Evanston residents discuss racial prejudice in city-organized forum


Rafi Letzter/Daily Senior Staffer

Dickelle Fonda (center) and other participants listen Thursday as Circuit Court Judge Jean-Baptiste (not pictured) speaks at a forum at the Fleetwood-Jourdain Community Center about the impact of prejudice on the Evanston community. Attendees listened to speeches on profiling and other issues and split into discussion groups.

Amanda Gilbert, Reporter

Residents gathered in a local community center Thursday night to discuss race and prejudice in the Evanston community.

Titled “My Evanston, My Neighbors: Constructive Dialogues on Race, Understanding and Our Hopes for Evanston,” the event was the second of a series of three dialogues focused on combating prejudice and on improving community relationships. About 100 people attended the discussion held at the Fleetwood-Jourdain Community Center, 1655 Foster St. 

At the first dialogue in August, residents shared their hopes for Evanston when they first moved here and how the city has lived up to those expectations.

City employee Godwin Chen helped organize Thursday’s event. Chen, a local government management fellow with the city, said residents wanted to make prejudice the focus of the next meeting.

However, the city’s law department said prejudice would be a risky topic to address due to the recent  incident involving the Evanston Police Department and teenager Diwani Greenwell, Chen said. Despite the department’s disapproval, Evanston Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl agreed to talk about prejudice after a resident came up to her saying this was an important concern within the community.

“It really was a community driven process,” Chen said. “The residents wanted to talk about prejudice, so that’s what we are talking about.”

Tisdahl started the meeting by saying Evanston continues to be a diverse community, and she hopes this dialogue will further understanding of the many unique people that make up the community.

“We have to understand our heart and our minds and try to understand each other,” she said. “I hope this will be one of the many times we will band together, and I hope these conversations will lead to more trust.”

The main issues raised at the meeting were directed at EPD. Residents talked about specific experiences when they said they faced racial profiling by EPD officers.

Evanston resident Germaine Newsome retold her daughter’s story of racial profiling she faced this summer. Newsome said her daughter and a friend were accused of attacking a lady on Asbury Street. Neighbors watched police harass and badger her, forcing the two into the police car, Newsome said.

“They said we could voluntarily get in the car, or they would make them (expletive) get in it,” Newsome read at the meeting. “We were stripped of our civil rights, and I thought they were going to hurt us.”

Newsome said her daughter has never felt the same way about the neighborhood or EPD since. This situation made her family realize that not only were they harassed by the police, but no one in the community was willing to help them, she said.

After Newsome and other residents spoke, audience members formed groups to talk about race in Evanston in a smaller setting.

Police Chief Richard Eddington said it was especially important for EPD to attend the event because many of the laws they enforce are intertwined with race.

“The first thing that has to happen for change is an honest conversation,” Eddington said. “If we don’t hear these concerns, we don’t know them.”

The last discussion is tentatively scheduled for Jan. 24, 2013.