Family calls on Evanston police to apologize to son after being falsely targeted for crime
Ava Thompson Greenwell, flanked by son Diwani, and husband Dale Greenwell, asked at the Sept. 10 Evanston City Council meeting for police to apologize for detaining her son. Thompson Greenwell has filed a lawsuit against the city and police officer. (Bob
Updated: October 14, 2012 1:31PM
EVANSTON — The parents of a 13-year-old have called for Evanston police to apologize and for the city to examine racial profiling after their son was handcuffed and wrongly targeted as a burglary suspect.
Ava Thompson Greenwell, the mother of the child, spoke at Monday’s Evanston City Council meeting and called on the city to conduct a statistical analysis of the stops, detainments and frisking city police have done in the last five years, with the data broken down by race, age, gender, location and outcome.
She also asked for a review of the “show-up” policy, a lineup-like procedure where police sometimes bring victims to a crime scene to identify a single suspect. Legal scholars have called the procedure “highly prejudicial and racially discrimnatory,” she told council members.
Her son, Diwani, was riding his bike the morning of Aug. 30 and had reached the driveway of his home on Kirk Street when he was apprehended by Evanston police officers, Thompson Greenwell said. She has alleged an excessive show of force by the police officers, saying Diwani was placed in handcuffs while surrounded by five officers. Her son counted as many as nine officers.
She said the man who handcuffed him was dressed in plainclothes and did not immediately identify himself as a police officer. Thompson Greenwell, at home at the time, asked why her son was handcuffed and was told Diwani fit the description of a burglary suspect.
Thompson Greenwell, an associate professor of broadcasting at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, said when she pressed for specifics the officer told her police were looking for a “black male wearing cargo shorts.”
Diwani was released after the burglary victim said he was not the suspect in the incident.
“It’s time to have a serious discussion about racial profiling in our community,” Thompson Greenwell told council members.
“To think it’s not happening in Evanston would be sticking our heads in the sand,’’ she said, noting a 2009 report by the ACLU called profiing “a widespread and pervasive problem, particulary affecting racial and ethnic minorities.”
Dale Greenwell, Diwani’s father, said the incident raised a number of “what-if” questions — including what might have happened if his wife had not beenhome that day or if his son reached for his cell phone or become scared and started to run.
He said his son is a “a nice, decent young man,” and it’s important that “he know that” in the incident’s aftermath.
Diwani is an honors student at Chute who is taking advanced math, said his father, and was awarded Chute’s “High Flying Eagle” award, which goes to students who show leadership abilities.
Other speakers raised concern about the handling of the matter, including the president of the Evanston Branch of the NAACP and the Rev. Mark A. Dennis, senior pastor of Second Baptist Church, the city’s oldest African-American church.
Dennis spoke about the dangers of profiling and the need for the city to immediately address the incident and others like it.
“It’s happened to my son, it happened to my father,” he said of racial profiling. “It’s happened to me several times, even at the age of 63. We’re always suspicious or suspected, even in walking through a store.”
A complaint on the incident has been filed with the Evanston Police Department’s Office of Professional Standards, Police Chief Richard Eddington said.
Eddington pledged to provide “a thorough and transparent investigation into all the actions of that day and a resolution of the all the people who were stopped regarding this particular crime.” He said he hopes to issue findings within 45 to 60 days.
Eddington acknowledged that police sometimes in carrying out their duties run into situations which can also cause public embarrassment. A challenge, he said, is dealing with such cases yet “going about what we need to do.”
Alderman Delores Holmes, one of two African-American aldermen on the nine-member Evanston City Council, said the incident raised concerns about officers “not knowing our community and not knowing our children.”
Thompson Greenwell said she appreciates the difficult job police have to do but noted that her son was handcuffed by an officer who did not identify himself or ask questions first but just moved to act. ‘‘That’s the wrong order,” she said.
“I just want people to put themselves in my son’s shoes and ask themselves what they would have thought, what they would have done,” she said.