In 2017, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced a plan to build a $95 million police and fire training academy – after years of police killings, rocketing police budgets, and a fight for torture survivors’ reparations.
And young people in Chicago’s West Side refused to have all that go down without a fight.
Young organizers used teach-ins, marches, die-ins, art exhibitions, press conferences, canvassing, visiting alderpersons, and much more to block the academy. They met every angle, from protesting the building contractors to disrupting Emanuel’s luncheons and dinners.
In fighting against Cop Academy, they encouraged community members to figure out what they wanted to fight for, including participatory budgeting. People envisioned housing, trauma counseling, and after-school programs as positive alternatives for that $95 million.
In the end, there were wins and losses. Emanuel didn’t run for re-election and Lori Lightfoot became the next mayor. A large cohort of youth activists was born, but the City Council ultimately approved Cop Academy in 2019.
Still, organizers collected their wisdom in a toolkit for other organizers in future endeavors.
With Cop Cities sprouting in Atlanta and across the country, that future is now. Like in previous Black liberation movements, we will build our wins on the foundation of previous committed work. And the legacy of the No Cop Academy actions will be a part of it.