DeKALB – Treveda Redmond, who’s lived in DeKalb since 1992, said she is concerned about how police will view her 17-year-old son, a black teen.
“I’m afraid for him to drive at night, or go anywhere down Lincoln Highway, Sycamore Road, deal with the police,” Redmond said. “I won’t let him drive. That’s horrible for him, but that’s the reality in which we live.”
Redmond's thoughts were echoed by many of the more than 100 people who filled the worship hall of New Hope Missionary Baptist Church for a tense conversation about race and modern policing. The meeting was spurred by the Aug. 24 arrest of Aurora man Elonte McDowell, who is black. As police arrested McDowell, a white DeKalb officer appeared to wrap his arms around McDowell's neck and a DeKalb County Sheriff's deputy fired a stun gun at McDowell.
Interim DeKalb Police Chief John Petragallo and DeKalb County Sheriff Roger Scott fielded questions and concerns from audience members who expressed what some characterized as a deep and historic fear of DeKalb police. They called into question the police response to McDowell’s arrest, which Petragallo said was based on a tip the department received from a dispatch call alleging McDowell had marijuana and was driving to DeKalb.
The law enforcement leaders declined to answer specific questions pertaining to McDowell’s case, citing the active Illinois State Police investigation of the incident, which could take weeks to complete. The report then will be submitted to the DeKalb County State’s Attorney Rick Amato for review.
“I think a common theme here is fear,” Petragallo said in an interview after the meeting. “I had an awareness prior to this incident, and going through tonight, it’s very clear to me that fear is present in our community of the police. Whether it’s nationally or locally, it’s my job to alleviate some of that fear.”
The DeKalb Police Department also is conducting an internal review of compliance and policies as they relate to the incident, Petragallo said.
Many community members voiced concern about the policies in the police department, and said they wanted cultural competency and bias training to be conducted regularly to address what some characterized as racial profiling.
In response to a question about diversity on the DeKalb force, Petragallo said that of the 65 officers, five are black, three are Hispanic and eight are women. The remaining 75% are white men.
Joseph Flynn, of Aurora, associate director academic affairs for Northern Illinois University’s Center for Black Studies, who also is the founder of the social justice summer camp for educators, asked about the culture of the DeKalb police.
“As you can see, a lot of folks have talked about how they’re scared for their sons,” Flynn said. “Does the police department really understand what we mean when we say we’re afraid of the police?”
Scott said he doesn’t think officers in the sheriff’s officeunderstand why people fear the police.
“I think everybody does not intend for that to occur,” Scott said. “I am the one accountable for their actions, and it troubles me that you feel that way, but I understand [the fear] is real.”
Scott also was adamant multiple times that the deputy who fired the stun gun at McDowell was acting within the limits of the law and the policies of the sheriff’s office, and said the deputy would not be placed on leave after the incident.
Petragallo admitted he has some concerns about the way the Aug. 24 incident played out.
“One of the concerns I spoke about is communication,” Petragallo said. “I would say that’s something we could have done better. Telling someone sooner why they’re being stopped, communicating with them effectively.”