January 28, 2017

My Thoughts on the Lawrence Crosby Incident

October 10, 2015 was not Evanston’s finest day. On that date, Lawrence Crosby, an African American, Northwestern PhD, student was pulled over by the Evanston Police Department for allegedly stealing a car that turned out to be his own. Instead of the encounter ending as a harmless misunderstanding, Mr. Crosby was tackled, struck, arrested, and ultimately forced to stand trial for charges that were later thrown out by the Court.

The video is disturbing and I feel strongly that we must respond at two levels. One, how can we improve the administration of public safety here in Evanston? Two, how can we address the systemic issues that make these kinds of incidents all too common?

To ensure public safety for all, there are certainly procedural changes that can and must be made to alleviate unnecessarily aggressive policing. All around the country government justice agencies are pushing for this type of reform, hoping that we can create better, more professional police departments. The City and police chief Eddington will bring their proposals for reform to the Evanston City Council next month. It is vital that the changes we make represent the best input of the whole community, as well as our public officers.

We must improve police procedure, and we must also bring speed, transparency and a broader perspective to how we follow up when questionable incidents do occur. There is much to be learned from groups in our area and across the country who are working to build alternative institutions and find more systemic solutions. These institutions would give meaningful public accountability to the police misconduct review process, as well as reimagine how we rehabilitate people who cause harm in their community – while also making victims emotionally whole again. These organizations take more of a restorative than a punitive approach to public safety.

I don’t claim to have all the answers, but I do know we’ll need the help of Evanston community organizations and residents to solve such a complex issue. There’s a community policing meeting January 30th at the Levy Center at 7 p.m. If you can’t attend, comment on this post with any questions you have for our police department. If you have any professional ideas on how the meeting should be conducted to get the most out of the gathering, please comment on this post and we’ll make sure your suggestions get to the right people.

At a deeper level again, we must also work harder at identifying and addressing the underlying causes. We pride ourselves on the diversity of our community, but there is still so much to be done on issues of social inequity, the opportunity gap and a lack of empathy that we, as a community and as a society, have not yet succeeded in overcoming.

My gut tells me these approaches can, and must, coexist. What I do know is people would like to have this discussion differently. They would like to find a way to talk about police accountability/public safety in a way that builds on common ground and shared interests.

To start:

  • We can’t have community policing meetings where only public officers set the agenda and determine the response. We must allow the community to assist in developing the agenda.
  • We can no longer take an incremental policy approach to solving such a critical issue in our community. We must look at this problem through a wider lens.
  • We can’t settle on community policing models that mobilize residents as simply intelligence collectors. We must allow residents to help design the way their community is policed.
  • And we must actively work to preserve and increase not just the diversity of our Evanston population, but the inclusiveness of our Evanston community. It’s a tall order, but it’s necessary.

Evanston is a special place. We are a work-in-progress and like generations before us that have committed their heart and soul to Evanston we too shall do the same. We can do better and we will do better.