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5-year research project with Chicago Black high school students about police experiences, reveals surveillance, alienation, and impunity

 

CHICAGO, IL – The University of Chicago Legal Forum published a paper titled “Youth/Police Encounters on Chicago’s South Side: Acknowledging the Realities.” A collaboration between the Mandel Legal Aid Clinic of the University of Chicago Law School and the Invisible Institute’s Youth/Police Project, the paper reports on what the authors learned from their conversations with Black teenagers over the last five years. It describes in the words of the teens the constant presence of police in their lives, the alienation they feel from law enforcement, and their sense that the police have unchecked power over their lives. The paper offers a concrete policy, advocacy, and research agenda to address these issues within the legal process.

 

The authors of the paper are Professor Craig Futterman of the Mandel Legal Aid Clinic of the University of Chicago Law School; Chaclyn Hunt, director of the Youth/Police Project; and Jamie Kalven, executive director of the Invisible Institute.

 

“Too often, public conversations about police accountability tend to exclude the important perspectives of young Black people,” said Hunt. “Yet they’re the ones most affected by police practices. Every student we work with lives with the constant possibility of being stopped, searched and treated like a criminal.”

 

Rather than focusing on high profile incidents of police abuse, the paper examines the routine encounters between police and Black youth that take place countless times every day in cities across the nation.

 

Richard, a teenage participant in the Project, said, “They’re over you and you’re under them. Therefore, you don’t matter. Their word will prevail over yours.”

 

The methodology for the paper was straightforward: The authors listened to Black high school students speak about their interactions with the police. Because of the daily surveillance the teens experience, they often curtail their own freedom at critical times in their development to avoid being stopped by the police. Most of the teens interviewed for the article so distrust the police that they do not feel safe seeking police assistance even when someone close to them is the victim of a violent crime. The single greatest barrier to building a relationship of trust with police, the authors found, was the ongoing lack of accountability the teens routinely observed in their neighborhoods.

This paper offers a policy agenda that would, for example, hold individual officers accountable during the complaint process. The policies proposed around structural mechanisms of accountability and procedural legitimacy are directly informed by the perspectives of Black youth.

“We must first acknowledge the realities of the young people living in marginalized communities,” said Futterman.

The Invisible Institute is a nonprofit Chicago-based journalistic production company that works to enhance the capacity of civil society to hold public institutions accountable. Toward that end, we develop strategies to expand and operationalize transparency. We seek to make visible perspectives too often excluded from public discourse. And we develop social interventions designed to leverage necessary reforms. Among the tools we employ are human rights documentation, investigative reporting, civil rights litigation, the curating of public information, conceptual art projects, and the orchestration of difficult public conversations.

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