This week, candidates running to replace outgoing Mayor Rahm Emanuel condemned his decision to hire Eddie Johnson, a Chicago Police Department insider, to reform the department after the release of the Laquan McDonald video. Several criticized the convoluted system by which Emanuel selected his handpicked police superintendent, with one calling for an independent investigation into Johnson’s track record as a police supervisor.
This came in response to the Invisible Institute’s reporting—first published last week by the Intercept and re-published as a Weekly cover story—that Johnson has a pattern of justifying deadly uses of force and protecting and promoting officers who commit them. Our reporting also revealed that Johnson was the CPD supervisor who approved Detective Dante Servin’s use of force after Servin shot and killed Rekia Boyd. Boyd’s killing became one of the department’s most notorious modern-day shootings.
Police misconduct and reform will be a central issue in the upcoming race to replace Emanuel. We reached out to nearly every mayoral campaign for comment in response to our reporting on Johnson’s history and we asked how they would choose their superintendent if elected. Nearly all of the mayoral candidates who provided statements said they would replace Johnson if elected.
“Johnson’s track record… is not surprising as he has been part of a culture and a code of silence that has persisted for decades,” Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle wrote in a statement, adding that the reporting “re-affirms what I have said countless times: we must continue to support our Chicago Police Department while holding them accountable, including the leadership.” She wrote that the blame for issues raised in the story does not rest solely with Johnson, but also with city leaders “who refused to address our racial history and the cruel dynamics of harsh policing that has brought us to where we are today,” continuing, “Johnson, just like everyone before him, acquiesced to the status quo and turned a blind eye to police misconduct.” She said she holds Emanuel responsible for a selection process that “serve[d] narrow political ends” and did not seek “genuinely new leadership.” If elected, she said she would lead a nationwide search for “the best qualified candidate [for superintendent], whether he or she comes from within the ranks or not,” and that she is seeking someone with the “resiliency to transform police practices” and “the ability to bridge the divide between the department and the communities they are sworn to serve by building trust and being responsive to those most impacted by disproportionate and unjust policing.”
Amara Enyia, the director of the Austin Chamber of Commerce and a public policy consultant who is being supported by Chance the Rapper and Kanye West, wrote in a statement that Johnson’s appointment made it impossible to adequately reform the police department, and that may have been Emanuel’s intention. “We were aware of Johnson’s history and reputation as a cop who protected cops,” she wrote. “The only surprise here would be if Johnson ever did act in the interest of the public..… Action was taken [after the release of the McDonald video], but Mayor Emanuel wanted to make sure that action had absolutely no consequence.” She said that she would expect “any new mayor” to undertake a “structural reform of the department, including the top job,” and search for a superintendent that would emphasize “community engagement, a culture of honor and transparency, and [ensuring] good officers are free to reach the true levels of excellence they can achieve.”
Former Chicago Public Schools board chair and aide to Mayor Richard M. Daley Gery Chico, who came in second to Emanuel in the 2011 mayoral race, said Emanuel should call for Inspector General Joe Ferguson’s office to open an investigation into Johnson’s pattern of justifying misconduct. He wrote in a statement,“Chicago’s top police officer should not have a record of downplaying or overlooking misconduct within the police department.” He also faulted Emanuel’s office for not identifying the pattern before Johnson was confirmed as superintendent, writing, “It is unacceptable that this information is only coming to light now nearly three years after [Johnson] was appointed superintendent.” Chico would lead an “exhaustive” national search for the next superintendent, but said that “Chicago offers a rich pool of talent” and that, regardless of who he picks, he will do “due diligence in investigating the backgrounds of all candidates” for his cabinet. He said he plans to release a public safety plan shortly which will propose improvements to police training and community policing, and expanding the use of technology—a controversial centerpiece of Johnson’s tenure.
Willie Wilson, a self-made medical supplies multimillionaire who came in third in the 2015 mayoral race and ran a little-noticed presidential campaign the next year, wrote that both Johnson and Emanuel “need to be replaced at this point,” and that regardless of whether he wins the election, Johnson shouldn’t remain in the top spot because “it is time to try something new.” Offering few details, he said in a statement that he would replace the current system with one that would create four superintendents’ jobs “that reflect the population they serve,” and would all report directly to the mayor. He seemed to indicate he would favor current CPD officials for those four positions, writing, “We believe there are some good candidates within the department but will be open to all qualified individuals.”
Calling the reporting “very disturbing,” Cook County Circuit Court Clerk Dorothy Brown wrote in a statement that “it appears that either Mayor Rahm Emanuel did not do his due diligence when making his selection of Eddie Johnson, or it just did not matter to [Emanuel] that [Johnson] had been the supervisor or commander in the cases described. The most disturbing case is where he signed off on the Rekia Boyd shooting as justified.” She said that, if elected, she would not keep Johnson as her superintendent and would lead a nationwide search—open to current CPD members—for a candidate with a “demonstrated ability to lead with a sense of social justice and fairness,” and would work to implement reforms across the entire criminal justice system, including county and state agencies.
Through a spokesperson, Bill Daley, the former U.S. Secretary of Commerce under President Barack Obama and the son and brother of two Chicago mayors, declined to comment “on Eddie Johnson—or any personnel issues—until he is elected.” His campaign instead forwarded a copy of his newly-released crime plan, which calls for increased gun law enforcement, a remarkable increase in the number of surveillance cameras and drones used by police, increased anti-gang policing, and a $50 million violence reduction office that reports to the mayor. None of his proposals deal with issues surrounding officer-involved shootings, supervisory justification of serious and deadly uses of force, or any other issues raised in our reporting.
We did not receive a response to our requests for comment from former CPD superintendent Garry McCarthy, whom Johnson replaced in the aftermath of the McDonald video release. Nor did we hear from former Police Board president Lori Lightfoot, one of the most vocal proponents of police reform within City Hall during her tenure. The same goes for state Comptroller Susana Mendoza (who is widely seen as an ally to Emanuel), former Chicago Public Schools CEO Paul Vallas, West Side state Representative La Shawn Ford, activist Ja’Mal Green, and attorneys Jerry Joyce, Jr. and John Kozlar.
Sam Stecklow is a journalist at the Invisible Institute and a managing editor of the Weekly. Andrew Fan is a journalist and data analyst at the Invisible Institute.