With federal police review, Chicago families see second chance for justice
AP News Guide: Feds begin work on Chicago police probe.
After the US Justice Department launched a federal investigation against the Chicago Police Department this month, the relatives of other people killed by members of the force are beginning to come forward with calls for inquiries. CHICAGO (AP) — Janet Lindsey Ferguson has carried a poster bearing a photograph of her teenage son, Rickey Childs, ever since he was shot and killed by a Chicago police officer in 2012.CHICAGO (AP) – A federal civil rights investigation looking at one of the nation’s largest police departments began in earnest Wednesday, and Mayor Rahm Emanuel will talk with federal investigators Thursday. Federal investigators will look into the possibility of pervasive civil rights violations in the department, the second largest police force in the country, said US Attorney General Loretta Lynch on Dec. 9. “When community members feel that they are not receiving that kind of policing, when they feel ignored, let down or mistreated by public safety officials, there are profound consequences for the wellbeing of their communities, there are profound consequences for the rule of law and for the countless law enforcement officers who strive to fulfill their duties with professionalism and integrity,” Ms.
Interim Police Superintendent John Escalante told a City Council hearing Tuesday about a planned sit-down between investigators and police brass Wednesday, adding, “We have not been through anything like this before.” Meanwhile Wednesday night, the Chicago Tribune reported that the officer charged in the 2014 shooting death of a black teenager that set off the investigation was indicted by a Cook County grand jury. Chicago City Hall has been the site of near-daily protests, with chants of “Hey, hey, ho, ho, Rahm Emanuel has got to go.” Protesters have thrown rocks at the home of a Chicago alderman and downed the city’s Christmas tree in Millennium Park. On Black Friday this year, just a few days after the video’s release, protesters shut down Michigan Avenue, Chicago’s main upscale shopping artery. Today, the clout-heavy Thornton Township Democratic Committee is expected to formally endorse Kim Foxx, former chief of staff to Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle. Critics have slammed Alvarez for taking more than a year to indict Van Dyke and she has strenuously defended her role, saying she was working closely with federal authorities all along.
The 17-year-old was shot by a white officer, Jason Van Dyke, who initially faced a single first-degree murder charge but now has been indicted on six counts of first-degree murder and one count of official misconduct. They’re pressuring the city’s beleaguered Independent Police Review Authority, or IPRA, to reopen inquiries into their family members’ deaths, and see the federal Department of Justice’s investigation of the Police Department as a chance — maybe the last one they will get — to be heard. Early this morning, the Chicago Sun-Times posted a story based on emails it says the state’s attorney’s office released as part of a public records request by independent journalist Brandon Smith. The Justice Department said Wednesday it is having “productive” talks on police reforms in Ferguson, Missouri, where a probe was opened after the fatal police shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown in 2014. The city is being sued over at least 24 other police shootings, while police investigators are being pushed to reopen dozens of additional cases that have been closed.
A bet on PredictIt, an online betting market, briefly spiked to 66 cents last week to favor Emanuel’s resignation by the end of the year (it’s currently at 86 cents against), and a listing for Emanuel’s City Hall office has appeared on Craigslist. The emails were sent to a county prosecutor from Chicago FBI agent Vick Lombardo, well regarded within the agency and tapped for high-profile cases, including that of former gov.
To the casual observer, it’s not totally clear how the furor surrounding a police video could possibly lead to the resignations of elected officials. IPRA has already opened one investigation after a video showed a man being dragged by police from a jail cell and the agency’s new head has asked the city’s inspector general to again look at the McDonald case. But in other places where similar videos have been released — in New York City, where police were recorded holding Eric Garner in a lethal chokehold, or in South Carolina, where an officer shot an unarmed Walter Scott after a routine traffic stop — the videos did not lead to demands that mayors resign. But from the activists’ perspective, Emanuel’s offenses against the city’s minority communities stretch back far beyond the suppression of a video. “All this began with the Laquan case,” said La Shawn Ford, a state representative who introduced a bill last week creating a process to recall Emanuel from office. “But that, that was just the tip of the iceberg.” Rahm Emanuel swept into office in 2011 on a pledge to bring about the most comprehensive reform the Chicago Public School system had seen in a decade, implementing teacher evaluations, opening charter schools, and lifting graduation rates that then hovered around 58 percent.
The reasons for the strike are convoluted and difficult to boil down to a simple explanation, a dynamic that Vox’s Emmett Rensin captured well in his essay on Emanuel’s tortured reelection. Attorney’s Office with a written demand for investigations into several shootings by police and alleged police torture cases — handing over pretty much the same document they said the same office ignored last year.
