Tackling Violence with a Softer Side of Policing

By Emily Gray Brosious | Gapers Block | Jun. 30, 2015


Chicago Police Officer Diana Varga answers questions from children and youth at the Foglia Family and Youth Center in Chicago's East Garfield Park neighborhood. (Photo by Emily Gray Brosious)
Chicago Police Officer Diana Varga answers questions from children and youth at the Foglia Family and Youth Center in Chicago’s East Garfield Park neighborhood. (Photo by Emily Gray Brosious)

When police officers couldn’t make it to a scheduled basketball match with youth in the East Garfield Park neighborhood last Wednesday, 11th District Chicago Police Officer Diana Varga swooped in to save the day with an impromptu meet-and-greet of sorts.

Dressed in plain athletic clothes, the outgoing young officer spoke about policing in Chicago to a few dozen people gathered in the gymnasium. Then she opened up for a question and answer session. Children and teens sat cross-legged on the basketball court, eagerly raising their hands to ask Officer Varga about her background, her police work and what it takes to become an officer.

“Everyone in here could be a police officer. Be athletic, be healthy, get your degree,” she said before leading a few lively rounds of training drills and breaking into some basketball practice with the kids.

This isn’t necessarily the picture of police-community relations that readily comes to mind following recent waves of protest and national outrage over the deaths of unarmed black people at the hands of white police officers. Amid such tensions, it can be easy to overlook the individuals and organizations actively working to change that dynamic.

Organizations like Marillac St. Vincent Family Services, which planned Wednesday’s event as part of a larger collaboration with the Chicago Police Department (CPD) aimed at building trust between police and community members to help tackle gun violence in the Garfield Park neighborhood.

“With more than 1,100 shootings in Chicago this year alone, the community in Garfield Park is bracing for the worst as summer approaches and temperatures rise — conditions under which gun violence historically rises in the city,” said Stephen Barker, Associate Director of Development at Marillac St. Vincent Family Services.

Building a “coalition of peace” between the police and the community is a key strategy for lowering gun and drug related violence in the Garfield Park neighborhood, Barker said in an interview. “This is what saves lives.”

Officer Vargas echoed that sentiment and underscored the importance of community-police relations. CPD’s emphasis on community policing measures is actually one of the reasons she chose to join the department, she said in an interview.

Many children and youth were excited to meet with police officers Wednesday.

“A lot of people don’t like police because of shootings and things across the country, but I feel safer when they’re around,” 14-year-old Jacari Brown said in an interview.

He hopes increasing positive interactions between youth and police officers will lower the gang-related violence in his neighborhood.

“We want less gangs, less guns, less kids getting killed,” he said.

Chicago Mothers March to Remember Children Killed by Police

By Emily Gray Brosious | Gapers Block | May 12, 2015


A group of mothers protested police violence Saturday evening on the South Side, near the spot where 15-year-old Dakota Bright was fatally shot by Chicago police in 2012.

“My baby was 15 and he was taken away,” said Bright’s mother, Panzy Edwards. “And the third district cops have no remorse.”

Police claim Bright was killed after he pointed a gun at an officer, but Edwards maintains her son was unarmed. Officers on-scene declined to comment for this story.

The “Mother’s Day March Against the Police State” was the latest in a series of demonstrations aimed at law enforcement, targeting what organizers call systemic racism, violence and a culture of impunity within police departments nationwide.

Standing in front of a poster that displayed the names and faces of black men and women who have been killed by police, Edwards read names of the dead aloud. She turned to the police and said– “If y’all are for the people then why are you killing the people?”

Panzy Edwards, the mother of 15-year-old Dakota Bright who was killed by Chicago police in 2012, addressed demonstrators Saturday evening before leading a march to the Third District Police Station. (Photo/ Emily Gray Brosious)
Panzy Edwards, the mother of 15-year-old Dakota Bright who was killed by Chicago police in 2012, addressed demonstrators Saturday evening before leading a march to the Third District Police Station. (Photo/ Emily Gray Brosious)

Demonstrators rallied steps from the alley where Bright was killed, then marched nearly a mile to the Grand Crossing District police station. Chants, songs and the sounds of car-horns honking in solidarity filled the air as police officers silently tailed the slow-moving peaceful march — without much interaction with protesters.

The group held a candlelight vigil outside the police station and Edwards read a poem for her slain son. It’s been more than two years since his death and Edwards said she still hasn’t found justice through the criminal justice system.

Organizers echoed that sentiment, saying they did not believe justice could come from the same system that “kidnaps and kills their loved ones.”

Demonstrators said they are fed up “living under police occupation,” and called for no-police zones in communities they say have been brutalized by “state sponsored black genocide” at the hands of Chicago police officers.

“Strong communities make police obsolete,” organizers repeated during the rally.

Demonstrator Daphne Jackson described a “war” being waged by police on black communities, and said it was time for people to stand up and defend themselves.

“They’re not here to help us. We are our help,” she said.

Jackson also pointed past the police, at larger public policies that systematically disenfranchise and subsequently criminalize black men in America.

“This is what society gave them. Stop blaming them for it,” she said.

Freddie McGee, whose 34-year-old son Freddie Latice Wilson was killed by Chicago police in 2007, said he sees trouble ahead if the criminal justice system doesn’t reform in a major way.

“People are tired of marching peacefully,” he said.

Neighbor: Slain Bernadette Glomski, 58, did yard work outside Logan Square home

By Emily Gray Brosious | Originally published at Homicide Watch Chicago | May 4, 2015


A 58-year-old woman found strangled in her Logan Square home appeared happy and upbeat just days earlier, according to a neighbor.

A friend found 58-year-old Bernadette Glomski dead in her home in the 2500 block of West Moffat Street on April 15, authorities said. An autopsy later concluded she died of asphyxia by strangulation and her death was ruled a homicide, according to the Cook County medical examiner’s office.

“It’s heartbreaking. You don’t want to hear that happen to anyone … especially like 50 feet from your own bed,” said upstairs neighbor Keithon Gipson. “Whatever the situation, nobody deserves that.”

Authorities have released few details about the killing, and only released the woman’s name in hopes of locating a family member.

Despite the slaying, Gipson says he he still feels safe in the neighborhood.

Gipson, 38, has lived in the apartment directly above Glomski’s for about three years. He said Glomski lived there “for sometime” before he moved in.

Gipson said Glomski, and the man she lived with, were often outside doing yard work and odd jobs for the landlord.

She was an interesting person. Not exactly the friendliest, I mean, she didn’t do anything wrong to anyone, just sometimes you’d try to avoid her. She was that type of character,” Gipson said.

Glomski appeared in good spirits, and days before her death Gipson said she was hanging out with friends and playing music in the backyard.

She looked happy. The color in her face looked real good,” he said. “And to have her life end that way is unacceptable and terrible.”

Gipson said he spoke briefly with police the night Glomski was found dead, but says detectives have not contacted anyone in the building since then.

I’m not a policeman, but it seems like they have somebody that they’re thinking about. Because they didn’t come back and rehashed anything with us,” he said.

Nobody has been charged for the killing. Area North detectives are investigating.