Conversations with youth after police shootings

By Natalie Gastevich

IMG_9885As an organization that works with mostly young people of color, we felt it was extremely important to have conversations last week with all of the Citywide Youth Councils in the wake of the shootings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. The Student Advisory Council (SAC) sat down the morning after Philando Castile was fatally shot by police in Minnesota to have their conversation. They started by reading two informative articles, and then the floor was open to students to honestly share, vent, and grieve. Youth expressed anger, frustration, sadness and confusion. Even though they couldn’t find immediate solutions or relief, they all agreed that having the space to process the tragic events and finding a community was important. “It’s nice to know other people share your same thoughts,” commented Jackie, a Student Advisory Council (SAC) member. Her SAC peer, Uriel, added, “I wasn’t gonna be judged for whatever I said and having my voice heard felt good.”

Eddie johnsonThis week, we took it a step further and connected our young people with decision makers to have their voices heard loud and clear by officials in power. The Mayoral Youth Commissioners (MYC), who are working on ways to improve police and community relations, met with the interim Superintendent of the Chicago Police Department (CPD) Eddie Johnson, and our Juvenile Justice Council (JJC) met with the Department of Justice (DOJ) to also talk about police-youth relations.

The conversations were extremely candid and youth were able to speak freely about their reality with police. Some left the session feeling optimistic, like Lali, a JJC facilitator, who “was really glad they got to let someone know what’s going on in their communities, and they listened.” Others still couldn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. “I feel like the meeting was goofy because we did all that talking for nothing, they’re not gonna change anything,” commented Rondell, a JJC member. Either reaction, everyone had the same wish and passion, which is one they’ve had for a long time: that positive change can be made in the CPD and its relationship with Chicagoans.