Mom Whose Son Was Handcuffed Calls For Change

One Evanston parent says her son was racially profiled when he was handcuffed as a suspect in a burglary. She and others told the city council they want to see major changes in the police department.

After her 13-year-old son was wrongly arrested as a suspect in a burglary, Evanston parent Ava Thompson Greenwell is demanding a formal, written apology and a commitment to major change in the police department.

“It’s time to have a serious discussion about racial profiling in our city,” Greenwell told the council on Monday. “But just talking about it is not enough. We must act.”

, an honor student at , in his front yard on Thursday, Aug. 30. Officers were searching for a “a male black juvenile with a dark shirt and khaki cargo shorts;” Diwani, who is African-American, was wearing a light-colored shirt and navy blue cargo shorts that day. Police handcuffed him and detained him until the victim of the burglary arrived and identified him as the wrong person in what is called a “show-up”. 

Greenwell was standing outside her home when the incident happened, and with the police department. She alleges that they used excessive force in handcuffing her son, ignored her questions, failed to obtain a detailed description of the suspect and ultimately stopped her son based almost entirely on his race. 

What her son experienced, she said, is not uncommon—and several other families had contacted her to say with the .

“A 2009 ACLU report called racial profiling a ‘widespread and pervasive problem’ throughout the United States,” Greenwell said. “So to think it doesn’t happen in Evanston is sinking our heads in the sand.”

Greenwell called for action by the city, the police and . Among other requests, she asked that the city review and make public all records of anyone stopped by the Evanston Police Department, perhaps in conjunction with experts at Northwestern University, where she is a professor. She asked that police review 911 dispatch center training, and that District 65 teach students how to act when stopped by police. Greenwell also said the police department should reconsider its policy of bringing eyewitnesses to identify potential suspects in person. 

Several community leaders and fellow parents came to the meeting in support of the Greenwells. George Mitchell, president of the Evanston/North Shore Branch of the NAACP, asked the city council to consider how the incident would affect Diwani Greenwell in the future.

“I think it is important for the entire community to stand in support of this 13-year-old,” Mitchell said. “I think it is important that the entire community demand better ways of confronting people.” 

Rev. Mark Dennis of Evanston’s described the Greenwells as “one of the best families” in his congregation and Diwani as “a young man with much promise.” 

Like Diwani’s mother, he described the incident as a case of racial profiling gone wrong that many in Evanston’s black community have experienced. 

“It’s happened to my son, and it’s happened to my father, and it’s happened to me, several times, even at age 63,” Dennis said. “It becomes an oppressive tool to denigrate the soul.” 

Joshua Hall, vice president of student chapter of the NAACP at Evanston Township High School, also said the incident was indicative of a larger problem in Evanston. The experience of being wrongly arrested, he said, leaves behind lasting bitterness and anger in young black people. 

“It’s a shame how my own mother and grandmother feel the need to teach me survival skills when I walk outside my own door,” he said. 

Addressing the Greenwells, Ald. Delores Holmes said that the human services committee would investigate the complaint with the police department as soon as the review was completed, a process Chief Richard Eddington said could take 45 to 60 days. Holmes also said that Evanston’s rules committee should look into ways to encourage police and firefighters to live in the community.

Ald. Braithwaite extended an apology to the Greenwells and asked the human services committee to examine the frequency with which complaints are filed about certain officers. While he cautioned that the criticism should not be viewed as “an indictment of the police department,” he also acknowledged that changes should be made. 

“We spend thousands of dollars to train our police to shoot effectively,” Braithwaite said. “I’d like to think, in a city like Evanston, that everything is manageable if we choose to make it a priority.” 

