Macomb Police Department invites Dr. Ibram X. Kendi to speak to police officers for anti-racism training

This article highlights the 2024 Healing Illinois grant for the Macomb Police Department, in Macomb, Illinois.

Funds from this Healing Illinois grant were used to hold a private anti-racism police seminar. It is the latest in a series of conversations Macomb residents, leaders, and Western Illinois University (WIU) students and faculty have been having about race over the past several years.

WIU students in Macomb have been vocal in raising their concerns about systemic inequities. In 2020, WIU's Black Student Association proposed a list of demands to the school's administration, including the addition of African American Studies coursework; an end to hate speech; and more diversity in students, staff and campus officers. Some of these requests have been met, and some are still ongoing. There have also been protests of local business owners who have used hate speech toward Black students.

In response to these incidents, several DEI trainings and town halls about DEI issues have been held where the community - including students of color - can share their lived experiences in a public forum to have their voices heard by those in positions of mentorship and leadership.

In their own Healing Illinois project, WIU hosted "A Conversation With Professor Ibram X. Kendi" on April 11, 2024 for students and faculty. The League of Women Voters then hosted a video viewing of Dr. Kendi's talk on May 2, 2024 in the WIU Union. Macomb Police Training Flyer

WIU professor Dr. Julia Albarracín has been leading some of these conversations and is also the person who introduced Chief Jeff Hamer to the idea of applying for a Healing Illinois grant for the police department.

The anti-racist police seminar idea was spearheaded by Chief Hamer, resident of Macomb since 1996 and police officer of 23 years. Hamer also sits on the WIU Anti-Racism Task Force, a position he inherited when he assumed the role of police chief in 2023.

"There's just an overwhelming need for this. …I also thought it was important to get that word out and to show the students and the community that this is important work," Hamer shared. Not only did he feel this seminar is important for the community, but also for the police department as an organization, especially for officers who may not have had exposure to the concept and application of anti-racism. "If you're trying to accomplish anything as an organization, you have to have different perspectives just to vet the different problems that may come up… To get anything done, you need a diversity of thought."

The police department held a private 2.5-hour "Police and Anti-Racism" seminar on April 12, 2024 at WIU. The seminar was a panel discussion moderated by professor Dr. Barry McCrary, who has a long career in criminal justice and juvenile justice, and led by guest speaker Dr. Ibram X. Kendi, historian and author of the New York Times Best Seller "How to Be an Antiracist."

Seminar attendees included a mixture of police officers from the Macomb Police Department, police officers from nearby cities, university police, chaplains, and other invited guests for a total of approximately 60 attendees. Local leadership was also invited to attend.

Chief Hamer chose Dr. Kendi's book as a framework for the conversation not only as a personal fan of his work, but also being mindful of the role police officers serve within the Macomb community and the cultural context of the Black Lives Matter movement.

"I think Dr. Kendi's approach is perfect for setting the stage. … He suggests you could say a racist thing or do a racist thing or act in a racist way, learn, and then act in an anti-racist way the next moment. …. In a way, it gives people that second chance," Hamer said.

While there was no Q&A session for this seminar - in contrast to the university panels - questions for Dr. Kendi were thoughtfully curated with the goals of the police training in mind. Chief Hamer's pre-submitted questions were, "What can a police chief do to be anti-racist and run an anti-racist department?" and "What can an officer do at the officer level to do the same?"

Many of the questions and Dr. Kendi's responses specifically addressed the interplay of racist policies at the courts, corrections level, and law enforcement levels.

One thing Chief Hamer emphasized, paraphrasing Dr. Kendi's work, is the notion that racist policies can create and maintain racist ideologies, something he feels is important for officers to consider in this line of work.

The state of Illinois requires that police officers have a certain number of training hours for DEI issues like cultural sensitivity and implicit bias. However, Chief Hamer mentions that there is room for improvement.

Several police officers have expressed interest in reading Dr. Kendi's work. Hamer plans to continue sharing excerpts from the book as part of ongoing training for officers.

The seminar is intended as a starting point to spur further change not only within the police department but as part of a larger conversation with residents, students, police, and those in leadership positions.

"I do feel like the goal was accomplished that we did something demonstrative, something that nobody else did really sent a positive message to the students. But also a very demonstrative and positive message to the police as well," Hamer said.

Impact on the Macomb community

Chief Hamer acknowledges that a one-time training won't solve all of Macomb's issues around race, diversity, or equity. However, he is hopeful that this event will move the needle and lead to a positive ripple effect both inside and outside of the police department.

"This event started so many conversations," he shared. "I've literally been having conversations non-stop with people since the event, and even leading up to it with some other sociology friends. Like, what does it take to move the needle on anti-racism or racism?"

Read more about Macomb and Healing Illinois

Those interested in learning more about DEI initiatives in Macomb, Illinois can visit the following resources:

Chief Hamer, Dr. Ibram X. Kendi, and Dr. Barry McCrary

The Macomb Police Department is one of 184 grantees who received Healing Illinois funds for 2023-2024. You can view more sub-grantee stories on the Healing Illinois website and Healing Illinois Instagram page, as well as view past and upcoming Healing Illinois events.