By Derrel Jazz Johnson
In recent memory, images and stories of unarmed black men getting executed by law enforcement has flooded newspaper headlines and television news shows. Far too many times, these incidents begin with simple traffic stops that quickly escalate, leaving a victim or victims. The Harlem Times spoke exclusively with Eddie Chapman, a highly decorated retired 28-year veteran of the Chicago Police Department who has a great friendship with a guy known for wearing number 23.
Chapman talked about his origins and inspiration for joining the Chicago Police Department. “When I was in school I thought I was able to make a difference in helping people out. I wanted to make a difference in the community, and thought that it was a good way of making that connection.”
During a career that saw him receive the Superintendent’s Award of Merit and over 40 honorable mentions for exceptional police work, Chapman was inspired to do more. On the night of June 4, 1999, a night that Chapman remembers vividly, LaTanya Haggerty was pulled over by officers from the Chicago Police Department. In a story typical of far too many in the news, after a high-speed chase, an officer claims she saw an object that could have been a gun, and shot and killed Haggerty. “Eight hours later, another traffic stop resulted in a Northwestern football player getting killed,” Chapman recalled, citing the death of Robert Russ, an unarmed man who lost his life during a traffic stop. “How can I assure this doesn’t happen to someone else’s kid? To my kid?”
“Drive Safe, Stop Safe” is a posterbook released in 2003 that was the brainchild of Chapman. “It is seven different panels that outline true-to-life situations.” The guide to traffic stop safety uses various common scenarios with easy advice in dealing with encounters with law enforcement. The illustrations in the posterbook make it easy to understand for people of all ages.
There are three versions of the posterbook available featuring NBA legend Michael Jordan who is also a good friend of Chapman, former Major League Baseball All-Star First Baseman Derrek Lee, and former NBA All-Star Tim Hardaway. Chapman discussed his relationship with the iconic Jordan. “We’re pretty good friends and he allowed me to do it,” he said of getting Jordan to participate in the project. “He just did it. He thought there was a need for that type of communication to be out and he thought it was a good idea and a good program.”
We asked Chapman, who had spoken to Jordan earlier in the day that we interviewed him, how the billionaire felt about the current state of affairs when it comes to law enforcement and their interactions that lead to the death of unarmed civilians. “His take is that the police officers are afraid and are making judgments that end up the wrong way. He is appalled about what is going on in the Chicago.” Chapman also touched on Jordan being able to relate. “He’s been a victim of traffic stops…he just doesn’t understand why it is escalating to that point.”
While analyzing the current problems, Chapman suggested some solutions as well. “I think the problem is systemic. There are a lot of different factors that has made the problem grow into what it is. The lack of training of officers, and officers policing areas they are not comfortable with.” He explains that officers uncomfortable in their environments can view everyday events as unique ones, escalating the situation. “Every traffic stop has the chance to go one way or the other…it should never escalate to the point of someone losing their life.” Education is the key to preventing deaths. “I think some training needs to be done on both parts,” Chapman said, referring to the need for driver’s education on how to react during stops from police. He also feels like the police can do better with dealing with the public, and had a unique solution. “Neighborhood Ride-a-Long programs would enable citizens to see things from the perspective of the police. If you have that type of training, where both sides could see from the other perspective, it could help toward a solution.”
I think a solution is something that most of us are looking for. To learn more about Eddie Chapman or to purchase the posterbook as an educational tool, visit http://drivesafestopsafe.com/