I spent 2016 researching Chicago’s police-in-schools program. I sought to understand the accountability system that allowed a police officer serving in a high school to return to his post only days after fatally shooting an unarmed teenager.
The last time the Weekly surveyed the landscape of police accountability in Chicago, just over two years ago to the date and a month before the Laquan McDonald video was released, it looked considerably different. Scott Ando, a controversial longtime DEA agent, was still running the Independent Police Review Authority (IPRA)—an agency which no longer exists. Garry McCarthy was still the tough-on-crime police superintendent, Anita Alvarez was still the tough-on-crime State’s Attorney, and the most vocal reform advocate in city government, Lori Lightfoot, had just been appointed president of the Police Board. The last two years have been some of the most tumultuous in the century-and-a-half-long battle over who will oversee and discipline the police force, and have arguably produced some of the most potentially impactful changes since the 1960s. However, as every person featured in this article would likely say, the work of establishing true, effective police accountability in the city is just beginning.
John Doe is a Black, male teenager from North Lawndale. He is in the Chicago Police Department (CPD)’s controversial gang affiliation database. He has a petty rap sheet, with four drug-related arrests in four years. He was recently beaten up, though has never been arrested for a violent crime or gun violence, and has never been shot. There are 240 other “gang affiliated” people in the city of Chicago with similar profiles, who have been the victims of at least one assault recently and have as many or more narcotics arrests as John. But among these people, John Doe stands out— he has been given a perfect score by the CPD’s Strategic Subject List.
Mere steps away from this newspaper’s office on Tuesday, January 17, the first of what is supposed to be a series of monthly meetings between leaders of Youth for Black Lives (YBL, formerly Black Lives Matter Youth) and Chicago Police Department superintendent Eddie Johnson took place.
On August 5, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers raided a gas station on Belmont and Milwaukee Avenues that has long been a hiring site for day laborers (jornaleros) in Chicago. A group of workers—most of whom specialize in construction and landscaping—gathered that morning, as they do every day. They waited for employers who regularly come by to make job offers and negotiate a pay rate. The workers who frequent this particular site in Albany Park are black, Polish, Eastern European, Latinx. Some are immigrants, and some are not.
Last Friday, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) released the results of its probe into the Chicago Police Department. It found CPD’s excessive use of force in violation of the Fourth Amendment and has taken steps toward establishing a consent decree with the department. This means the CPD will continue operating (though unconstitutionally) while working with the DOJ on a list of recommendations over the coming years. The report found that the lack of strong investigative agencies to discipline CPD officers—as well as poor training overall and a lack of direction, supervision, and support for its officers—has led to a pattern or practice of excessive and unconstitutional use of force within the department. In short, CPD officers can do whatever they want with almost no fear of repercussion. The conclusions reached by the DOJ can be grouped into two recommendations: first, that stronger penalties need to be put in place to deter police misconduct and unconstitutional use of force, and second, that further resources need to be provided for police when it comes to accountability, training, supervision, officer wellness, data collection and transparency, and community policing. For those who are rightfully wary of the CPD to begin with, the idea of granting further resources to the department is a hard pill to swallow.
In December of 2015, after massive public outcry over the killing of Laquan McDonald, the U.S. Department of Justice initiated a probe into the Chicago Police Department. The thirteen-month investigation, for which the Department spent hundreds of days in Chicago, conducted hundreds of interviews, and reviewed tens of thousands of pages of documentation, resulted in the release last Friday of a 160-page report. The report concludes that CPD engages in the unconstitutional use of force and suffers from severely broken training and accountability systems. Below we have highlighted particularly jarring numbers, anecdotes, and conclusions from this report.
This story was a finalist for the 2017 “Best in-depth Reporting in a Community Newspaper” Peter Lisagor Award from the Chicago Headline Club
This is a postscript to “Lightning Doesn’t Strike Twice,” an essay on the one year anniversary of the Black Friday 2015 protests against the police killing of Laquan McDonald.
Forrest Stuart, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Chicago, joined Jamie Kalven, writer and executive director of the Invisible Institute, at the Seminary Co-Op last Wednesday to speak about Stuart’s new book Down, Out, and Under Arrest: Policing and Everyday Life in Skid Row.