Frustrated and angry speakers packed a room at the Experimental Station community space on the South Side.
"They're killing our women and children with impunity," Eric Russell said to Sharon Fairley, interim head of the agency tasked with investigating police shootings and complaints of excessive force.
Longtime community activist Kublai Toure lamented that police foment violence by forcing youth to "become snitches.”
“With the police misusing and abusing them, it's just a matter of time until the police and the brothers on the street get into it," Toure said.
How do you rebuild these institutions at their foundations?" Kalven asked. "This only works if it's a collective process that we push as citizens....
Fairley listened and promised speakers that the newly formed Civilian Office of Police Accountability is working to increase the transparency and rigor of investigations into police shootings and possible officer misconduct. Seated beside her, journalist Jamie Kalven said systemic racism is a long-standing problem in Chicago law enforcement.
“How do you rebuild these institutions at their foundations?" Kalven asked. "This only works if it's a collective process that we push as citizens, that comes from civil society, that we occupy this historic moment."
Kalven is a founder of the Invisible Institute, a driving force behind Chicago’s police reform efforts and a hybrid organization bringing together elements of investigative journalism, high-tech startups, and town halls. As Chicago is engaged in an intense public debate over abuses committed by its police force, the Invisible Institute has been at the forefront of efforts to facilitate and encourage citizen action in calling for transparency and accountability from the Chicago Police Department (CPD).
The Invisible Institute gained widespread attention in recent years for exposing the details of the 2014 police shooting of teenager Laquan McDonald. Kalven also published a sweeping exposé in The Intercept based on information supplied by whistleblowers in the CPD and won a nearly decade-long legal battle to make complaints of police misconduct subject to release under the Illinois Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).
Combining evidence, data, and citizen activism, the Invisible Institute is shaping the future of civic journalism.
Rajiv Sinclair leads a data initiative, building on the success of the Citizens Police Data Project released in fall 2015. The data project is an interactive compilation of tens of thousands of records of police misconduct complaints acquired through Kalven’s legal battle with the city of Chicago. The user-friendly website allows reporters, lawyers, and citizens to search complaint histories, view officer documents, and participate in the ongoing project by filing FOIA requests or seeking new records.
Data analysis of the complaints has led to various revelations, including the extremely low rates at which officers are disciplined for misconduct and the fact that discipline is more likely when the victims are white. Sinclair and his team are now working on an open source data tool that municipal oversight agencies or police departments around the country could use to catalog officer complaints.
A new investigative team at the Invisible Institute is delving into wrongful convictions related to police misconduct, including mining hundreds of letters from prisoners for data and tips.
The ongoing public conversation about police misconduct fails to account for the everyday experiences of young people, and the rippling effects of those harmful encounters.
"Sometimes we are criticized as being advocates," said author and journalist Alison Flowers, who heads the effort. "But if you uncover something major and true, why wouldn't you as a journalist advocate for the findings and the work?”
The Invisible Institute’s Youth/Police Project, headed by civil rights attorney Chaclyn Hunt, brings teenagers to the table to share their experiences and ideas related to police abuse and policing.
“The ongoing public conversation about police misconduct fails to account for the everyday experiences of young people, and the rippling effects of those harmful encounters,” Hunt said. “Without that knowledge, it will be difficult to craft effective solutions.”
The Invisible Institute records these testimonials to educate lawmakers and police officials on the need for reform and in an attempt to seek ways to rebuild trust. The students are also invited to the Invisible Institute’s offices in the Experimental Station, a hub of media, arts, sustainable food, and community dialogue in Hyde Park. The Invisible Institute frequently hosts public events like the conversation with Fairley at the Experimental Station. Along with exposing injustice, it hopes fostering dialogue between people on different sides of an issue will ultimately lead to real change.
“If we could demonstrate that we have the ability to talk these things through, that we have things to learn from each other’s perspective," Kalven said, “that would greatly contribute to this process going forward.”
Sharon Fairley, the chief administrator of the Civilian Office of Police Accountability, talks about racism and policing with Jamie Kalven of the Invisible Institute.
MacArthur has provided $500,000 for general operating support to Invisible Institute.