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A Chicago police traffic stop turned into 96 shots of gunfire. On March 21, unmarked vehicles and plain-clothed officers swarmed Dexter Reed for allegedly not wearing a seatbelt. The “theoretical” intention of a traffic stop of this kind would be to keep people behind the wheel safe by reducing crash-related injuries, instead Mr. Reed was met with officers side-swiping his vehicle and meeting him with lethal aggression, bullets striking his body 13 times. The true “crime” is that Mr. Reed was killed for driving while Black on the West Side of Chicago. 

The sobering reality of this case is that it is not isolated. The 11th Police District, where Dexter Reed was pulled over, covers Humboldt Park, West Garfield Park and East Garfield Park, which are all predominately Black and low-income neighborhoods. In 2023, the Chicago Police Department (CPD) made over 537,000 traffic stops, with the highest number concentrated in the 11th Police District. Across Chicago, Black drivers are six times more likely to be stopped compared to their white counterparts. And we know that more often than not these traffic stops empower police to use unwarranted force to target Black Chicagoans. 

Last year in the same district, without probable cause, officers began to chase 24-year old Reginald Clay Jr. Police cornered Clay and killed him for allegedly turning toward them with a weapon. Mr. Clay and Mr. Reed’s stories highlight the ongoing chasm existing between our collective goal of safer communities and Chicago’s racist policing practices that claim to promote public safety, but often end in serious civil rights violations, undue excessive force or police murder of young, Black men. 

The City and CPD Superintendent Larry Snelling’s inaction on reform has continued to exacerbate these cases of police violence. Superintendent Snelling initially vowed to prioritize police accountability, but instead, he has made calls for more aggression in policing, publicly undermined the existing police accountability system, and he incessantly defends police accused of serious misconduct, including unnecessary use of deadly force. At the March 21 Police Board meeting after Mr. Reed’s murder, Snelling said CPD officers “are out there working hard, trying to keep the streets safe, and as a result of that was injured” – suggesting that the aggressive and unlawful stop of Mr. Reed had anything to do with public safety. 

It seems obvious that police who commit violent crimes that result in the loss of Black life should be held accountable. But Chicago’s Fraternal Order of Police (FOP), a group closely connected to white supremacist organizations and MAGA-supporting insurrectionists, serves as a consistent blanket of cover for dangerous officers. After Mr. Reed’s killing, the Civilian Office of Police Accountability (COPA) questioned the legitimacy of the stop and the use of deadly force.

In response, FOP chief John Catanzara called for the resignation of COPA Chief Administrator Andrea Kersten. This comes after the FOP spent months pushing for serious cases of police misconduct to be considered behind closed doors, by hand-picked arbitrators. The FOP has consistently defended police violence, racial profiling, and protections for officers who clearly breach public safety. 

The disregard for Black lives is sadly a key pillar of Chicago policing, and there are immediate measures that must be taken for communities to actually be any safer. 

First, we need an immediate end to pretextual traffic stops, which is a stop that occurs under the pretense of a minor traffic violation, when the true purpose is to fish for evidence of a crime unrelated to the stop. These stops are ill-informed, they largely target Black drivers, and they increase law enforcement contact with Black Chicagoans, who face a disparate rate of aggressive or fatal interactions with police. 

Second, an end to TACT teams. According to the U.S. Department of Justice’s civil rights investigation into CPD, TACT team officers are selected based on their “aggression,” and operate in a culture that suggests that their role is to “hunt for offenders.” Police tactical units serve no purpose in any department that claims to promote community policing. 

Our coalitions, our families, and our communities should not have to mourn another life lost to the preventable, senseless violence of Chicago’s policing. Real justice for Dexter Reed must look like a real change in how police are held accountable, and how our public safety culture can be reoriented around liberation for Black neighborhoods. We know Mr. Reed’s life was taken because of racial profiling, and we know he will not be the last, if our systems do not change immediately.

is the executive director of the National Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression (NAARPR), and educational director and field organizer for Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression (CAARPR).
is the Policy Strategist at Color Of Change.