Nineties rap group Public Enemy indicted the city of New York for its slow response time to emergencies in Black neighborhoods with their song "911 Is a Joke." A lawsuit filed earlier this week by the Illinois American Civil Liberties Union says that the same thing is going on in Chicago today — and it’s no laughing matter.
“It is widely known that 9-1-1 calls are more likely to go without response in minority neighborhoods when compared to white neighborhoods,” said Harvey Grossman, legal director of the ACLU of Illinois. “For too long, the city has hoarded the information that would have revealed the full scope of this problem. Now that we are seeing data, it is time to take definitive steps to correct the problem.”
According to the lawsuit, the level of police presence in majority African-American and Hispanic communities is disproportionately low given the number of emergency calls made from those neighborhoods, resulting in slower response to 911 calls than that of predominantly white neighborhoods.
The group alleges that the city’s practice of allocating officers violates the Illinois Civil Rights Act of 2003; the lawsuit also asks the court to order Chicago municipal authorities to end the present method of deploying police officers and to submit a plan that will guarantee that all neighborhoods receive equal emergency services.
In the wake of the lawsuit, Chicago mayor Rahm Emmanuel defended the Chicago Police Department’s officer deployment decisions, but also pledged to ensure that more police are available in high-crime neighborhoods.
Earlier this month, a data survey compiled by the Chicago News Cooperative published previously private data about the assignments of officers across Chicago. The survey showed that the city’s areas with the highest rate of serious violent crime still have fewer officers patrolling these areas than those neighborhoods that have less serious violent crime.
A community organization, the Central Austin Neighborhood Association (CANA), joined the ACLU in the lawsuit, noting that many of its members do not dial 9-1-1 because they feel it's unlikely officers will show.
"There is nothing that is more frightening and more discouraging than calling 9-1-1 when there is an emergency and getting no response from the police," said Ron Reid of CANA. "We know that people leave the community — people who are critical to rebuilding our neighborhood — because they feel like the police simply do not respond when they are needed."
(Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images)