Story at Chicago Sun-Times
|Comedian Dave Chappelle's character Tyrone Biggums.|
By Judy Masterson
On one page, comedian Dave Chappelle appears as Tyrone Biggums, the stumbling junkie with crack residue around his mouth.
On other pages of an official North Chicago police handout, one smiling African American is handcuffed in an orange prison jumpsuit and another is portrayed as bug-eyed and slack-jawed in a mugshot. The handout — given to participants of the new North Chicago Citizen Police Academy last week — was intended to illustrate trial procedures. It had a much different effect.
Waukegan activist Ralph Peterson called the handout “outrageous.” NAACP Lake County Branch President Jennifer Witherspoon said the handout reinforces “every negative stereotype blacks as a people have been fighting against.”
Also in the brochure: Bumbling TV cop Barney Fife, Judge Judy and Lindsay Lohan. On the cover: Lake County State’s Attorney Mike Nerheim opposite Tom Cruise as a military defense attorney from “A Few Good Men.”
Nerheim called the handout “incredibly disturbing.”
“Unprofessional is probably the nicest way to put it,” Nerheim said. “It was obviously done without my knowledge and consent. I definitely see how it could be offensive to people. It’s not something that should be coming out of the police department.”
Nerheim said he called North Chicago Mayor Leon Rockingham after receiving the handout via e-mail on Thursday.
North Chicago Police Chief James Jackson said that the material, created by an officer in the department, an African American, was not authorized. The brochure also contains images of Indiana University basketball coach Tom Crean, big-bellied white police officers and infamous murder defendant Casey Anthony.
“We should have caught it,” said Jackson, who characterized the handout as an ill-considered attempt at humor.
Activist Peterson isn’t laughing.
“It’s another red flag,” Peterson said. “It’s more bad judgment. For officers to pass out a pamphlet like this screams a need for sensitivity and that this department is not capable of policing the black community.”
He said it showed continued insensitivity toward the city’s majority African-American community in the wake of the Darrin “Dagwood” Hanna police brutality case, over which North Chicago and its police department are embroiled in a federal wrongful death suit. Peterson brought the handout to the attention of the North Chicago City Council last week.
Peterson also questions why the department is using officers who were involved in the Hanna arrest, along with others who have been the subject of excessive force complaints, as instructors in the academy.
Chief Jackson defends his decision to use veteran officers who volunteered to lead the 10-week course.
“We’re trying to get more interactions with the community,” Jackson said. “We don’t want to discourage that.”
Meanwhile, the “Trial Procedures” handout has been scrubbed from the curriculum and police Lt. Tony Thies, who is in charge of the academy, apologized to participants who showed up Thursday for the third class.
Mayor Rockingham said that he had talked to two academy participants about the circular. “One said they didn’t find it offensive, the other said it could have been taken the wrong way,” he said.
But the NAACP’s Witherspoon said that “someone needs to be held accountable.”
“Imagine if you just came to America and saw this,” Witherspoon said. “This is not who we are. We are doctors and lawyers. I don’t understand why this wasn’t reviewed by the chief or mayor before it went out.”
Academy student Paula Carballido of North Chicago said an officer explained the images were taken from movies and TV and were not meant to offend.
Carballido, who said that about half of the dozen or so participants are African American, praised the course, which offers an in-depth view of law enforcement procedures, as informative and “respectful.”
“It’s changed my perspective about police officers,” Carballido said. “Officers are human and they can make poor choices. But the officers in the academy want to restore trust.”