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What Chicago’s Public Safety Head Learned from Armed Robbery

Anthony Driver Jr. was one of the 9,000 Chicago residents who were robbed last year. But he’s also the president of the Community Commission for Public Safety and Accountability and will help elect the city’s next police superintendent.

(TNS) — Anthony Driver Jr. will remember the gun pressed to his stomach. It had a blue beam and a nervous young holder. Driver feared for his life.

“This little kid is scared,” he remembered thinking as he was being held up the night of Jan. 23. “And he’s going to actually kill me because he’s scared.”

The armed robbery is unforgettable for Driver, but not unique to him. Nearly 9,000 people were robbed in Chicago last year, according to police data.

However, unlike other victims, Driver is president of the Community Commission for Public Safety and Accountability, the seven-person group of community leaders tasked with helping Mayor-elect Brandon Johnson select a new Chicago police superintendent.

The experience showed him firsthand how crime victims can feel overlooked and raised conflicting feelings about punishment, mercy and proper policing for a man playing an important role in shaping the Police Department’s future. And the experience surfaced a clear critique for Driver: The Chicago policing system serves Chicagoans in different ways.

“It’s given me a firsthand look at what people in my community are experiencing when they call the police,” said Driver, a labor lobbyist and community activist who lives in Bronzeville.

When a Black man like him is robbed on the South Side, he said, the treatment received seems less resourced than what someone in a wealthier area experiences. Driver believes everyone should be cared for after they are victimized in a crime.

“We need someone to handhold victims. I was shocked: There was no mental health resources offered to me. There was no follow-up from the police for four days. There were no updates,” Driver said.

The robbery unfolded as Driver walked in front of his home after work. A tan sport utility vehicle pulled up as he went to grab a package.

“Aye folks, you got some money for us?” someone from inside the SUV yelled.

Then, two teens jumped out of the car and ran up on Driver with guns, he said.

As they searched his body and took his wallet, phone and a bag containing a computer, he instinctively thought over his options: Did he know them? Should he try to get his neighbors’ attention? Should he hit them? Should he run?

The robbers peeled off in seconds and Driver ran straight to the nearby home of a family member where he called 911, his bank and his dad, who came over right away. While he said it felt like a long wait for police to arrive — he didn’t have his phone, so he didn’t know how much time had passed — he said the officers who arrived seemed to genuinely care about the robbery.

They listened to his story and told him several similar robberies had occurred nearby. He said they promised to send an “information car” and left.

Officers in a second car followed shortly after and collected some purses Driver’s dad spotted in the street that appeared to have spilled out of the attackers’ car. The police took down his personal information, his story and left Driver with a referral number for his case. “And that was the extent of it,” he said.

What happened over the next several days was eye-opening for Driver.

“Nothing,” he said. “I don’t hear anything.”

The day after the robbery, neighbors shared videos of what looked like the same attackers robbing other people a few weeks earlier. Driver also saw surveillance footage of what looked like a similar car swapping license plates at his workplace.

That was valuable information, he thought. He went to the 9th District police station to share it, but he said the desk officer simply told him that a detective would reach out to him within 72 hours. It felt like a blow-off, he said.

Political acquaintances asked Driver, who is the executive director of the Service Employees International Union Illinois State Council, if he wanted them to flag the case so police would prioritize it. He declined. He wanted to experience the robbery like anyone else would, he said.

Three days after the robbery, no one from the Police Department had reached out, he said.

“Nobody called, nobody made contact, I didn’t even have a point of contact,” he said.

He finally heard from the department later in the week, but only after speaking about the robbery — and the seemingly connected crime spree — at a public commission meeting that former police Superintendent David Brown attended.

A high-ranking police official came to Driver afterward and told him someone would call him “right away,” he said. A detective called him while he was driving home.

They talked for an hour and a half, though Driver said he learned the detective wasn’t on his case. Another detective called the next day and told Driver he had been assigned to the robbery, but it had taken four days to reach out because the department was busy. The detective found surveillance footage of the attackers at a convenience store and ran the car’s license plates, Driver said.

Driver also passed on two new pieces of information he had: A young man who had his phone accidentally texted Driver a photo of himself, mistakenly thinking a message Driver had sent came from an interested girl, and someone had used the phone to order nearly $100 worth of Checker’s food to an apartment building.

