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Chicago's police missed the mark with their safety tips. Here's what they could have done.

Crawling back from a generation of corruption needs to be handled with care.

On Aug. 7, 2015, the Chicago Police Department offered some "tips" on how to stay safe in any neighborhood.

On Twitter, the department shared a list of 14 suggestions for people to follow. While it's framed as general "how to stay safe" advice, when you start reading the list, it seems — weirdly — more like a guide on how to stay safe from the police.


Image from Chicago Police Department/Twitter.

Some Twitter users took the department to task for the list, accusing the department of blaming victims of police brutality.

Some pointed out that this list comes off a bit like the types of victim-blaming tips you see advising women on how not to get raped.

  • "Be smart about with whom, when, and where you hang out?"
  • "Avoid playing the music loudly?"
  • "Confrontation leads to confrontation?"

Photo by Joshua Lott/Getty Images.

Isn't it supposed to be the police's job to de-escalate situations? Maybe the police should spend put together "tips" for how officers can avoid shooting unarmed people?

And Twitter user @NovaTess made a few "edits" to the list of tips:

  1. Cops, remember that your actions and attitude can impact the situation positively or negatively.
  2. Remember that every person, and every black man in particular, is not a criminal.
  3. Be smart — don't lie. For whom, when, and where is irrelevant.
  4. Do not shoot when dealing with unarmed people.
  5. Cops, do not curse or raise your voices — stay calm. Remember — confrontation leads to confrontations ... especially when you whip out your guns.
  6. Keep your hands off your gun unless confronted with deadly imminent force.
  7. If you pull someone over, don't shoot them because they don't have a license.
  8. Before shooting someone, ask if they have any illegal weapons that they plan on shooting you with in the next few seconds. If they don't, don't shoot.

Of the 10 largest cities in the country, Chicago has had more police-involved shootings than any other.

A report by the Better Government Association uncovered some concerning pieces of data. For example, nearly 60% of all shootings occurred in the police districts located in Calumet, Deering, Englewood, Grand Crossing, Gresham, and Morgan Park. For areas that account for just a small fraction of the city's population, 41 people have been killed by police in the past five years.


Data source: Better Government Association. BGA notes that New York did not provide 2014 data.

The Chicago Police Department has a gruesome past when it comes to excessive force, brutality, and shootings.

Between 1972 and 1991 under former detective Jon Burge's command, more than 100 suspects were tortured into providing coerced confessions. Burge's crimes are often credited for being what led Illinois to put an end to the state death penalty, after former Gov. George Ryan emptied death row and pardoned four of Burge's torture victims in 2003.

In April 2015, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced that the city would be creating a $5.5 million reparations fund for Burge's living survivors.

In February 2015, The Guardian ran a report about a "black site" located in a warehouse at Homan Square. The paper describes it as "an off-the-books interrogation compound, rendering Americans unable to be found by family or attorneys while locked inside what lawyers say is the domestic equivalent of a CIA black site."

The Homan Square "black site." Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images.

And cover-ups within oversight departments don't particularly help matters.

The Independent Police Review Authority, the group that the Chicago Police Department's "tips" advise the public take their complaints to, has investigated hundreds of police shootings since 2007 (this figure includes non-fatal shootings), with only a few found as "not justified" and just one where they recommended an officer be fired for a shooting.

Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images.

In July 2015, IPRA Supervising Investigator Lorenzo Davis was fired from the department after he refused to clear six officers he found had been involved in unjustified shootings. Despite the fact that Davis had been working with the police department for more than two decades, he received a performance evaluation that said he "displays a complete lack of objectivity combined with a clear bias against the police."

Instead of offering "tips" on how not to become a victim of police brutality, perhaps the Chicago PD should follow the lead of Austin, Texas.

While Chicago's police have a document outlining the "rights" of anyone stopped by police ("You will be treated with dignity and respect," forbidding of racial profiling or physical violence, and so on), they could do a lot of good by instead putting together a comprehensive list of expectations their officers should be held to. A great example is the easily accessible document used by the Austin, Texas, police force.

Austin's Law Enforcement Code of Ethics document provides a solid outline for how to interact with the public and, more importantly, puts the onus on maintaining a peaceful situation on the officer.

What should the list sent out by Chicago's police have looked like? Maybe a bit like this:

"As a law enforcement officer, my fundamental duty is to serve the community; to safeguard lives and property. ... I will maintain courageous calm in the face of danger, scorn or ridicule; develop self-­restraint; and be constantly mindful of the welfare of others. ... I will enforce the law courteously and appropriately without fear or favor, malice or ill will, never employing unnecessary force or violence. ... I recognize the badge of my office as a symbol of public faith, and I accept it as a public trust to be held so long as I am true to the ethics of police service. ... I know that I alone am responsible for my own standard of professional performance. ... I will constantly strive to achieve these objectives and ideals."

Sadly, Austin has its own issues involving shootings and brutality claims. But the messaging in on point.

It's an officer's responsibility to control any situation that gets thrown their way. While many do a great job of keeping the peace, others seem not to have gotten that memo.

