Editorial: We must keep local officials accountable in response to Crosby’s violent arrest

The Daily Northwestern Editorial Board

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As racial bias in policing roils cities across the country, it may be tempting for some to imagine Evanston as immune. Our city consistently brands itself as progressive and welcoming, and Northwestern students in particular may fall under the illusion that “Heavenston” is a liberal paradise.

This idealized version of Evanston is, however, inconsistent with the experiences of many Evanston residents, who describe a long history of distrust between people of color and Evanston police. This is not news to Evanston’s black community. But it surely escapes many white students ensconced in the NU bubble.

This impression of Evanston is certainly inconsistent with an alarming video released earlier this month by the Evanston Police Department showing the violent 2015 arrest of Lawrence Crosby, a black NU graduate student.

In the video, a woman can be heard reporting to police that Crosby is stealing a car. The car in question, a black Chevrolet, in fact belonged to him. After police stop him, the video shows Crosby emerging from the car with his hands up. Multiple officers tackle him to the ground, and proceed to knee and punch him. One of the officers can be heard saying, “I didn’t shoot you, motherf—-r. You should feel lucky for that.”

In the wake of the unsettling video’s release, Evanston officials will present recommendations for adjustments to police conduct next month. As they should. Such behavior demands that police procedures be reevaluated. And to the department’s credit, their decision to no longer require suspects be brought to the ground while being arrested is encouraging.

But the issues extend beyond Crosby’s case. Just this November, the arrest of city clerk candidate Devon Reid, who is black, prompted outcry and resulted in EPD immediately putting two police officers on administrative leave. Ultimately, one of the officers retired, and the other was suspended. As of earlier this month, the latter officer remained active in the force, as she was challenging the department’s decision.

After the response to the Crosby video, Evanston Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl told The Daily last week that Chicago police would “love to have the problems we have.” Racial bias is present in policing nationwide, and is notably pervasive in Chicago’s ranks. This month, the Department of Justice released a 164-page report finding that Chicago police engage in a “pattern or practice of unlawful conduct” and that the department has frequently tolerated racially discriminatory behavior.

But Evanston residents do not use Chicago’s systemic problem as a benchmark to lessen their own experiences of discrimination. The city has taken some important steps on the issue in the past couple of years. About a month after Crosby’s arrest in October 2015, EPD began developing a new “curriculum” for its diversity and inclusion programming, and the city has held more than one public discussion about diversity and policing.

It is not yet apparent what effect these efforts have had on the culture of Evanston’s police department and it is imperative that the NU community does not remain silent should instances of racial bias in policing persist.

We should also note the role of the woman in the police video who reported Crosby. She can be heard saying that she “didn’t mean” to racially profile. But acts of racial bias are not always conscious. As reported in the Black Student Experience Report released earlier this academic year, more than half of NU’s black students surveyed agreed that they had witnessed or experienced harassment or discriminatory behavior on campus during the 2013-14 academic year. NU students must remember that just because we do not “mean” to discriminate in words or actions does not mean we are always faultless.

Just as Evanston must recognize and work to eliminate racial disparities in police treatment (and across the board), NU students must be cognizant of the great distance our city and university still have to go to on issues of racial justice and inclusivity.

At the end of next month, Evanston will hold a mayoral primary to narrow down its pool of five candidates for April’s general ballot — or, if one candidate manages to win 51 percent of the vote or more, elect the next mayor. Many of the candidates have expressed outrage at this misconduct, and some have vowed to make police reform a priority if elected to the office. We must hold our next mayor accountable beyond campaign promises to bring the change this city needs.

As observers of the video, it is not enough for us to be shocked. It should be a reminder to listen to people of color in the city and on campus, learn about reform efforts in Evanston and beyond, and use the power and privilege of our education to encourage change.

This piece represents the majority opinion of the Editorial Board of The Daily Northwestern. The Editorial Board has an “Editorial Corps” responsible for selecting and producing editorials with feedback from the rest of the board. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members or Editorial Board members of The Daily Northwestern.