Chicago kids are resisting their mayor’s plan to build new police academy instead of funding schools

Those who live near the proposed site are especially opposed to what the mayor and city council are doing.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson attend a police academy graduation ceremony in 2017. CREDIT: Scott Olson/Getty Images
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson attend a police academy graduation ceremony in 2017. CREDIT: Scott Olson/Getty Images

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s (D) plan to spend $95 million on a new police academy while asking schools and other public services to do more with less funding is flying through City Hall, but kids in his city are doing their best to trip up its progress.

A group of roughly two dozen youngsters took over the city’s government headquarters for the entire day Wednesday, disrupting a council meeting and then lying down amid scores of cardboard tombstones in the lobby outside to stage a die-in. As police arrived, the teens chanted “16 shots and a cover-up,” a pithy encapsulation of former officer Jason Van Dyke’s killing of Laquan McDonald more nearly three years ago.

Emanuel’s proposal won near-unanimous approval from the council in late 2017, with aldermen voting 48-1 to approve the initial transfer of city land required to break ground on the project. Organizers said Wednesday they did not regard that vote as the last opportunity to stop the project, since the city has yet to select a contractor and will eventually have to hold further funding and logistical votes.

The new complex will be located on the city’s West Side, which Emanuel has touted as a benefit to those living there. That’s not how residents actually feel, though, as one of the youth activists made clear in a smooth 3-minute rundown of the results the #NoCopAcademy campaigners have found canvassing the surrounding neighborhoods.

Of the 500 people surveyed, organizer Maria Hernandez said, “71 percent are unaware of this academy being built in their neighborhood [and] 88 percent are opposed.”


“When they’re asked whether this is the best use of $95 million, 84 percent said ‘no’ and seven percent said they need more information,” Hernandez said, “which due to the persistent and blatant lack of transparency on behalf of the mayor’s office and the alderperson’s office has not been provided to them.”

West Siders have also told Hernandez’s fellow canvassers they’d prefer that money be spent on schools, mental health clinics, and substance abuse clinics — three categories of service targeted for steep cuts by Emanuel’s administration over the past several years.

Emanuel has overseen major changes to how public money is allocated across the mix of services his city provides to its taxpayers. He’s closed several mental health clinics, shuttered dozens of schools, and repeatedly responded to scandalous failures in his police department by proposing to put more cops on the street.


The stated goals of that latter investment — to not only increase the size but also raise the professionalism of the city’s vast police force — could help deliver a more responsible form of policing to city residents with time.

But in the shorter term, Hernandez said Wednesday, the city’s decision to invest finite resources in this way forgoes investments that could target the roots of social and economic instability in Chicago’s poorer quarters.

“When opiate abuse and the mental health crisis are some of the justifications given for this police project, the community members think solving those root issues is a better use of our tax dollars,” she said.