It seems that, from the news, a Chicago police officer shoots someone every day. On the last weekend of 2015, two people — a 19-year-old Quintonio LeGrier and his 55-year-old neighbor, Bettie Jones, mother of five children — were the latest victims. Both died. Both were black.
The mayor of Chicago, Rahm Emanuel (D), has sought to explain this horrendous situation by saying the following, "Every city is going through a change in police practice, tactics and culture." The "culture" of the Chicago Police Department (CPD) is what I want to talk about.
Violent official actions by the CPD against the citizens of their own city are nothing new. Way back in December 1969, police stormed into a home on the West Side and killed two activists, Fred Hampton and Mark Clark, who were members of the Black Panther Party. There were hundreds of rounds fired into that home.
A year before at the Democratic National Convention, with the whole world watching, CPD officers were seen tear-gassing and clubbing protestors. No one died, but the Walker Commission, responsible for investigating the events at the convention, described what happened as a "police riot." And in the 1970s and 1980s, there were widespread reports of detectives using barbaric methods to obtain confessions from suspected criminals.
Emanuel sought to bring in an outsider, Garry McCarthy, former chief of the Newark (N.J.) Police Department and a veteran of the New York Police Department, to head the CPD. This outsider obviously could not change the culture or ingrained behavior of the department. Just a few weeks ago, Emanuel dismissed him.
Along with unnecessary, excessive and sometimes murderous violence committed by the CPD, there is also the pervasive stench of corruption that has gone on for decades. Growing up in Chicago in the 1950s, as I did, we all knew that if you were stopped for an ordinary traffic infraction, you would firmly fix a five-dollar bill to your drivers license. When the officer asked for your license, he took the five dollars and you were on your way.
In 1959, there was something called the Summerdale Scandal (named after the North Side neighborhood) and the "babbling burglar." The burglar was named Richard Morrison, and he had some help with his burglaries. Eight CPD police officers were parked out in front of the designated sites and performed the role of lookouts. They would then put the goods in their squad cars and bring it to their homes.
Four truckloads of stolen loot were taken from seven police officers' homes, including TVs, appliances, shotguns and draperies. My point is that the CPD has an historic and deserved reputation for being tainted and, far too often, unsupervised. This encourages and permits unlawful behavior that at times has disastrous consequences, such as the unjustified killing of innocent, nonthreatening people.
Cutting short a holiday vacation is not the ultimate solution for a big-city mayor. Emanuel knew that the CPD was in a world of its own, that it viewed itself as separate and accountable only to itself. He did absolutely nothing to change its culture. He looked away and let it operate like it always has.
Proof of perpetuating the horrible status quo are the actions of the Independent Police Review Authority, which was created in 2007 for the specific purpose of investigating misconduct and police shootings. Four-hundred and nine incidents were examined. In only two cases were officers cited; in the other 407 cases, police officers were cleared of any misconduct. Add to that the fact that the city of Chicago made payments of nearly $250 million for police misconduct judgments and settlements during the past five years. What an admission of institutional guilt and responsibility.
But when the killings of LeGrier, Jones and McDonald became world news, all of a sudden, Emanuel sprung into action. Apologies were offered and a shake-up was mentioned. Emanuel, as always, views this as a political problem. I don't believe he has the necessary qualities to show true contrition or the sincere will or desire to radically change the CPD.
This lack of genuine compassion and his true persona as an "operator" — not as a public servant or a leader — will make it very difficult to serve and will lead to his leaving office before his term expires. The citizens of Chicago will insist on it and he will have no choice. The city will be better off without him.
An earlier draft of this piece was inadvertently published instead of the final version, which now appears.
Plotkin is a political analyst, a contributor to the BBC on American politics and a columnist for The Georgetowner.