About The Report

“Reimagining Public Safety: Community Listening Sessions with Black Communities and Public Defenders” is the result of a one-year project that asked over 100 Black Chicagoans to define what public safety means to them. The information was gathered through listening sessions, interviews, conversations, and role-playing.

In extensive collaboration with the BlackRoots Alliance, Cook County Public Defender, and Northwestern University, this project officially began in July 2022 with the goal to uplift the voices that are impacted and that actually have the experience with the community.

Typically, questions of public safety are centered around issues of policing and incarceration. This report sought to hear directly from the community about what they need to feel safe and thrive. While there are many expert voices on criminal legal system reform, this report centers the voices of defenders and directly-impacted community members.

A secondary goal of the project was to strengthen relationships between Black public defenders and Black Chicagoans. About 40 percent of those interviewed had personal experience with a public defender. While many conveyed a negative opinion about public defenders’ work and role in the criminal legal system, those with personal experience with an assigned public defender reported having some positive experience. The most present fear across interviews was gun violence, with more than two-thirds of community members highlighting personal experience.

The findings of this project aim to help policymakers, funders, activists and community groups build sustainable public safety reforms built on principles of sustainable reforms and responsiveness to Black community needs—in Chicago and across Black communities around the nation.

If we truly seek to build safer communities, the conversation about public safety must be informed by the voices of those most impacted and the resilient Black defenders who work tirelessly to champion the well-being of their communities every single day. Black Defenders’ experiences, insights, and solutions are not just valuable; they are critical to the path forward. — BPDA Executive Director Alaina Bloodworth

Key Findings and Recommendations

Responses and solutions to unsafety were collected in the areas of community engagement, social investment, and police engagement, including:

  • Strengthen Black community relationships: promote more positive interactions and create more space for unity amongst neighbors;
  • Invest in well-being and opportunity: invest in the well-being of residents in the areas of safe and affordable housing, food security, healthcare, education and the labor market; and
  • Improve public defender visibility and interaction with community: public defenders must understand and get to know the people in the communities they serve by actively engaging with the community through events and service.