Chicago Death Probe Marred by Distrust of Police

The death of Kenneka Jenkins, whose body was found in a hotel freezer, is the target of protesters, who are dubious that police are telling the truth about the case. Black people’s trust in the police has been declining, particularly in the Chicago area.

Surveillance video shows Kenneka Jenkins, 19, staggering alone through a kitchen of the Crowne Plaza Chicago O’Hare Hotel and around a corner where a walk-in freezer is located. A hotel worker found her body in the freezer 21 hours later, on Sept. 10, reports the Chicago Tribune. The still-developing case, which police said is a death investigation, not a homicide probe, is spawning alternate explanations at a furious rate, many of which exhibit deep skepticism that authorities are telling the truth. Protesters have converged on the hotel on a near-nightly basis, stirred by the strange circumstances of the black woman’s death and complaints from Jenkins’ mother about the initial response from hotel staff and police.

After well-publicized shootings of unarmed black men two years ago, only 52 percent of Americans expressed great confidence in the police in a Gallup poll, a record-tying low. While overall confidence has rebounded to the historical average of 57 percent, black trust has slid even more, with only 30 percent saying they have great confidence in police. A new study by the Urban Institute found the problem particularly acute in Chicago, where tension between police and the black community has existed for decades. The study shows that over half the people in largely black areas say their neighborhood police are dishonest, and only 9 percent say police treat people with respect. Jim Bueermann of the Police Foundation said departments can address distrust through community meetings and social gatherings. Convincing out-of-towners that they are conducting an investigation fairly and competently — especially when the case is the subject of endless social media speculation — can be difficult. “They’re probably experiencing a sense that (the Kenneka Jenkins demonstrators) distrust police, period,” he said. “That is very difficult to address. And I think in some cases, local officials just have to ignore it.”