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A 'March For Justice' On Chicago's Magnificent Mile

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

It's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Ari Shapiro.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting) 16 shots, 16 shots, 16 shots, 16 shots.

SHAPIRO: Sixteen shots was the chant for hundreds of protesters in Chicago today. They're referring to the 16 times Laquan McDonald was shot by police officer Jason Van Dyke last year. Van Dyke has been charged with first-degree murder for the killing. Protesters say problems with police are a lot bigger than one cop, though, and one case. At the same time, Chicago neighborhoods are also coping with a crisis of gun violence. Today, police announced an arrest for the killing of Tyshawn Lee. He was just 9 years old when he was shot and killed in an alley on November 2. Early today, I talked with Shari Runner. She's the interim president and CEO of the Chicago Urban League, and she was on her way to join the protests. I asked what she hopes they'll accomplish.

SHARI RUNNER: It is important that the community gets a chance to show their outrage through peaceful protest. And it's important to keep the pressure on the politicians to make change. Everybody needs to have an outlet for the frustration of what's happening in the city and what they're seeing occur with the police department and the community.

SHAPIRO: You have specifically called of the superintendent of police to be fired and for the state's attorney to resign. Explain why.

RUNNER: I think that, in this case - the Laquan McDonald case is just one case that is an indicator of what's going on in the police department and in their relationship with the community that they serve. It's important that we know that this happened almost a year ago. And when it initially happened, it was reported as a case of self-defense by the officer that did the shooting. And everybody expected that that was OK because young black males are characterized as bad actors, and their lives are not valued very much, so it was all right. And then it was suppressed for 13 months, not only by the state's attorney in terms of her ability to prosecute this case, but also by the police department and their culture, which does not want to hold the police accountable for this kind of action.

SHAPIRO: Your group and others have pointed to systemic problems in the Chicago Police Department. Will getting rid of a couple leaders at the top really fix anything?

RUNNER: It will be a beginning. And I think that the conversation is broader than that. And that's why the protest and the public outreach is important because the conversation needs to be had. What needs to change? How do we choose the next police superintendent? What will happen in the elections when people go to vote and decide who will be the next Cook County state's attorney? They need information. They need to know what the process is, and this highlights that.

SHAPIRO: Why do you think this kind of movement didn't happen sooner? This is certainly not a new issue in Chicago or elsewhere.

RUNNER: Well, it's not a new issue. And I think that we have decimated communities. And I think that people were not really willing to recognize that this is the degree of violence that's going on not only between the police and the community, but also between the community in and of itself. When you have a community where the primary industry is drugs and illegal guns, it makes it difficult for people to get out of that.

SHAPIRO: And this is when it gets so complicated because, while there are problems between the police and the community that you're calling attention to, as you say, there are also problems within the community, and the police play a role in helping to solve that.

RUNNER: Yeah, and I think it gets even worse when the trust between the police, who are there to serve and protect, and the community becomes broken. And this is highlighted here. And this why we can't let this moment in time disappear without making sure that there are changes made. It's really clear that people need to be able to trust those who are in the role of - the very difficult and important role of preserving the peace in these communities.

SHAPIRO: Shari Runner is the interim president and CEO of the Chicago Urban League. Thanks for talking with us today.

RUNNER: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.