Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel has announced that he will not be following through with his January promise to enter into a consent decree with the Department of Justice which would ensure court oversight of much-needed reforms to the Chicago Police Department.
The agreement came on the heels of a Department of Justice report detailing a long train of abuses perpetrated by the police department, including racial profiling, excessive use of force, and a failure to investigate misconduct allegations.
That report was a result of the 2014 shooting of Laquan McDonald, which sparked national outrage and protests. McDonald was shot sixteen times in under fifteen seconds as he walked away from Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke, with most of the shots fired after he was already on the ground. Emanuel’s actions since the shooting prove that nobody should be surprised that he is now refusing to keep his promises on police reform.
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In 2014, the Chicago Police Department immediately tried to cover up the shooting of McDonald. Recording equipment was intentionally damaged, and audio from the event was mysteriously absent. Police were spotted at a nearby Burger King examining security camera footage, then all of the footage from the time of the shooting was curiously lost. Police reports from the night of the shooting massively contradict video evidence.
The cover-up went all the way up the ladder, to Emanuel himself. The shooting occurred just a few months before the 2015 Chicago Mayoral election, amidst heightened racial tensions all across the country (the murders of Michael Brown in Ferguson and Eric Garner in New York were fresh in everyone’s minds). Knowing that the McDonald shooting would hurt his reelection chances, Emanuel and his administration did their damnedest to keep things quiet until after the election, during which he did everything in his power to keep incriminating dash-cam footage from being released. It was finally released when his hand was forced by a suit filed under the Freedom of Information Act.
Emanuel and his political allies lied through their teeth to the public on numerous occasions. State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez concluded that there were no signs that evidence had been tampered with, ignoring the 86 minutes of deleted security camera footage from Burger King and the blatantly false police reports. Emanuel contended that he did not know the gravity of the situation until after his re-election, even though some of his top staffers had been keeping a close eye on the case for months prior to that, and had concluded all the way back in December 2014 that it could become an issue for the mayor.
When the city was finally forced to release the dash-cam video of the incident, the gauntlet fell on everyone but Emanuel. Police superintendent Garry McCarthy was fired, and Alvarez lost her 2016 bid for reelection. Emanuel talked up a storm about change, and when the Department of Justice unleashed their mordacious report in January 2017, he promised to enter into a consent decree with the DoJ to have judicial oversight of police reform.
Emanuel is trying to get away with this by doing what Democrats always do when under scrutiny: blame Republicans. The election of Donald Trump, Emanuel says, whose administration is less concerned with overseeing municipal police reform, played a part in his decision to forego the consent decree – yet it is obvious that Trump had already been elected when Emanuel committed to the decree in January 2017. Given the mayor’s opportunistic and deceitful nature, it is possible that he never intended to go through with the consent decree, knowing he could use Trump as an excuse to back out from the very beginning.
The mayor’s new plan for police reform is essentially the same as the consent decree, except it is utterly unenforceable. Vanita Gupta, the author of the DoJ report detailing the Chicago Police Department’s abuses, called Emanuel’s new strategy “woefully inadequate,” and University of Chicago law professor Craig Futterman has called it “…far worse than just doing nothing… It is part of a strategy to avoid doing something real.”
Several Chicago organizations including Black Lives Matter, Blocks Together, Justice for Families, Network 49, and others have filed a class-action suit against the city of Chicago in order to force Emanuel to accept judicial oversight. The suit states that “The City of Chicago has proven time and time again that it is incapable of ending its own regime of terror, brutality, and discriminatory policing.” Time will tell if their efforts bear fruit.
Emanuel is not up for re-election until 2019, and probably thinks that all of this will have blown over by then. But his “just take our word for it” approach to police reform means that police violence and brutality in Chicago will most likely continue unabated. It may be out of the national headlines, but Chicago’s communities of color live it every day, and they will not forget.
The Chicago Police, the Mayor’s Office, Black Lives Matter Chicago, and the Brighton Park Neighborhood Council did not respond to a request for comments on this story.
Edited by Taralei Griffin