If instead of tweeting out a list of rules for the public to follow, the department tweeted out a list of standards to which their officers should be held, the police might begin regain the public's trust and put to rest its controversial past.

Connections Academy

Wylee Mitchell is a senior at Nevada Connections Academy who started a t-shirt company to raise awareness for mental health.

True

Teens of today live in a totally different world than the one their parents grew up in. Not only do young people have access to technologies that previous generations barely dreamed of, but they're also constantly bombarded with information from the news and media.

Today’s youth are also living through a pandemic that has created an extra layer of difficulty to an already challenging age—and it has taken a toll on their mental health.

According to Mental Health America, nearly 14% of youths ages 12 to 17 experienced a major depressive episode in the past year. In a September 2020 survey of high schoolers by Active Minds, nearly 75% of respondents reported an increase in stress, anxiety, sadness and isolation during the first six months of the pandemic. And in a Pearson and Connections Academy survey of US parents, 66% said their child felt anxious or depressed during the pandemic.

However, the pandemic has only exacerbated youth mental health issues that were already happening before COVID-19.

“Many people associate our current mental health crisis with the pandemic,” says Morgan Champion, the head of counseling services for Connections Academy Schools. “In fact, the youth mental health crisis was alarming and on the rise before the pandemic. Today, the alarm continues.”

Mental Health America reports that most people who take the organization’s online mental health screening test are under 18. According to the American Psychiatric Association, about 50% of cases of mental illness begin by age 14, and the tendency to develop depression and bipolar disorder nearly doubles from age 13 to age 18.

Such statistics demand attention and action, which is why experts say destigmatizing mental health and talking about it is so important.

“Today we see more people talking about mental health openly—in a way that is more akin to physical health,” says Champion. She adds that mental health support for young people is being more widely promoted, and kids and teens have greater access to resources, from their school counselors to support organizations.

Parents are encouraging this support too. More than two-thirds of American parents believe children should be introduced to wellness and mental health awareness in primary or middle school, according to a new Global Learner Survey from Pearson. Since early intervention is key to helping young people manage their mental health, these changes are positive developments.

In addition, more and more people in the public eye are sharing their personal mental health experiences as well, which can help inspire young people to open up and seek out the help they need.

“Many celebrities and influencers have come forward with their mental health stories, which can normalize the conversation, and is helpful for younger generations to understand that they are not alone,” says Champion.

That’s one reason Connections Academy is hosting a series of virtual Emotional Fitness talks with Olympic athletes who are alums of the virtual school during Mental Health Awareness Month. These talks are free, open to the public and include relatable topics such as success and failure, leadership, empowerment and authenticity. For instance, on May 18, Olympic women’s ice hockey player Lyndsey Fry will speak on finding your own style of confidence, and on May 25, Olympic figure skater Karen Chen will share advice for keeping calm under pressure.

Family support plays a huge role as well. While the pandemic has been challenging in and of itself, it has actually helped families identify mental health struggles as they’ve spent more time together.

“Parents gained greater insight into their child’s behavior and moods, how they interact with peers and teachers,” says Champion. “For many parents this was eye-opening and revealed the need to focus on mental health.”

It’s not always easy to tell if a teen is dealing with normal emotional ups and downs or if they need extra help, but there are some warning signs caregivers can watch for.

“Being attuned to your child’s mood, affect, school performance, and relationships with friends or significant others can help you gauge whether you are dealing with teenage normalcy or something bigger,” Champion says. Depending on a child’s age, parents should be looking for the following signs, which may be co-occurring:

  • Perpetual depressed mood
  • Rocky friend relationships
  • Spending a lot of time alone and refusing to participate in daily activities
  • Too much or not enough sleep
  • Not eating a regular diet
  • Intense fear or anxiety
  • Drug or alcohol use
  • Suicidal ideation (talking about being a burden or giving away possessions) or plans

“You know your child best. If you are unsure if your child is having a rough time or if there is something more serious going on, it is best to reach out to a counselor or doctor to be sure,” says Champion. “Always err on the side of caution.”

If it appears a student does need help, what next? Talking to a school counselor can be a good first step, since they are easily accessible and free to visit.

“Just getting students to talk about their struggles with a trusted adult is huge,” says Champion. “When I meet with students and/or their families, I work with them to help identify the issues they are facing. I listen and recommend next steps, such as referring families to mental health resources in their local areas.”

Just as parents would take their child to a doctor for a sprained ankle, they shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help if a child is struggling mentally or emotionally. Parents also need to realize that they may not be able to help them on their own, no matter how much love and support they have to offer.

“That is a hard concept to accept when parents can feel solely responsible for their child’s welfare and well-being,” says Champion. “The adage still stands—it takes a village to raise a child. Be sure you are surrounding yourself and your child with a great support system to help tackle life’s many challenges.”

That village can include everyone from close family to local community members to public figures. Helping young people learn to manage their mental health is a gift we can all contribute to, one that will serve them for a lifetime.

Join athletes, Connections Academy and Upworthy for candid discussions on mental health during Mental Health Awareness Month. Learn more and find resources here.

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