Charles M. Blow
This week, Mayor Rahm Emanuel of Chicago sacrificed police Superintendent Garry McCarthy in order to save himself, as anger raged about the killing of Laquan McDonald in what read to many as a politically motivated effort to cover up video of that killing.
As John Kass of the Chicago Tribune put it regarding the firing of McCarthy: “City Hall protects the Queen Bee to keep the honey flowing. It isn’t personal. It’s business.”
But that whole hive is ablaze. Emanuel may not be able to save himself. Everything about the killing of McDonald over 400 days ago, including the slithering about of Chicago officials in their efforts to suppress video of his murder, stinks to high heaven. There is the $5 million settlement with the family, the timing of that settlement, the strenuous efforts to keep the tape from public view, the long delay in charging the officer who did the shooting.
It all makes one ask: How much is the life of a teenager worth? To what length would officials go to bury visual evidence that he had been shot down in the street like a dog? Are officials so desperately afraid of losing their jobs that they would conceal details about the loss of a boy’s life?
Professor Bernard E. Harcourt of Columbia argued this week in a New York Times Op-Ed that many of the city leaders had a motive to cover up the shooting: “Mayor Emanuel was fighting for re-election in a tight race. Superintendent McCarthy wanted to keep his job.” Furthermore, the Cook County prosecutor, Anita Alvarez, “needed the good will of the police union for her coming re-election campaign and probably wished to shield the police officers who bring her cases and testify in court.”
But as Harcourt noted: “None of that alters the fact that these actions have impeded the criminal justice system and, in the process, Chicago’s leaders allowed a first-degree murder suspect, now incarcerated pending bail, to remain free for over a year on the city’s payroll.”
But more than having people in power lose their jobs, someone has to take a long, hard look at Chicago’s police review process, which I would posit, if it were functioning properly, would have had some bearing on this case and on many before it. It has to be determined whether the system is indeed broken, so that there will be fewer McDonalds in the future.
The N.A.A.C.P. issued a statement this week calling for a “Justice Department Review of all Chicago police oversight agencies,” and tried to detail the scope of the problem:
“A 2008 study by a University of Chicago law professor found more than 10,000 complaints were filed against officers from 2002 to 2004 alone — more than any city in the country. Only 19 of the 10,000 complaints resulted in significant disciplinary action, and complaints were dismissed without interviewing the officer in 85 percent of cases.”
The statement continued:
“The Independent Police Review Authority, (IPRA) was created to be an independent agency that investigates police shootings and misconduct cases. Currently, this process isn’t truly independent because cases are sent back to Chicago Police Department to approve. The process needs to provide IPRA with true independent authority with referral rights to an independent prosecutor.”
To fully understand the depths of the problem on a human level, take the July findings by the Chicago public radio station WBEZ. The station reported at the time:
“A Chicago investigator who determined that several civilian shootings by police officers were unjustified was fired after resisting orders to reverse those findings, according to internal records of his agency obtained by WBEZ.”
The fired investigator was Lorenzo Davis, himself a former police commander who had served in the Chicago Police Department for 23 years and held a law degree. His firing was announced to staff by Scott M. Ando, who had been promoted by Emanuel to chief administrator of the city’s Independent Police Review Authority.
As WBEZ reported:
“Davis’s termination came less than two weeks after top IPRA officials, evaluating Davis’s job performance, accused him of ‘a clear bias against the police’ and called him ‘the only supervisor at IPRA who resists making requested changes as directed by management in order to reflect the correct finding with respect to O.I.S.,’ as officer-involved shootings are known in the agency.”
According to the station:
“Davis says he helped investigate more than a dozen shootings by police at the agency. He says his superiors had no objections when his team recommended exonerating officers. The objections came, he says, after each finding that a shooting was unjustified. He says there were six of those cases.”
Davis told the station, “I did not like the direction the Police Department had taken.” He continued, “It appeared that officers were doing whatever they wanted to do. The discipline was no longer there.”
Something is amiss in the Windy City. Police officers “doing whatever they wanted to do” with no worry about repercussions or accountability? That is the very nature of corruption and abuse of power. The federal government will have no choice but to step in if it cares at all about public confidence in the local officials in America’s third largest city.
(This column originally appeared in the New York Times DEC. 3, 2015 under the title “Chicanery in Chicago”)
Charles M. Blow is a New York Times Columnist and nationally-known commentator: “I invite you to visit my blog By The Numbers, join me on Facebook and follow me on Twitter, or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.”