Distrust had been growing between the teachers union and the mayor for months, after the mayor proposed extending the length of the school day and giving teachers an accompanying salary boost, an offer that he later rescinded. By the time the teachers began their strike, salary increases, a sticking point of negotiations, had actually already been settled, and the school board, which the mayor controls, believed only minor issues remained.
She already has some satisfaction: Earlier this year, Chicago Public Radio reported that tests showed the gun police said Cross fired at them was inoperable, that IPRA had determined the gun had not been fired and that there was no gun residue on Cross’ hands. “Those officers are working now and they shouldn’t be,” she said. A key component is also community outreach – talking with families of Chicago residents shot by officers, likely setting up a hotline and email for tips, and holding town hall meetings to get direct feedback from the public. In numerous media reports, they complained about the new evaluation system the Emanuel administration had put in place, as well as rising class sizes and lagging school staff. Above all, they felt disrespected by the mayor’s seeming disregard for their jobs, pushing through data-driven reforms that were popular with education reformers across the country but not with teachers on the ground.
Just half a year later, with virtually no union input, Emanuel announced the closure of nearly 50 public schools across the city, the largest one-time school closure in living memory. According to a copy of the indictment posted on the Tribune’s website Wednesday, the charges allege Van Dyke shot McDonald knowing it “created a strong probability of death or great bodily harm.” Emanuel is scheduled to meet with Justice Department investigators Thursday. Behind the well-organized structure of the Chicago Teachers Union is a burgeoning protest infrastructure, built out of the same minority communities on the South and West Sides of the city that saw the vast majority of school closures.
Chicago” had begun protest actions against symbols of extreme wealth: disrupting a meeting of the Mortgage Brokers Association and occupying a wing of one of Chicago’s most upscale hotels. Emanuel fueled the movement in Chicago when, in 2011, he shut down that city’s Occupy protests, preventing them from creating encampments like the tent city erected in New York’s Zuccotti Park. What’s interesting about this progressive element in Chicago is how closely tied it is to the city’s teachers union, which participated in actions at least a year earlier than the 2012 strike. And second, their close ties with the progressive movement meant that when Emanuel went after schools in poor neighborhoods, the union —which already uses racially charged language to describe the city’s racial and economic divides — had a preexisting relationship with minority communities to trumpet a racialized message.
On Election Day in February, Chuy forced Emanuel into Chicago’s first mayoral runoff election in history, cutting into the 50 percent Emanuel would have needed to win the election outright. In one ad, the mayor appeared seated in a living room and acknowledged his faults. “They say your greatest strength is also your greatest weakness,” he told the camera. “I’m living proof of that. I can rub people the wrong way, or talk when I should listen.” Interestingly, part of Emanuel’s winning coalition included a majority of the city’s black voters, a fact his opponents chalk up to Chuy’s inability to connect with black voters — in the general election, he only won Latino-majority neighborhoods. A video of the shooting was caught on a police cruiser camera, contradicting the official police narrative that McDonald had lunged at Van Dyke with the knife. Chicago PD finally released it under court order. (The department had denied nearly a dozen other Freedom of Information Act requests.) One day before the video was released, Van Dyke was charged with first-degree murder.
Months earlier, immediately after Emanuel’s successful reelection, the city reached a $5 million settlement with McDonald’s family on the condition that the shooting not be publicized. This appears to be the city’s preferred method of dealing with police misconduct; in the 10 years through 2014, it has spent more than $500 million in settlement money to keep similar incidents quiet. That hasn’t stopped protesters from demanding his resignation, even drowning out the mayor’s uncharacteristically emotional public apology about the shooting, which Emanuel said “happened on my watch.” To the protesters, his crime is one of flagrant abdication of morality, rather than any particular action that could spur his removal from office. Their anger, foisted into national prominence by the Black Lives Matter movement, has adopted the mayor as a symbol of white, corporate interests — one that has further segregated the city through school closings and police brutality.
Activists and political observers alike think it’s unlikely the mayor will resign — this is the man who once mailed a political opponent a dead fish, after all — unless new evidence implicating his involvement in a cover-up surfaces. A recent poll taken by the Chicago Observer found that 51 percent of Chicagoans want their mayor to resign, and only 18 percent approve of the job he’s doing — a record low for Emanuel’s tenure. In order to move forward, Emanuel will need to win back some of the trust he has forfeited, though activists can’t even name specific actions they would accept as peace offerings. Whatever else can be said about the man, though, it’s clear that he has an uncanny ability to weather turbulent storms — and there’s little reason to believe this time will be different.
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