DOJ Probe must begin with Rahm Emanuel and City Hall.
From Ronald Johnson to Laquan McDonald, to the fact that Mayor Rahm Emanuel and State Attorney Anita Alvarez concealed the video of both shootings for more than a year to Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy’s miraculous 56 percent drop in violent crime, Chicago stinks. Just like in the days of Area 2, it’s corrupt from the ground up and the recently announced Department of Justice probe must begin at City Hall.
Area 2: The Brutal Legacy of the Chicago Police Department
Before Emanuel, Alvarez and McCarthy, there was Commander John Burge and Mayor Richard M. Daley. Burge ran the “South Side Homicide Squad” made up of at least 64 department officers who tortured hundreds of black men in an abandoned building called “Area 2.” for two decades. Cattle prods and other electrical devices were placed up the rectal cavities and near their exposed genitals until they confessed to crimes they may or may not have committed. Four men Burge sent to death row were released because their confessions were obtained through torture. Though Burge was ultimately convicted of “lying about committing torture” nearly 20 years later, he was never tried for committing torture. In fact, not a single cop or politician was ever prosecuted for crimes committed at Area 2.
“It was in this culture that Anita Alvarez and many other prosecutors (including Mayor Richard M. Daley) rose through the ranks of the Office of the State’s Attorney, participating in its racialized rules of abuse and being institutionally rewarded with promotions and then, election wins,” wrote Temple University Professor Nicole Gonzalez Van Cleve, who began her career working for Alvarez. “This is a racialized system of justice and not a case of bad apples.”
While Area 2 was closed down in the 1990s, the environment of brutalizing communities of color, covering it up and institutionalized corruption has continued. One could argue that Emanuel and McCarthy made it worse.
Black Lives Don’t Matter, Numbers Do
Shortly after taking office, Emanuel hired Garry McCarthy to run the city’s beleaguered police department. McCarthy’s directive was simple: reduce crime while shaving roughly $190 million from the department’s budget. Shortly after reducing the number of detectives and shuttering the city’s Western Precinct, field commanders began complaining that they were being pressured into manipulating crime statistics.
An investigation by Chicago magazine found the practice of downgrading violent crimes to wrist-slap offenses or erasing them altogether was widespread. On numerous occasions, murders were turned into “noncriminal incidents” and victims like Tiara Groves, Ronnie Chambers, Hadiya Pendleton, Maurice Harris, Michelle Manalansan, Illicent Brown Johnson and her son Jovan Perkins were simply removed from the city’s crime stats.
In the end, Emanuel and McCarthy were able to erroneously tout a 56 percent decrease in violent crime — an average of nearly 19 percent per year — in three years. That compared to a roughly 4 percent annual decrease in the decade preceding Emanuel’s administration.
What’s worse is that while Emanuel and McCarthy obsessed over crimes stats, no one seemed interested in “closure rates,” the act of solving crimes, bringing criminals to justice and providing grieving families with some sense of accountability. During this same time, the department had a murder closure rate of 26 percent — the lowest in three decades and three times lower than the national average. Of a staggering 507 murders in one year, only 132 were solved.
If there is no murder then there is no murder investigation. If there are no consequences then criminals — with and without CPD-issued uniforms and guns — commit more crimes. Emanuel’s policies sent a clear message: Black and brown lives do not matter, numbers do.
“Those stats suggest a crisis,” said Arthur Lurigio, a criminologist at Loyola University Chicago. “It leaves a family devastated, without any sense of justice and it leaves an entire community with a sense of helplessness and despair.”
If two-thirds of murderers are never brought to justice, then why on Earth would murderous cops be held accountable?
CPD Officer Jason Van Dyke, the cop who put 16 bullets into Laquan McDonald, has 20 civilian complaints against him — one that resulted in a $500,000 civil lawsuit. He has never been disciplined. In fact, he was still on the CPD payroll up until the day of his arrest. The CPD officers who seized the Burger King security video then reportedly erased roughly 80 minutes of it — directly preceding and following McDonald’s shooting — have not been named or disciplined. George Hernandez, the cop who shot Ronald Johnson III in the back, was exonerated by Alvarez without any real investigation. And Emanuel, the man behind it all, refuses to step down.
Chicago Corruption by the Numbers
“The real issue here is, this terrible thing happened, how did our governmental institutions respond?” said journalist Jamie Kalven. “And from everything we’ve learned, compulsively at every level, from the cops on the scene to the highest levels of government, they responded by circling the wagons and by fabricating a narrative that they knew was completely false.”
- 14 months: The amount of time Emanuel actively concealed the dash cam videos of Laquan McDonald and Ronald Johnson’s shooting.
- Two Hours: The time it took for Alvarez to file charges against Officer Jason Van Dyke after the video’s release.
- $5 million: The amount Emanuel and the Chicago City Council paid to the McDonald family — apparently without ever seeing the dash cam video.
- 79 percent: The number of CPD arrests that involve black youth.
- 10: In Chicago, blacks are 10 times more likely to be shot by the police.
- 94: In Chicago, police brutality claims are 94 percent less likely to be sustained than elsewhere. In the city, only 0.48 percent of brutality complaints are sustained, compared to 8 percent nationally.
- 295: The number of CPD officers who have been convicted of serious crimes, such as drug dealing, beatings of civilians, destroying evidence, protecting mobsters, theft and murder.
- $84.6 million: The amount Chicago paid out in 2013 alone, in settlements, judgments, legal fees related to police misconduct.
The Obvious but Unlikely Conclusion
The DOJ inquiry may quell citizen outrage, but it will not solve Chicago’s problems unless it begins with City Hall, the State Attorney’s Office, and the complete overhaul of the city’s criminal justice system. Since the loss of black lives tend not to matter as evidenced by the lack of fallout from the cover-up of the killing of Laquan McDonald, then maybe the numbers related to a legacy of corruption will.
Devona Walker is a contributing writer focusing on politics for The Burton Wire. Follow her on Twitter @DevonaWalker.