Destiny Demands More
Destiny Harris emceed the night of the Report Release on Aug. 29 for No Cop Academy, an endeavor that is being led by black youth demanding that the proposed $95 million being allocated to build the Joint Public Safety Training Academy in West Garfield Park be redirected to Chicago Public Schools.
Harris, with co-host Dream Cannon, sprightfully led the night of the Report Release. Standing in front of a crowd of nearly 100 people, Harris was extremely poised for being 17, as she hyped up the crowd in a chant opposing the police academy: “We know the truth. We got the stats. If the city’s so broke, where’d they get the money at?”
Mayor Rahm Emanuel proposed the police academy as an answer to police reform, after a year-long investigation conducted by the Department of Justice revealed a pattern of misconduct among CPD.
This major investment in the police academy comes on the heels of the largest school closing in the country’s modern history. In 2013, Emanuel shuttered 50 elementary schools — including the school Harris attended — that ultimately displaced 12,000 primarily black and brown students.
“It opened my eyes to Rahm’s way of governing the city,” Harris said.
Harris, the oldest of six siblings, attended Francis Scott Key Elementary School in the Austin neighborhood along with four of her siblings before the school closed. “It was ending the cycle of what was such a great community. Same year he closed my school down, he used my face in one of his campaign commercials.”
Harris' experience left her feeling like the mayor had used her for political gain, then turned his back on her and other young folks. However, it also opened her eyes to where the city's priorities are and where they spend their dollars.
“When he [Emanuel] said the city was broke, he's closed all these schools, and says [cops] need better training, but this is not what we're talking about in this moment,” Harris said. “You don't need state-of-the-art training facilities to teach somebody, not to kill somebody.”
Instead, No Cop Academy, according to its official site, demands redirecting funds to “schools and mental health centers, robust after-school and job-training programs, and social and economic justice.”
Harris flirted with activism, as she started to pay more attention to some of the issues affecting her high school, but she began to take her work as an organizer more seriously when she joined No Cop Academy, first through her participation in the “die-in” at City Hall last year.
Since then, she has played a key role in organizing several large-scale youth “teach-ins” in collaboration with groups like Southside Together Organizing for Power and Assata’s Daughters. Together, they empower the community with information on understanding gentrification and how it affects their neighborhoods, and navigating encounters with ICE, CPD and the legal system.
On the night of the Report Release, Harris and her peers at No Cop Academy revealed data collected on public opinion around the proposed facility.
No Cop Academy surveyed 500 West Garfield Park residents and found that 95 percent of that pool felt the city should invest in something else beyond the Chicago Police Department. Out of 1,100 community recommendations gathered on the West Side, none recommended investing in the police academy and nearly 50 percent prioritized youth and school spending.
No Cop Academy intends to take this data to the alderman and pressure them to resist the police academy before the plan is fully solidified by Chicago City Council.
For her part, Harris invited her alderman, Jason Ervin (28th Ward) to attend the report release, and to her surprise, he showed up. Ervin voted in support of the police academy last year, so Harris saw his attendance as a small victory.
“He actually showed up,” she said. “Part of me feels like it was just a political move to show he cares, but I thought it was interesting that he was in the room to actually hear some folks' concerns.”
At the Report Release, young people like Harris expressed that they felt misrepresented by the city’s aldermen; however, youth organizers have set their sights on the upcoming elections to force the aldermen to take their voices seriously.
“They think we just a bunch of kids making noise because we ain't got nothing better to do, so I think it's really helpful to let us be in the forefront of the activism,” she said. “We've seen that you don't want to invest in black and brown youth, so we're going to vote you out.”
This fall, the City Council will vote on the developer of the police academy and have one final budgetary vote before breaking ground. Harris urges Chicagoans who are against the police academy to reach out to their aldermen and visit No Cop Academy’s site to learn more.
“I feel like a lot of people feel like they don't have power,” she said. “There's one more City Council vote. There are things that you can do, and most importantly just educate people. There is power and knowledge in numbers.”