Activists celebrating the conviction of former Chicago Police officer Jason Van Dyke in October | Photo by Carolina Sanchez [The TRiiBE]

When it comes to the forthcoming $95-million police and fire training academy in West Garfield Park, activists have been the most vocal in expressing their disdain. Since former Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel first announced the project in 2017, activists with local groups such as GoodKids MadCity, Black Youth Project 100 and Assata’s Daughters have joined the No Cop Academy movement, making their outrage heard in Chicago City Council meetings, “L” train takeovers and sit-ins at City Hall. Chance the Rapper even attended an early budget meeting, urging aldermen to spend the money elsewhere.

Voices often lost in the conversation are those of residents who live in neighborhoods surrounding the West Side location, on West Chicago Avenue near North Kostner Avenue, where the academy is slated to be built.  Though residents may not know the intricacies of the project or be able to make it downtown for City Council meetings, the effects of the new training facility will hit them the hardest. 

“I feel like the community and cop relationship is already bad,” said Rashard Tucker, a 22-year-old West Humboldt Park resident. He lives on Keeler Avenue, just steps away from the planned academy site at 4301 W. Chicago Avenue.

“I just don’t feel like it’ll get any better because they put more cops in the area,” Tucker continued. “People already feel a certain way towards the cops.”

Last week, Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced that costs for the police training academy likely will increase. She didn’t specify a number but, according to the Chicago Tribune, she didn’t shut down the possibility that the price tag could double. As a mayoral candidate, Lightfoot agreed that a new training facility was necessary in order to meet the Justice Department’s consent decree condemning Chicago police practices following the killing of Laquan McDonald. However, she thought Emanuel’s approach of jamming the project through City Council without starting a dialogue was “ill-conceived.”

“The biggest problem that I have with the cop academy, if you will, is that Rahm [Emanuel] didn’t talk to anybody,” Lightfoot told The TRiiBE during her campaign in February. “If you’re going to make that big investment, do it in a way that actually serves the interest of that neighborhood.”

Organizers thought Lightfoot would take her own advice before making any huge decisions regarding the academy, but they feel that there already is a disconnect between her statements on the campaign trail and her announcement about needing more money for the police training facility. 

“She [Lightfoot] said the young people with the No Cop Academy campaign are smart. They’re strategic. They’re not going away and Rahm Emanuel should listen to them,” said Debbie Southorn, a member of American Friends Service Committee who helped form the No Cop Academy movement. “Now she comes out and, without consulting West Siders, without consulting anyone who’s been a part of this movement that she literally used to help build her platform, announces that it’s going to cost twice as much. I think she’s missing the mark.”

Neighboring residents’ feelings about the police training academy vary by age, with older residents seemingly more optimistic.

“Everybody in the older generation wants peace,” says Angie P., a 47-year-old Humboldt Park resident. (Editor’s note: Angie frequents the neighborhood and did not want to give her last name for safety reasons). “Nobody wants to be scared to sit in their backyard. If the cop academy can help stop the crime and the violence here, I’m for it.”

The TRiiBE spoke with activists, and residents who live and work near the police academy site, about the possibility of increasing costs for the training academy. Take a look at their thoughts below. The following has been edited and condensed for clarity.

On increasing costs for the police training academy

Debbie Southorn, American Friends Service Committee & No Cop Academy activist: I think [Lightfoot is] showing everyone her true colors right now. She is not going to undo this project, which I think is really telling. If she has the power to make it bigger and more expensive, she also then must have the power to cancel the contract. But instead she’s going to find some way to double down.

Lionel Dixon, 60, works near police academy site: We need a cop or two, a police station, or somebody to bring some attention to these young generations around here. The police ain’t getting paid enough. When the police come, the police scared. I don’t blame them. They got bigger guns than the police got.

Rashard Tucker, 27, West Humboldt Park resident: I definitely believe it could be spent in better areas. Especially with the streets and stuff, like the streets are all messed up, and traffic lights and all that. I just feel like it can go to more useful things that could be more beneficial than just a cop academy.

Angie P., 47, West Humboldt Park resident: I’m all for it. This shit has become ridiculous. Kids are getting killed every day, or every weekend. It’s sad. We’re losing our young Black men. I lost two nephews to this senseless violence. But the police also need to learn how to deal with the situation. Everybody is not your enemy. Everybody don’t have a gun. Every young Black man is not gonna shoot you. I understand both sides.

On what Lightfoot can do to compromise with the West Side

Miracle Boyd, 17, GoodKids MadCity activist, North Lawndale resident: She needs to invest in the community and ask the community what do they need, and what do they want, and stop trying to think for us and say what we want and what we need when she’s not the one who has to live in the predicament that we do.

Paris “Tree” Brown, 25, GoodKids MadCity activist, East Garfield resident: Will there be a trauma survivor or psychological facility within this place? A lot of these gangbangers who are terrorizing the city are really psychologically traumatized youth with more access to guns than jobs. So maybe she should put something like that in there since she’s adding stuff to it.

On the possibility of the police academy “paying for itself,” according to Lightfoot, by opening its doors to other police departments

Brown: Then other police departments would be in our community. See how that would go, because our own police don’t treat our community fair.

Destiny Harris, 18, No Cop Academy activist, Austin resident: No matter where the money comes from, it’s absurd. At the end of the day, the Chicago police department gets $4 million a day and 40 percent of the city budget. So it doesn’t matter where the money is coming from. It’s a bad use of money.

Angie P: Whatever she needs to spend to help get this city back right, I trust her. I like [Lightfoot], and she sounds like she would be a better mayor than our last mayor. If she feels like that’s the best thing to cut down on this gun violence, let’s do it. Whatever ideas she have, let’s see if it work. Give her a chance.

Southorn: They have not figured out how to do training right. So the idea that a new building should now be monetized so we can teach other departments how to do policing like Chicago does, it is absurd. It’s literally insulting and dangerous to think that it’s a good idea for CPD trainers to be training other police around the country.

On reducing police misconduct and crime through the new training facility

Angie P.: First, get out in the community. Learn the community that you’re gonna be working in, meet the people and try to see how y’all could work together. 

Harris: The argument is flawed because this is simply a new building. The curriculum is exactly the same. You don’t need a state-of-the-art building to teach police officers to not be trigger-happy and to not kill innocent Black and brown people.

Tucker: I feel like it would probably reduce the crime a little bit, but at the same time, people still gonna do what they do.