It was a report whose findings the New York Times called “blistering, blunt” and “backed up by devastating statistics.” Chicago, as many have pointed out, faces an epidemic of gun violence and murder – murders are up 62 percent, shootings are up 78 percent.
However, the problem is being aided and abetted by an inappropriate response from the Chicago Police Department. The Chicago Police Accountability Task Force, with contributions from hundreds of people and released this month, notes: “There are too many neighborhoods in Chicago that are devastated by crime and abject poverty. In those areas, aside from a recommitment to investments in jobs, education and many other important community anchors, those residents need the protection of the police. However, CPD’s own data and other information strongly suggests that CPD’s response to the violence is not sufficiently imbued with Constitutional policing tactics and is also comparatively void of actual procedural and restorative justice in the day-to-day encounters between the police and citizens.”
The report concludes, “CPD’s own data gives validity to the widely held belief the police have no regard for the sanctity of life when it comes to people of color.”
They add, “Stopped without justification, verbally and physically abused, and in some instances arrested, and then detained without counsel—that is what we heard about over and over again.”
The task force was formed and given this task in the fall of 2015 after a judge ordered the release of the dashcam of the 2014 fatal shooting of Laquan McDonald.
The shooting of Laquan McDonald, and the lies and cover-up by the police department, “became the tipping point for long-simmering community anger.”
They write, “Initial reports of the shooting were superficial and false. The false narrative about the shooting originated with comments from the scene by former Fraternal Order of Police spokesperson, Pat Camden. Camden claimed to reporters that:
“Officers got out of their car and began approaching McDonald, again telling him to drop the knife.” “The boy lunged at police, and one of the officers opened fire.”
“[O]fficers were forced to defend themselves.”
“[McDonald] is a very serious threat to the officers, and he leaves them no choice at that point but to defend themselves.”
The next day, CPD put out a statement that said McDonald “refused to comply with orders to drop the knife and continued to approach the officers.” Camden later acknowledged to the Washington Post that his information was “hearsay, . . . basically.” “I have no idea where it came from. It was being told to me after it was told to somebody else who was told by another person, and this was two hours after the incident.”
They write, “The videotape was painful, horrific and illuminating in ways that irrefutably exemplified what those in communities of color have long said, and shocked and stirred the conscience of those in other neighborhoods. The videotape itself, the initial official reaction, which but for the efforts of the journalist community likely would have relegated McDonald’s death to less than a footnote in the over 400 police-involved shootings of citizens since 2008, coupled with the 13-month delay in the release of the videotape—all underscored and exposed systemic institutional failures going back decades that can no longer be ignored.”
When the McDonald video was made public, Mayor Rahm Emanuel argued that his administration had been making “significant improvements” in the area of police accountability. Writes the Tribune, “His task force’s own draft report appears to dispute that.”
Now, as the Chicago Tribune put it, “the Chicago Police Department must acknowledge its racist history and overhaul its handling of excessive force allegations before true reforms can take place.”
“The linkage between racism and CPD did not just bubble up in the aftermath of the release of the McDonald video. Racism and maltreatment at the hands of the police have been consistent complaints from communities of color for decades,” the report states. “False arrests, coerced confessions and wrongful convictions are also a part of this history. Lives lost and countless more damaged. These events and others mark a long, sad history of death, false imprisonment, physical and verbal abuse and general discontent about police actions in neighborhoods of color.”
The data amassed by the task force is devastating. The task force found that African Americans appear to have been disproportionately focused on by the police. While blacks, whites and Hispanics each make up one-third of the overall population, 74 percent of the 404 people shot by the Chicago police between 2008 and 2015 were black, compared with 14 percent Hispanic and 8 percent white.
“Of the 1,886 taser discharges by CPD between 2012 and 2015, African-Americans were the target of those discharges at a very high rate,” the report states, with 76 percent of those shot by Taser being African American, 13 percent Hispanic and 8 percent white.
Traffic stop data is less heavily skewed, as 46 percent of 100,676 traffic stops involved African-Americans compared with 22 percent Hispanic and 27 percent white.
They also found that “black and Hispanic drivers were searched approximately four times as often as white drivers, yet CPD’s own data show that contraband was found on white drivers twice as often as black and Hispanic drivers.”
The report notes, “A 2015 survey of 1,200 Chicago residents, ages 16 and older, also found significant racial disparities in the number of police-initiated stops and the perception of abusive police behavior. The survey found that almost 70% of young African-American males reported being stopped by police in the past 12 months, and 56% reported being stopped on foot.”
The task force writes, “The community’s lack of trust in CPD is justified. There is substantial evidence that people of color— particularly African-Americans—have had disproportionately negative experiences with the police over an extended period of time. There is also substantial evidence that these experiences continue today through significant disparate impacts associated with the use of force, foot and traffic stops and bias in the police oversight system itself.”
The report recommends abolishing the Independent Police Review Authority (IPRA), which investigates allegations of officer misconduct, and implementing a citywide reconciliation process.
“Reform is possible if there is a will and a commitment. But where reform must begin is with an acknowledgment of the sad history and present conditions which have left the people totally alienated from the police, and afraid for their physical and emotional safety,” according to the draft report. “And while many individuals and entities have a role to play, the change must start with CPD. CPD cannot begin to build trust, repair what is broken and tattered unless — from the top leadership on down — it faces these hard truths, acknowledges what it has done at the individual and institutional levels and earnestly reaches out with respect.”
Among the other recommendations in the task force report:
- “Reinvigorate community policing as a core philosophy,” while replacing CAPS [Chicago’s Alternative Police Strategy] with a plan for commanders to interact with community stakeholders at the district level.
- Create the post of deputy chief of diversity and inclusion in CPD.
- Create a “smart 911 system” that would allow city residents to pre-enter information on mental-health issues that could assist first-responders who arrive at a particular address or interact with a particular person.
The task force also called for much greater transparency in the police department. They called for the public release of “incident-level” information on “everything from investigatory stops to disciplinary cases.” And a new inspector general for public safety could be named to monitor the department and its system for accountability, they said, “including for patterns of racial bias.””
—David M. Greenwald reporting