People in Chicago Don't Need a Report to Know the Cops Are Racist As Hell
It's what locals have been saying all along
This article was originally published in Vice on April 15, 2016.
By Deborah Douglas
The reaction of many residents to a new report that blames bias against people of color for deep distrust of the Chicago Police Department (CPD) is best summarized in two words: No shit.
From being used as target practice, subjected to physical and verbal abuse, to an utter lack of individual and systemic police accountability, that's what locals have been saying all along.
But nobody would listen.
"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," the report from a new police accountability task force reads. "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."
Hard numbers and harder impressions clearly lay out the problems that spurred the uprising over the police shooting of Laquan McDonald, the 17-year-old whose videotaped execution led Mayor Rahm Emanuel to create the task force. And justTuesday, an expressway takeover disrupted traffic as West Side residents chanted "Justice for Pierre" at a vigil mourning 16-year-old Pierre Loury, shot by police who say he had a gun.
According to the damning 190-page report, "We arrived at this point in part because of racism. We arrived at this point because of a mentality in CPD that the ends justify the means. We arrived at this point because of a failure to make accountability a core value and imperative within CPD."
As with anything rotten, the stench of racism runs deep, according to the report, which was crafted with a 46-person working group that interviewed more than 100 national experts. The authors pointed to "significant flashpoints" in Chicago history like the police killing of Black Panther Fred Hampton in the 1960s, and the rise of Commander Jon Burge and his midnight crew, who engaged in torture for decades. But a few fresher statistics stand out in a city that is nearly evenly split among Hispanics, African Americans, and whites:
- Black and Hispanic drivers were searched four times more than white drivers in 2013, even though white drivers were twice as likely to have contraband.
- Cops shot at African Americans way more, with blacks accounting for 74 percent of the 404 people shot by cops between 2008 and 2015.
- Of 1,886 taser discharges between 2012 and 2015, 76 percent hit blacks, 13 percent hit Hispanics, and 8 percent hit whites.
The report gives voice to persistent black and brown community whispers about a lack of diversity and training among police ranks, too. It acknowledges that young recruits growing up in racially segregated neighborhoods may be experiencing someone of a different race or ethnicity for the first time when they arrive at training. Simply put, this means young white officers bring all their racist social programming to work with them, and black and brown communities pay the price, having their lives upended and destroyed. Importantly, the report says police need training in how conscious and unconscious bias plays into how they do their jobs. Right now, the authors acknowledge, "aside from annual firearms certification and sporadic training sessions, there is no mandatory training on any other topic."
In the same city where Rekia Boyd was killed by an off-duty cop in 2012, and police accidentally killed Bettie Jones in December while she was simply trying to open the door so cops could enter her building, "after an officer leaves the academy, he can serve his entire career without ever receiving any annual, mandatory training of any kind," the authors write. "An astounding fact, particularly in light of recent sea changes in policing strategies and technology."
Even Emanuel, often described as too beholden to wealthy, politically connected elites and tone deaf to the voices of black and brown residents of his highly segregated city, sort of admitted it this week. "I don't really think you need a task force to know we have racism in America, we have racism in Illinois, or that there is racism that exists in the city of Chicago and obviously can be in our departments," he said. "The question is, 'What are you going to do about it?'"
"Can be"? More like is. Considering the weasel-wordiness of that phrase, what will the mayor and city officials do now that the world is watching? For example, the coterie of officers who apparently lied about what the now-fired Jason Van Dyke did on scene the night he shot McDonald 16 times—what's going to happen to them? Statements from Officers Joseph Walsh—Van Dyke's partner—Dora Fontaine, Ricardo Viramontes, Daphne Sebastian, and Janet Mondragon are starkly different than what the dash cam video showed. The police department requires an open records request to even consider answering specific questions about whether certain cops are still on the street, but reports suggest at least some officers at the McDonald scene have been called to testify before a federal grand jury investigating the incident.
Meanwhile, several city aldermen have introduced a new ordinance called FAIR COPS to make oversight of Chicago cops truly independent, something the mayor's Independent Police Review Authority and its predecessor have failed to do. It would require a chief auditor to work out of the City's Inspector General's office and be given authority to recommend investigating specific police incidents and review all investigations into officer-involved shootings, excessive force, racial/ethnic bias and more.
Which is to say that at the grassroots level, local activists and ministers are doing their own thing.
"We are putting together a unified response to the report, and we're going to be grading their paper. This is good. That ain't good," says the Rev. Gregory Seal Livingston, whose group, Coalition for a New Chicago, will deliver its analysis to City Hall on Monday.
"It's important that you don't let them define you by just protest," Livingston adds. "It's not just a matter of you saying, 'Here, that's it.' The community still has a response."
In the 1970s, the late Congressman Ralph Metcalfe may have been speaking to the times when he said then-Mayor Richard J. Daley "doesn't understand what happens to black men on the streets of Chicago, and probably never will." But he was also being prophetic.
That's how things have continued into 2016, according to the report.
"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 four hundred police-involved shootings of citizens since 2008, coupled with the thirteen-month delay in the release of the videotape—all underscored and exposed systemic institutional failures going back decades that can no longer be ignored."
Well, this is Chicago, so we'll see about that.
- Deborah Douglas is a Chicago-based journalist and adjunct lecturer at Northwestern University.