Why Chicago’s Black Youth Distrust Cops

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The Chicago Police Department’s “lack of accountability” is the single greatest barrier to building trust with young African Americans, according to a working paper produced for the University of Chicago Legal Forum.

The paper’s authors, Craig B. Futterman (of the University of Chicago Law School), Chaclyn Hunt, and Jamie Kalven (both of the Invisible Institute) interviewed black teens, aged 14-18, from high schools on the South and West Sides of Chicago, particularly Hyde Park Academy, about their experiences with law enforcement—with a focus on the routine daily encounters that shape how kids see the police, and police see them.

The study, entitled “They Have All the Power”: Youth/Police Encounters on Chicago’s South Side, concluded that “an unceasing police presence forces students to live with the ever-present possibility of being stopped, searched, and treated as a criminal, causing students to feel less than a person and [to] curtail their own actions and behavior to avoid being stopped by the police.”

A majority of the students interviewed admitted their distrust of police led them to avoid seeking officers’ assistance if they encountered an emergency, the study said.

“Our challenge today is to summon the political will to implement remedies that have long been in plain sight,” the authors wrote. “Let’s not let this moment pass without addressing the underlying issues that have caused Black children to distrust the police.”

The authors outlined four recommendations they said would help “frame national policy, advocacy, and research agendas” in the area of police-youth relations.

  • Increase the transparency of police departments, especially when officers are accused of abuses;
  • Develop “credible systems for investigating and addressing police abuse [of power];”
  • Change the police mindset to “community-driven policing;”
  • Recognize the “continued salience of race and racism in young peoples’ encounters with police.”

The full paper is available for download here.

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