Mayor Emanuel and a parade of opportunistic politicians are finally acknowledging the need for a massive cleansing of a toxic Chicago police culture that’s tolerated and covered up excessive force, and disrespected minority communities, for decades.
As far back as 1963, then-civil rights attorney George N. Leighton, who went on to become a federal judge, said the “number of (police brutality) cases” was “so numerous” and patterns of brutality “so complex” his Chicago branch of the NAACP hired an investigator just to document the allegations.
Last week, more than half a century later, Mayor Emanuel dumped his top cop, Garry McCarthy, and appointed another task force to recommend reforms in Chicago’s scandal-scarred police department.
Emanuel only acted after a Cook County judge ordered him to release dash-cam video of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald’s death, more than a year earlier, in a hail of bullets fired by officer Jason Van Dyke.
The mayor’s attempt to keep the video under wraps, and State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez’s failure to charge Van Dyke for 13 months, have prompted days of demonstrations and calls for their resignations.
That won’t happen, despite the uproar—in fact, the only mea culpa is the mayor’s admission that he deserves to be held accountable for exacerbating the McDonald tragedy.
Emanuel’s right, but this case is just the tip of the iceberg, and his new task force should consider beginning its work with a history lesson: Revisit George Leighton’s old files and maybe even interview the still-spry 103-year-old retired jurist; review the torture meted out with impunity by former CPD commander John Burge’s “Night Squad” between 1972 and 1991; and consider the latest Better Government Association stories about the serious consequences of CPD’s dystopian culture:
- Chicago spent more than $521 million local tax dollars in the past decade—a staggering figure— defending and settling excessive force cases, most unrelated to Burge’s unit.
- Chicago police have fatally shot 70 people in a recent five-year span, tops among the largest U.S. cities.
- Chicago’s Independent Police Review Authority, which investigates brutality and misconduct allegations, found only a handful of the 400 fatal and non-fatal cop shootings since 2007 “unjustified,” and “sustained” only 4 per cent of the excessive force complaints, fewer than most big city.
- The BGA had to sue CPD three times in the last year for ignoring open records laws.
- Last month former Supt. McCarthy raised numerous eyebrows by promoting Dean Andrews to chief of detectives, even though Andrews supervised a thoroughly discredited 2011 re-investigation of David Koschman’s 2004 death at the hands of former Mayor Richard Daley’s nephew R.J. Vanecko.
Decades of disturbing revelations like these should have prompted reforms years ago—many were recommended by previous “blue ribbon panels” and mostly ignored—so now we have one more task force on the case, and perhaps a Justice Department intervention.
Eventually we’ll get the obvious recommendations: Better training, oversight and transparency; tougher disciplinary measures; flexibility in the police union contract; and an early warning system to identify rogue cops like Van Dyke, who stayed on the street despite more than 18 misconduct and excessive force allegations.
Ironically, Van Dyke is now facing murder charges in the courthouse at 26th and California named for Judge Leighton in 2012. What goes around…
We’ll also find out one of these days if U.S. Attorney Zach Fardon is charging any other cops or City Hall operatives connected to the McDonald shooting and its aftermath, which raised a plethora of still-unanswered questions.
It’s been quite a firestorm, and it’s scorching Emanuel and Alvarez.
But it’s unconscionable that so few others have been held accountable, and so little has changed, after more than half a century of well-documented police misconduct that’s taken too many lives, wasted too many tax dollars, sown too much mistrust, and inflicted too much pain on our entire city.