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'Just the beginning of our work': Black Lives Matter, local activists react to DeKalb Police Sgt. Weese resignation, settlement

DeKALB – In the wake of news that a DeKalb police sergeant who was involved in the controversial arrest of an Aurora man resigned, area activists said the actions speak to the department taking ownership in police and community relations.

DeKalb pastor Joe Mitchell said Wednesday said there was a lot of work done a year ago in addressing former DeKalb Police Sgt. Jeffrey Weese wrapping his arm around the neck of Elonte McDowell during the 2019 arrest. He said community members thought the police department would set an example of zero tolerance for that kind of conduct if they were to fire him, though he understands there are union issues to consider in a situation like this.

“It’s kind of bittersweet,” Mitchell said.

Mitchell’s comments come after dozens of members of his church, New Hope Missionary Baptist, to appeal to the DeKalb City Council and police officials to hold Weese accountable for his actions earlier this year.

In a statement sent to the Daily Chronicle, local leaders of the Black Lives Matter group of DeKalb said they wanted to acknowledge the accountability the City of DeKalb and DeKalb Police Department demonstrated in following through with its police force to ensure the safety of Black lives in the community.

“Despite ongoing tensions nationwide with policing and systemic racism, at the heart of this was a call for accountability and for change,” the leaders wrote in the statement. “This community showed its’ commitment to ensuring that Black Lives Matter. Many folks in DeKalb, Sycamore, and nearby surrounding communities joined organizers and activists to advocate for change. To this day, many stand in solidarity, as we work toward building a just, equitable, and inclusive community.”

On Aug. 24, 2019, DeKalb Police Sgt. Jeffrey Weese was seen on video arresting Elonte McDowell, a Black man, using what a police forensic doctor described as a chokehold. The arrest gained national attention as McDowell yelled “I can’t breathe.” Weese was placed on desk duty pending an investigation by the Illinois State Police which later included a DeKalb County grand jury who in December declined to press criminal charges against Weese. In February, after an internal investigation by the DeKalb Police Department, Weese was placed on unpaid suspension for up to 30 days, ordered to undergo cultural competency training and prohibited from being promoted for a year.

Throughout the summer, calls for Weese’s termination were renewed, emboldened during Black Lives Matter marches and protests spurred by the death of George Floyd which set off a reinvigorated local and national reckoning on race and police accountability across the country.

Local Black Lives Matter leaders said their statement on Weese’s departure came after many people in DeKalb showed its commitment through participation in multiple protests and town hall meetings. They wrote they appreciated people also using their privilege to educate the community about the experiences and concerns of Black people.

“Raising awareness of the issues that impact our Black community does not happen in silos,” the statement reads. “Today, we took a long-overdue step forward, together, in ensuring equity, justice and accountability.”

In the wake of ongoing demands by the group and calls for change in policy, city officials announced in July the DeKalb Police Department would be restructured. The plan will designate all operations under two categories – community services and violence prevention – and require negotiations with the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 115 union and budget revisions, documents show.

The DeKalb City Council also approved additional measures, including stationing one licensed social worker from the Northwestern Medicine Ben Gordon Center for 30 hours a week at the police department to respond to 911 calls; and a resolution to adopt a number of shared principles, such as value of life statements that were created jointly by the DeKalb Police Department, the Illinois NAACP and the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police.

Use of force policies and code of conducts were also updated for all of the county’s law enforcement agencies under the aid of the DeKalb County State’s Attorney’s office and local municipalities.

In response to the daily marches, which went on for months beginning May 30, policies in the DeKalb, Sycamore and DeKalb departments and the County Sheriff’s Office were also updated to prohibit any conduct by officers described as “lateral vascular technique” or “any type of forcible neck restraint,” along with any restraint technique that would impair breathing or restrict blood flow to the brain, documents show.

Each department also added a ‘duty to intervene’ clause, invoking the ‘if you see something, do something’ mantra to encourage officers to hold each other accountable when on the streets.

In response to Weese’s departure, local Black Lives Matter leaders also wrote they believe the police department’s accountability sends a message that advocacy work matters and it can make changes in the community.

“This is just the beginning of our work,” local Black Lives Matter leaders wrote. “Together, we can continue to build a community that acknowledges and celebrates differences. We must, however, be willing to do this work.”

Mitchell said he believes the police department ultimately hold true in their commitment to integrity in the mutual parting between the department and Weese. He said he believes that was the best thing for the department and community as a whole.

“I hope this is a stepping stone toward us becoming a better community, a stepping stone for community and law enforcement working together and law enforcement to embody what they were called to do,” Mitchell said. “Which is to be peace officers [and to keep the peace in a way] that respects people’s humanity as well.”

• This story was updated at 1:10 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 11 to include additional comment from Rev. Joe Mitchell.

Source: The Daily Chronicle

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