But the leads weren’t enough. The detective, who Driver noted worked hard on the case, told him the perpetrators would likely slip up soon and get caught. The case went into “pending further investigation” status, Driver was told.

Then, in mid-March, Driver saw a mugshot on social media. He said it was a dead ringer for the young man in the photo sent from Driver’s stolen phone. The 19-year-old shown in the mug shot and another young man, 18, had been arrested in Hyde Park after allegedly crashing a stolen car into an unmarked police vehicle. Police said the pair had robbed a woman and a teen girl at gunpoint in separate incidents.

Driver said he hadn’t gotten any updates from the police on if the suspects were the people who robbed him, but if they were, he felt conflicted: On one hand, he was angry with his attackers.On the other hand, they were just kids, childish enough to use their loot to binge on fast food and accidentally flirt with him.

He said the Police Department didn’t connect the Hyde Park arrests to his own robbery, which alarmed him.

“If I was able to see this just from scrolling on Twitter, I felt like CPD should be able to make that connection,” said Driver, who later learned the detective on his case had been on vacation when the arrests occurred.

He flagged the connection to department brass after another commission meeting. The department quickly got back to him, and he is working with detectives more directly on the case.

The Chicago Police Department said Monday it is still investigating Driver’s robbery and that no one was currently in custody for the crime. Both of the young men Driver suspects were involved in the robbery were being detained at Cook County Jail, according to the Cook County sheriff’s office.

“The Chicago Police Department investigates all cases thoroughly to bring justice to victims and hold accountable the individuals responsible. We deeply understand the trauma that victims face following a crime, and all members of CPD are expected to treat victims with the utmost professionalism, respect and compassion,” the department said in a statement. “This specific investigation remains open and active with Area One detectives. No arrests have been made at this time.”

Driver said he isn’t entirely sure what justice should look like. He wonders if justice in his case is seeing whoever is responsible get locked up for 10 years, or something entirely different, like a restorative justice program that focuses on rehabilitation. At one point, he even asked himself if he wanted revenge.

“It’s different when it’s you,” he said.

But he feels strongly that debates about criminal justice often force a “false equivalency” between toughness and empathy, he said. Much of the debate around policing seems to revolve around a “hardcore back-the-blue” mentality versus an “abolish all police” mindset, he added.

His experience is more complicated.

Policing in Chicago hasn’t always been fair, especially to Black people, Driver said. A personal friend of his was one of the many men tortured by the crew of disgraced former police Cmdr. Jon Burge. Driver himself has had officers look down his pants and put him in pink furry handcuffs as a joke, he said.

He also knows that crime and gun violence take a massive toll on less privileged communities. Driver has had guns pointed at him before and has lost over 20 family members and friends to gun violence, he said.

Driver has also witnessed officers take heroic, lifesaving action. He saw one cop stop an apparent mass shooting attempt and another rush into a home to support an armed man who was considering suicide. People with different backgrounds than his often have positive experiences with police, he said, and the policing profession acts as an important ticket to middle-class stability for many Chicagoans, he added.

The many conflicting aspects of his experiences from the robbery and his life are difficult to sort out, especially amid the politicking that loudly looms over policing, Driver said.

“It’s very hard to have a real conversation about it when you’re only shouting slogans,” he said.

While evaluating applicants for the superintendent job, the commission is hosting a series of public meetings where citizens across the city are invited to tell commissioners what they want from the next head of CPD. Several speakers at the first three meetings called for the next superintendent to foster a culture of compassion for victims of violent crime — a sentiment that strikes a personal chord for Driver.

”It’s one thing to hear about it, it’s another to experience it,” Driver said.

”There was a lady who came and gave a public comment, a public testimony about ‘We need to do a better job of how we handle victims of crime,’” Driver added. “I felt that in a different way because it made me think back to my experience that was just a couple months ago. I felt that same way about myself. I wish I was handled in a different way. Not just by the Police Department, but by our entire city government.”

Despite his frustrations with the robbery and the police follow-up, Driver said his experience is likely better than the post-victimization experiences other people have. His work replaced his stolen valuables. He had political clout that seemed to move his case along.

But even with that support, Driver still didn’t know where to go when police didn’t reach out or what resources were available for him. If he had it like the thousands of other people who get robbed every year in Chicago, he would be worse off, he said.

“I would be so afraid.”

©2023 Chicago Tribune. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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