Jim September 12, 2012 at 01:44 AM
What does Northwestern have to do with this? They have enough to do keeping their own students safe from muggers and robbers in Evanston.
John Brinkmann September 12, 2012 at 09:21 AM
This is a serious incident but I personally don't think we can rush to the conclusion it was about racial profiling---not saying our police department is automatically innocent of ever doing such, but more to the point is my belief this incident could have happened to any Evanston kid, and the cops would have responded the same way regardless of skin color...The report went out to police that the suspect was black so we know the cops didn't just pursue this kid based on color of skin...What bothers me is the manner in which the kid was treated as the cops approached him---there doesn't appear to be any reason for police to pursue a 13 year old kid in a non violent situation with overly aggressive tactics and then slapping handcuffs on him---this had to scare the crap out of the kid and his parents have every right to be upset---especially since the kid turned out to be innocent of any wrong doing---such an incident could possibly leave the kid leery of police for the rest of his life...If all accounts as reported turn out to be accurate, then the police owe the Greenwell family one heck of a good explanation and apology---and all citizens of Evanston regardless of race color or creed need to know if our police department considers it standard procedure to apprehend adolescent suspects in such manner.
Jim September 12, 2012 at 11:47 AM
Seems like a very nice family and I can empathize with them. I too would be upset were it my child. But I too doubt profiling and I think it a mistake to invoke the race card here. Even though there has been plenty of history to make blacks susoicious, it would be useful to them if the victim thing could be put in perspective.Let us face it. We live in a violent and chaotic time and place and everyone is jumpy and suspicious.
Festus McMoron September 12, 2012 at 01:08 PM
...when probably 90-95% of crimes comitted in evanston are by blacks, what do you expect the police to do? it's not profiling, it's racial conditioning. until black parents take a more active role in the upbringing of their kids, you are going to have this problem. i'm sorry.
Shelitta September 12, 2012 at 03:04 PM
Festus, how ignorant is that, your statistics are all wrong. And to say that black parents aren't playing an active role is just ignorant. What about the white kids that are out here creating labs in their homes for heroin and all sorts of mischievous things. So are white parents playing an active role... Look it is racial profiling and the police do not want to take responsibility! Just do the job right.. What if all of us just go out and accuse some random child of various crimes that they didn't committ. Just like remember Susan Smith drowned her two children, she stated that it was a black male, they had the police looking for any black males in a 20 mile radius! So sad you think this!
Festus McMoron September 12, 2012 at 03:43 PM
shelitta, i'd be more than happy to meet you at the police station and go over every crime report. i can tell you what the majority of the suspect descriptions will read. i'm sorry, facts are facts. quit burying your head in the sand. i'd love to have the greenwells as my neighbors. they appear to be great people and parents. but it's a very high percentage of black males that are not being raised with the proper role models and it starts at home. also, i'd like to know why my post was deleted. you aren't allowed an opposing view?
Jennifer Fisher (Editor) September 12, 2012 at 05:03 PM
Festus, I checked through our queue of comments and none have been deleted recently. Perhaps it was a tech glitch? Feel free to re-post whatever you had said earlier.
Jennifer Fisher (Editor) September 12, 2012 at 05:07 PM
@Festus - I see your comment about statistics as having been posted in our queue but for some reason it does not appear on this page. I can only explain that as a tech glitch. Here is the comment: "Comment by Festus, 9/12/12 8:08 AM ...when probably 90-95% of crimes comitted in evanston are by blacks, what do you expect the police to do? it's not profiling, it's racial conditioning. until black parents take a more active role in the upbringing of their kids, you are going to have this problem. i'm sorry."
Melanie September 12, 2012 at 11:33 PM
Let's try thinking outside of the box! Northwestern being a prominent, educational institution, has helped on many occasions, to exonerate people who have been wrongfully convicted. Some of these individuals have spent many years, sometimes decades in prison for a crime they did not commit. These professors also use it as a tool to train and educate their students in law, criminology, genetics, and other related courses. Dr. Ava Thompson Greenwell, the mother of Diwani Greenwell, (the child who was wrongfully arrested) is a professor at Northwestern University. When she, along with other Northwestern professors, Dist 65 administrators, ETHS, the police department, and the citizens of Evanston participate in helping to improve race relations with everyone in the community, it makes Evanston safer for us all. It is not okay to arrest anyone without due cause. Black people for over 200 years have been harrassed, degraded, severely beaten, wrongfully imprisoned, and lynched before being given the right to a fair trial as opposed persons of other races. Our President, Barack Obama, who happens to be a black man, is being disrespected, and harrassed along with his family because he is black. He happens to be a Nobel Peace Prize winner. The time is long overdue for it to come to and end. We need to stand with the Greenwells and demand better treatment and respect in our community.
Melanie September 12, 2012 at 11:38 PM
Pardon me! ....as opposed "to" persons of other races.
ME OH MY September 13, 2012 at 01:42 AM
White collar crime is named appropriately; how many minorities commit those crimes. How many minorities are serial killers? Not many. So quit with the incorrect, slanted statistics. People are peole. If you are a criminal, you are a criminal period. But don't try and be nice about saying most crimes are committed by blacks and minorities. Oh, and by the way, I have met tons of whites, who have had both parents in the home, which were drunks, cheaters, dysfunctional, and didn't know the first thing about raising a child, let alone a responsible citizen. I have also had the opportunity to me the complete opposite end of the spectrum as well.
ME OH MY September 13, 2012 at 01:44 AM
Oh please. The crimes that are committed by whites are not seen or caught as much, because (some) people are overlooking the white criminals (and there are just as many as blacks, if not more), and looking directly at minorities. So, the non-minorities have a clear path to commit more crimes, and are overlooked. Did you by any chance catch the Oprah episode, where (white) women came out and confessed that they had been stealing for years, and rarely got caught. And, one of the women who confessed to being a criminal, was married to a Police Officer. Have you read the Northbrook, Highland Park, and Deerfield Review? In plain sight, a "white" woman stole a young kids $20.00 that she put on the counter to pay for her own icecream. The only way it was detected, is because the woman was caught on tape, and put on the news. (Ha!) Then they had the nerve to say, "Oh we are sure that it was a mistake, she probably did not realize that she (stole) the kids money!" Ha! Right!
Festus McMoron September 13, 2012 at 11:39 AM
me oh my, was that you i saw at lee street beach with their head buried in the sand.
Muneaux September 13, 2012 at 02:55 PM
In response to Festus' comment that 90-95% of the crimes in Evanston are committed by blacks.... We have no way of knowing that fact with any certainty. Statistics have shown that white kids are not arrested with anything close to the frequency of minority kids when embroiled in law-breaking. Arne Duncan, our Secretary of Education says, "The sad fact is that minority students across America face much harsher discipline than non-minorities." Take a minute to read the summary of a recent government study here: http://www.inquisitr.com/201907/study-black-students-face-arrest-more-frequently-than-white-peers/ Based on this study, plenty of white kids are getting a slap on the wrist instead of an arrest. I'm crestfallen to see some of the posts on this topic about white people setting up heroin shops and black people committing all the crime. There are good and bad people in every culture and the sooner we stop stereotyping based on skin color, religion, sex or even sexual preference, the better we will be as a society.
annie September 13, 2012 at 04:46 PM
I have always told both of my kids, if stopped by the police, be respectful and keep your mouth's shut. The more talking & shouting a kid does when stopped by the police, the more trouble that kid gets in. The police can walk away, or drag the kid (handcuffed) down to the station for more conversation. If they get to the police station, its definitely going to be a few hours before you see the kid, even though they will be just fine in a police cell while they wait for you. Its a good survival skill, that both of my kids have used when stopped by the police for speeding tickets, etc.
annie September 13, 2012 at 04:47 PM
ps. The police cannot release names of juveniles who are arrested, nor can they release the police reports to the general public.


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