Protest results in impromptu meeting with mayor as youth protesters push Hagerty on defunding EPD


James Pollard/Daily Senior Staffer

Mayor Steve Hagerty talks with protesters outside the Lorraine H. Morton Civic Center. Hagerty has not committed to defunding the Evanston Police Department.

James Pollard, Summer Managing Editor

About 30 protesters walked from Mayor Steve Hagerty’s house to the Lorraine H. Morton Civic Center on Monday afternoon, calling on Hagerty to defund the Evanston Police Department.

As the group marched down Ridge Avenue, several cars honked in support. At the center, they were joined by more than 10 other protesters — and after over an hour of chalk messages and chants like “Eyes on You,” Hagerty himself showed up.

“Hagerty, stop hiding from your constituents,” protesters chanted outside the civic center before the mayor eventually arrived on a bike.

The protest began at the mayor’s house, where attendees were encouraged to “show solidarity and support for the cause by sitting outside the mayor’s house during his ‘Talk on Policing,’” according to an Instagram post. There, Lisa Altenbernd, Hagerty’s wife, told protesters she disagrees with her husband on the issue and gave them water.

She told The Daily that policing is broken and Evanston has the opportunity to be a model to other communities.

“I believe in defunding the police,” Altenbernd told The Daily.

The show of support comes after Caroline Hagerty, the mayor’s daughter, released a statement saying Evanston needs to defund the police and reallocate the money. Her family, she added in the statement, has had many discussions about race given recent events, and she is working to “better educate” her father on “the history of racial oppression.”

The protest comes amid calls to defund police departments throughout the country. In Minneapolis — where police killed George Floyd on May 25, sparking a nationwide movement against racial injustice and police brutality — the City Council unanimously passed a resolution to implement a community-led public safety system in place of the police department.

Sitting on the street outside the civic center, the group pushed Hagerty on defunding EPD. There, Hagerty said he is “absolutely supportive” of a “thorough, deliberate examination” of EPD.

“‘Reimagine the police’ I’m OK with,” Hagerty told the group.

“We’ve seen where reimagining systems based on the subjugation of black bodies gets us,” one attendee responded.

Hagerty spoke with the group for about 40 minutes. Several attendees emphasized that police officers do not prevent crime and that they want the opportunity to prove that investing in the proper resources decreases the need for police.

“We will, for the first time, take a serious look at the police budget,” Hagerty said.

Hagerty also told the group he is “pretty sure” the police budget will be cut, as many cuts will be made to alleviate budget shortfalls brought on by the coronavirus pandemic.

The protesters also criticized the mayor for what they called talk but no action. In response, Hagerty touted Evanston’s reparations plan.

The protest coincided with the first event in a series of discussions between Hagerty and EPD on policing in Evanston. Outside the civic center, protesters streamed the discussion — which ETHS alumna and organizer Mollie Hartenstein said wasn’t actually a discussion.

For Hartenstein, it was frustrating to see a community event “without community engagement.”

“Mayor Hagerty is having a talk on policing where he screened questions from the community and is just telling people what he thinks,” Hartenstein said. “That’s great, but he has not committed to defunding the police. He said SROs should still be in schools. And he thinks that reform is the best way to get things done, which Evanston history itself shows it is not.”

Toward the end of the meeting, Hagerty told the group they had given him “a lot to think about” and said he would reach out to Hartenstein about setting up a future event.

Hartenstein said she hopes there will be more community conversations in the future that are “actually community-based” where people can attend.

“Because I would not call what happened here today a community conversation — except for the ending, maybe,” Hartenstein said. “But also it’s mostly white kids and we were just sitting around.”

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Twitter: @pamesjollard