Note from Democratic Women: This affidavit is Reblogged with permission, from a Facebook post Ms. Chanel Sasse made back on November 16, 2016. Ms. Sasse is a former resident of Macomb who has since moved. A teacher and musician, she tried to educate Macomb’s City leadership and School District about intersectional issues between race, class, and white privilege.
Our question for city leadership is, how long must we wait for our City’s Mayor and Police Chief to address the concerns that many have been bringing to their attention for YEARS without any discernable actions, plans, vision, or signs of progress for addressing such issues?
“When I spoke to City Council back in August, Macomb Police Chief Barker told me that the best way to ask questions and have a dialogue with him would be to meet him for coffee. I have been waiting to give the first responder community time to grieve and heal following the tragic death of Fire Chief Andy Taylor, but last Friday I called Chief Barker to ask if I could still take him up on his offer for coffee. He called me back on Tuesday, and we agreed to meet at the Old Dairy this morning to talk.”
“Our conversation was pleasant, friendly, and productive. He kindly paid for my breakfast and we talked about our backgrounds for awhile. I praised his department for participating in Big Brothers Big Sisters and said that I felt that programs like that make the most difference in terms of integrating with the community. We agreed that MPD could do more outreach like this.”
“We discussed how and why MPD has no minority officers. He said it has been a personal priority to diversify the force for the last seven years, but that he struggles with few black applicants, the few that do apply not passing the written test, competition from WIU’s OPS and the state police (both of which offer higher pay than MPD), and not being able to set his own rules for applicants (like being able to choose black officers no matter their test scores, whereas now he has to choose based on state qualifications).”
“We talked about Macomb’s diversifying population and how that can cause culture clash. He said people coming from urban areas may not be used to being stopped for minor issues like walking in the middle of the street. In Chicago, he said, walking in the street is small potatoes in comparison to drive-by shootings and so the police force there ignores it. In Macomb, however, walking in the street violates the cultural norm and being allowed to do that may make people think they can get away with minor crimes, which could lead them to commit more major crimes. I pointed out to him that that cultural norm is set by white people, given that Macomb has been historically very white and is currently 85% white. He agreed that that was true, but that he believes it is a slippery slope and that part of enjoying the safety of Macomb (as compared to the danger of some neighborhoods in Chicago) is assimilating to the culture here. He said he is beholden to what the community wants, and because the community is a majority white, he has to enforce white cultural norms.”
“Chief Barker is very concerned with helping the mentally ill. He says there are very few resources in this area to point them toward and that he sees the same people over and over again because they are not able to get help. He feels that the state and federal government push the responsibility of assistance onto churches and charities, which are already overwhelmed with increasing poverty in the area. He wrote a letter to the editor awhile back regarding this issue, and I told him that I had read it and that I appreciated him bringing this issue up in a public forum. I talked to him more in-depth about social worker ride-along programs and he said he would look into partnering with local organizations to find grants to be able to have social workers/case workers work more closely with MPD.”
“In researching the news that Peoria has been named the worst place in the nation for Black people to live, I discovered that IDOT keeps data on the racial breakdown of all traffic stops in Illinois. This data shows that while the minority driving population in Macomb is around 13%, MPD stops between 30-40% minority drivers. Chief Barker said he thought that 13% was pretty low and perhaps did not include enough minority students at WIU. He pointed out that many of the stops are for equipment violations (one headlight, broken taillight, etc.) and that if people get stopped at night, he doesn’t know what color a person is until he comes up to the window. He acknowledged that people of color suffer disproportionately from poverty and that that might be a reason for these violations, but that reducing the number of stops for equipment violations was not an option due to the fact that a somewhat high percentage of those stops result in a discovery of contraband. I pointed out that getting caught for minor crimes ties people up in the system and can make it hard for them to get out of cycles of poverty, crime, violence, and addiction. He acknowledged that that is true, but said there was nothing he could do about it. We also had a discussion about the fact that when MPD police dogs are used for sniff searches, the IDOT data shows that they alert around 100% of the time. He said that wasn’t possible, but when I showed him the data, he said he was surprised that I was right and would look into it. I will post a link to the IDOT data after this.”
“We also talked about the national issue of distrust in the police and police brutality. I told him about the Black students in Macomb that I have loved working with and that my drive to have this conversation comes out of wanting to protect them, see them thrive, and have them feel safe and welcomed here. I mentioned my discussions with Black residents in Macomb and how I have heard that they feel like outsiders even if their families have lived here for a long time and that they feel very visible and targeted. He said of a Black person I mentioned talking to that they had “extremist views” like believing he has white privilege. “You don’t have white privilege?” I asked. He said no because he grew up poor, with two parents with only an 8th-grade education. He said that in America you can do whatever you want if you work hard enough. I pointed out that this country once enslaved Black people, to which he replied “yeah, 100 years ago”. I talked about how Jim Crow laws were in effect not that long ago and that research shows us that this history has caused everyone to have implicit bias against Black people. He agreed that implicit bias is part of our culture but that people can’t play the victim. I told him that if he considered believing in white privilege to be “extremist” that I am that extreme. I talked about how because I am a woman, I fear being attacked/raped by men and that’s one way I’m able to understand the fear that Black people have of white people/the police. My fear is based on the FACT that women are frequently raped by men, in a similar way to the fact that Black people have been historically and currently targeted by white people. He said this was a fact of life and that all you can do is be vigilant and protect yourself (he mentioned that he carries multiple guns at all times).”
“EDIT: I want to add that our conversation remained pleasant and friendly, even when we got flustered at each other’s opinions. Neither of us ever got personal or heated.”