At last night’s meeting of the Social Justice Committee, Black Freeporters described negative interactions with police, Mayor Jodi Miller denied an accusation that she uses racial slurs, and Police Chief Matthew Summers admitted that Freeport only employs 1 Black police officer.
The committee met from 5-7pm at City Hall in downtown Freeport.
Most members of the committee were present, either in person or over the phone. Three members were absent: Fire Chief Bradley Liggett, FSD 145 Superintendent Anna Alvarado, and Alderperson Donald Parker.
At the beginning of the meeting, Mayor Jodi Miller gave a prepared statement in which she refuted accusations that she handpicked the members of the Social Justice Committee, saying the group is not a “good old boys club” and provides a “diversity of views”.
At the July 9th Listening Session, community member Billy Brooks accused the mayor of “handpicking” the committee, calling it a farce and demanding it be disbanded.
The mayor acknowledged that she did appoint the members of the committee, but said they were also approved by the Freeport City Council.
Mayor Miller also appointed herself to serve as the chair of the Social Justice Committee.
Miller said that she would not ask for the resignation of any committee members or disband the committee.
She also denied ever using racial slurs. The mayor said that the allegation that she used the n-word, which was made by Billy Brooks at the July 9th Social Justice Listening Session, is a “false accusation”.
Committee member Patrick Vandenburgh gave an apology for a Facebook post he shared on Facebook in June. The post in question claims that hundreds of thousands of Irish were sold into slavery in the 1600s, which historians have repeatedly debunked.
Vandenburgh said he realizes the post he shares has “some racial connections”. He apologized for “any pain” he caused and said he would make amends moving forward.
Police Chief Matthew Summers gave an hour-long presentation about the operations, policies, and procedures of the Freeport Police Department (FPD). Topics discussed included basic statistics about personnel, the hiring process used by FPD, the use of force policy, bodycam footage, and how police misconduct is investigated.
Chief Summers did not include any statistics about the diversity of the police department in his initial presentation.
When committee member Pat Norman asked Summers how many of Freeport’s police officers are Black, Summers responded that there was only 1 Black officer working in the FPD.
FPD employs 39 police officers in total.
Several committee members asked the police chief about FPD’s lack of diversity, the department’s use of force policy, and mental health awareness.
Multiple Black committee members also shared negative experiences they have personally had with the Freeport police.
Despite lasting 15 minutes past the scheduled end time, the meeting likely could have continued much longer. The discussion of equity issues at the police department was cut short by Co-Chair Jackson, who stated he did so out of respect for committee members’ other time commitments.
Several members of the public attended the meeting in person, as well as a newsperson from a Rockford TV station.
The next meeting of the Social Justice Committee is scheduled for July 30th.