” state Rep. La Shawn Ford said.

The West Side Democrat said requiring officers to be schooled in critical race theory is about “tackling racism” and “becoming aware of our very own shortcomings and ignorance about our peers.”

But the head of the Chicago union for rank-and-file police officers said the bill is “redundant and ridiculous.”

“They’re going to get officers killed with this constant nonsense of ‘race, race, race,’’’ said John Catanzara Jr., the president of the Chicago Fraternal Order of Police. “You’re gonna have people so paranoid to do their job they’re going to be worried about race more than they’re worried about reacting to a threat.”

The legislation, which Ford filed Monday, would amend the state’s police training law and create a “critical race theory academy” comprised of members ranging from critical race scholars to sociologists and community organizers who are also experts in the theory, as well as members of the General Assembly and law enforcement officers. Working together, they would draft the curriculum for the academy, which would be attended by police academy candidates and officers already on the force.

New officers at a graduation ceremony at Navy Pier in 2017.
Getty Images
New officers at a graduation ceremony at Navy Pier in 2017.

The potential list of topics includes courses on procedural justice, arrest and use and control tactics, search and seizure, cultural competency — including implicit bias and racial and ethnic sensitivity — and constitutional and proper use of law enforcement authority.

Critical race theory has been defined by the American Bar Association as a critique on how the social construction of race and institutionalized racism perpetuate a racial caste system — one that relegates people of color to the bottom tiers because of the lasting effects of the legacy of slavery and segregation on Black people as well as other people of color.

It also recognizes that race intersects with other identities, including sexuality and gender, and that racism is embedded in institutions such as the criminal justice system.

Ford said not teaching police officers about how race and racism intersect with the law, and how that intersection affects the communities they may work in, “doesn’t do any good for their development” or help officers be prepared “to go out and serve communities they’ve never dealt with.”

State Rep. La Shawn Ford joins a protest in June.
Pat Nabong / Sun-Times file
State Rep. La Shawn Ford joins a protest in June.

“You don’t have to have any type of education as it relates to dealing with people — you can have an associate’s degree, or a degree, in basket weaving, be accepted into the academy, and you can become an officer if you pass the academy’s test,” Ford said. “Education is all about getting to know … what you don’t know, and that’s exactly what critical race theory would do — it would teach officers the culture and the lifestyles of different communities and people.”

Ford’s bill would also require 60 hours of community engagement and an annual critical race theory conference for “former candidates to demonstrate what they have learned by conducting presentations and presenting their written assignments or working paper research from the Academy.”

The state lawmaker says he’s been pushing for critical race theory education since his unsuccessful bid for mayor in 2018, working with political consultant Maxwell Little to draft the legislation and meeting with law enforcement and community groups to get a sense of their concerns.

Those he’s spoken to from law enforcement haven’t felt that they need the education Ford is proposing since they receive training on implicit bias and cultural awareness.

Catanzara agreed officers don’t need more time in the classroom.

“It’s just redundant and ridiculous — we already have implicit bias training, which talks about race, cultural awareness training, in the academy, which talks about race,” the FOP president said.

Fraternal Order of Police President John Catanzara speaks of the support from President Donald Trump and local officials during a South Side Trump rally in Mount Greenwood last November.
Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times file
Fraternal Order of Police President John Catanzara speaks of the support from President Donald Trump and local officials during a South Side Trump rally in Mount Greenwood last November.

The executive director of the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police did not immediately return a request for comment.

But Little said the training police receive now is far from adequate.

The consultant said in order to “debunk … and unfold those perceived biases, you need to be educated on why you have those perceived biases.”

“They need to be educated on what it is like for Black people, for Latinx people, to live in the U.S.,” Little said. “They need to be educated on what it’s like for the institution of policing to have evolved from the slave patrols to where it’s at today. Implicit bias training doesn’t do that at all … implicit bias training isn’t working because it’s not sound education.”

Last September, President Donald Trump’s administration barred federal contractors from using grant funds for any training on “‘critical race theory,’ ‘white privilege,’ or any other training or propaganda effort that teaches or suggests either (1) that the United States is an inherently racist or evil country or (2) that any race or ethnicity is inherently racist or evil,” according to a memo from the then director of the office of management and budget under the executive office of the president.

President Joe Biden reversed that Trump Administration prohibition in January.

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April 19, 2021 at 05:02PM

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