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Rock Island police officers silently protest after alderman called them "agents of state violence"
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Rock Island police officers silently protest after alderman called them "agents of state violence"

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Families packed into Rock Island City Hall on Monday night to witness three aldermen and Mayor Mike Thoms take their oaths of office after winning their elections April 6.

But a different kind of audience showed up just for Alderman Dylan Parker, Ward 5. On the night Parker was to be sworn in for his second term on city council, more than 50 Rock Island police officers, in their uniforms, stood along the back and side walls of council chambers to protest recent comments made by the alderman.

Police Chief Jeff VenHuizen, who attends every city council meeting, stood in the center.

Their presence was in response to comments made by Parker on his official alderman Facebook page after Rock Island County States Attorney Dora Villarreal issued a decision April 28 that no charges would be filed against four officers involved in the foot pursuit and shooting death of DeShawn Tatum on April 1.

Parker referred to police as "agents of state violence" and noted the city and police department have no official foot pursuit policy.

Angry residents also spoke out during the public comments portion at the beginning of the meeting. But the protest was directed at an empty seat; Parker was absent. 

Don Mewes said Parker's comments were "anti-police, anti-law enforcement, anti-citizen of Rock Island. We deserve better; we deserve protection."

Rock Island resident Ray Lind called for Parker's resignation. 

"Seriously, he needs to resign," Lind said. "At the end of the day, this alderman has chosen a side. This is very easy to fix if he is courageous enough to move forward in the right direction. Instead, he feeds the ignorant, making them believe the police are the problem."

Illinois Fraternal Order of Police Executive Director, Shawn Roselieb, who issued a statement April 30 demanding a retraction and apology from Parker, was in attendance to speak in support of the police department and discourage online criticism against police. 

"I challenge you to push away from the keyboard," Roselieb said. "I challenge you to stay off of social media. I challenge you to pick up the phone, make a phone call, meet in person with your police chief."

Andrew DeFrieze spoke in support of Parker, saying Parker was right to question whether foot pursuits are necessary. 

"Alderman Parker has made the mildest statement regarding police reform, and it was immediately criticized by the powers that be," DeFrieze said. "To which I say, if you are in a position of power and advocate for policies that challenge the status quo, and are attacked for that by the mayor and the police union, you are moving in the right direction."

DeFrieze criticized the city for remaining silent after Tatum's death. He said the city increased the police department budget by nearly $1 million while other departments like parks and recreation and libraries received budget cuts or minimal funding. 

"How will more money to the police help vanquish the violent, institutional racism that has been inflicted against Black and brown people since this country's founding?" DeFrieze said. "I'm glad to see someone on the current city council is vocal about these issues, but I want to see concrete action, not just rhetoric. 

"I have a word of caution and advice; if you are in a position of power, with the ability to improve the lives of the most marginalized people in our society, and after witnessing all of the events and all of the police brutality in the last year and then some, you sit back and say, 'this is fine,' I ask you, what is the difference between you and a white supremacist?" 

As soon as public comments ended, the police officers exited single-file through the double doors, pausing to shake VenHuizen's hand on their way out. 

After the meeting, VenHuizen said the officers did not show up at his request. 

"It was a decision made by the membership of the police department and the unions that represent the police department: the Fraternal Order of Police and the Command Officers Association," VenHuizen said. 

VenHuizen declined to comment on Parker or the police officers' presence at the meeting. 

"It's not my role to get involved in politics, so I'm not going to comment on it," he said. "The union has made their statement and the statement stands for what they said."

Roselieb could not be reached for further comment Tuesday. 

Former mayoral candidate Thurgood Brooks issued a statement May 6 in which he defended Parker and took aim at Thoms for voicing his disappointment in Parker's comments. 

"Rather than create a forum for the difficult conversations we need to have, our mayor shut down dialogue and responded to a sitting council member in a way that highlighted division and silenced representation," Brooks said. "Instead of viewing Mr. Parker as a good actor wanting safer and more effective policing, the mayor discounted the concerns of Rock Islanders and chose to polarize us rather than seek solutions."

Parker said Tuesday that he stood behind his statement questioning whether foot pursuits were necessary if the outcome resulted in death. 

"I've made my statement," Parker said. "I am looking forward to moving on and serving my constituents in my second term."

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