Chicago Residents Believe Blackness Exacerbates Public Safety

Chicago residents are trying to keep a positive outlook.

According to a new report released by the Black Public Defender Association (BFDA), BlackRoots Alliance, Cook County Public Defender, and Northwestern University, Blackness exacerbates feelings of public safety in Chicago.

The 60-page report, titled Reimagining Public Safety: Community Listening Sessions with Black Communities and Public Defenders, asked more than 100 Black Chicago residents to define what public safety meant to them.

The project, which started in July 2022, sought to hear directly from the community about what they need to feel safe and thrive. Its secondary goal was strengthening relationships between Black public defenders and Black Chicago residents. Although many conveyed a negative opinion concerning public defenders’ work and role in the criminal legal system, those with personal experience with an assigned public defender reported positive experiences.

“This report is important because it uplifts and centers the voices of those most impacted by violence by asking what they need to feel safe in their communities,” Joyce Foundation Program Officer Quintin Williams said. “It also outlines how public defenders can better serve their clients and communities.”

Responses and solutions to unsafety in Chicago among residents in areas of community engagement, social investment, and police engagement include:

  •  Promoting more positive interactions and creating more space for unity amongst neighbors.
  •  Investing in the well-being of residents in the areas of safe and affordable housing, food security, healthcare, education, and the labor market.
  • Reforming the current policing that the Black community receives with less aggression, better-trained officers, and a more fair system.
  • Public defenders must understand and get to know the people in the communities they serve by actively engaging with the community through events and service.

“This report has been a groundbreaking collaboration between the Law Office of the Cook County Public Defender, Northwestern University, and the Black Roots Alliance. As civil servants, we often do things in the name of safety without consulting with those who are directly impacted,” Emmanuel Andre, Deputy of Policy and Strategic Litigation at the Law Office of the Cook County Public Defender, said in a statement.

“The Community has spoken. This report provides a blueprint to public safety and healing in Chicago’s Black community. It is incumbent upon us to ensure the changes are made in line with the report so we can have [a] genuine and lasting impact.”

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