By Jim Hagerty
ROCKFORD – Removing officers from the Rockford streets would certainly bring change.
But, contrary to an array of cries to disband police departments across the country, a group of local activists wants something else. Nearly 30 protesters who rallied at Davis Park Monday say it’s time for Rockford to reallocate funds the police department spends on armaments and big salaries towards proactive community programs.
“There is so much money and equipment that’s being put into something that’s militarized–the police,” demonstrator Reggie Brooks Jr. said. “And they are still doing their jobs wrong. They aren’t getting their point across that they are here to protect and serve.”
Brooks said although people of color can make decisions to better themselves, he believes the system continues to stack against the black community. But with better opportunities locally, he said Rockford would see improvements in deep, multi-generational areas that continue to plague minorities.
“Take the money from the people who are doing the wrong thing and pour it into the people that want to do the right things,” he said. “People say black-on-black crime is such and issue. And it’s because we are stuck. We’re angry. We are stuck in low-paying jobs. We are uneducated.”
Other demonstrators noted those with untreated mental health issues that often lead to multiple arrests. Protesters say one way to better serve the mentally ill population is to use police funding to provide treatment instead of a revolving door of criminal charges. Maybe that means mental health professionals ride along with police officers, they said. Perhaps the city hires therapists instead of more cops. However those programs look, some say they’re overdue.
“This is extremely important, especially with mental health issues on the rise,” event organizer Logan Lundberg said. “I can’t tell you the numbers. I can only speak for myself.”
Lundberg said he has not only witnessed mental illness, it’s something that has hit home. He’s attempted suicide more than once and said the involvement of law enforcement during those events only added to an already heavy burden.
“I tried to commit suicide eight times this year alone,” Lundberg said. “Every single time, the police were not on my side. I don’t wish that on anyone.”
Lundberg, who’s bi-racial, said he’s also sick of teaching his niece and nephew about how to behave around police to avoid a confrontation, conversations few white people ever have to have with their kids.
“I am tired of having to make sure that if they go outside that they know for a fact that the police are there to protect you even though they look you in the eye and say they don’t feel that way,” he said.
Another protester, a 22-year-old white woman who preferred to be called Red, grew up on Rockford’s west side, and said her black friends were treated differently–by teachers and police.
“I am not black,” she said. “So, I am not going to sit here and say I get the struggles. But I stand (with people of color), and I think that everybody who is lighter than those who are marching on the front of these lines need to shut their mouths for one minute and just hear them. Open your ears and open your minds.”
Monday’s rally followed a 12-hour sit-in outside the Winnebago County Justice Center, where dozens of protesters remained until 8:46 a.m., signifying the eight minutes and 46 seconds Minneapolis officer Derek Chauvin held his knee on George Floyd’s neck May 25. Floyd died as a result, sparking nationwide protests and riots in more than a dozen cities. Chauvin and three other ex-officers now face an array of charges, including second-degree murder, manslaughter and aiding and abetting.
Monday’s event also comes on the heels of an announcement by Mayor Tom McNamara that he has directed city staff to issue a Request for Information (RFI) on body cameras for the Rockford Police Department.