By Chinta Strausberg, Chicago Crusader
Tempers flared January 18 during a three-hour standing-room only meeting held at the Rainbow PUSH Coalition headquarters. Hundreds came out that evening to hear an analysis of the recently released U.S. Justice Department (DOJ) report alleging that Chicago police used a clear pattern or practice of excessive force in violation of the U.S. Constitution.
There were calls from two prominent lawyers who said to really change the culture of the police department they must vote in a new mayor.
While some were grateful for the report others gave it a grade of “C” or a thumbs down. The meeting was organized by Cook County Clerk of the Circuit Court and co-hosted by PUSH with the help of Rev. Dr. Janette Wilson, national advisor to Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, Sr.
In explaining her “Call to action,” Clerk Brown said as a process person and an organizer, “There has to be a process put in place and then act on it….” Her goal is to structure a task force that will develop an action plan to reform the police department. Brown asked the public to e-mail their ideas to Rev. Wilson at Revjwilson@rainbowpush.org.
The panelists were: Rep. Mary Flowers (D-31st), Rep. LaShawn Ford (D-8th), Lori Lightfoot from the Chicago Police Board, Chicago Police Department Deputy Chief Larry Watson, attorney Andre Grant, representing the Cook County Bar Association, attorney Juan Thomas, president elect National Bar Association and retired police officer and retired Chicago police officer “sobering report but gives us in the city a tremendous opportunity.”
However, Father Michael L. Pfleger issued a statement saying, “It was good that the Justice Department affirmed what we all knew…poor training, no accountability or discipline, and racism” existed in the CPD but that the report was missing one vital point.
“What the report doesn’t say is that we must deal with the culture of the police department.”
Father Pfleger said the police must be trained in how they treat and respect people especially Latinos and African Americans.
“You can pass all the rules and still practice prejudice and racism…. The mayor and police Superintendent must move on all of this aggressively and quickly. because the likelihood of the new attorney general doing something is not real…”
Also issuing a statement was Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, Sr. who said the report “is a justification of the CPD’s culture of excessive force, poor officer training and accountability and lax accountability.”
Jackson added, “You can’t police poverty” he believes is the common denominator of violence. With nearly 800 homicides last year and 4,000 shootings, Jackson said, “Chicago I the epicenter of the urban crisis” which is why thee is a need for a White House conference on violence complete with the resources tis city needs to reduce violence.
Lightfoot said the relationship between the community and the police “have been fractured some would say non-extent for a very long time.” She credits the community for fighting against the “historic crime” in the city.
“The bottom line is what they found not just individual isolated incidences of problems. They found systemic problems in every facet in the CPD how it recruits, trains and provides additional professional development to veteran officers, its relationship with the community and the accountability both to you and accountability to each other in a system that is fundamentally broken.”
Lightfoot said that goes for the investigations conducted by IPRA and the Bureau of Internal Affairs “and found those things lacking.“
One of the challenging things about the 13-month report, she said, is that “some of the things the city put in place over 2016 to address some of the obvious problems especially in the area of training amounts to a “C” and in some areas an “F” or “Incomplete.”
“The focus was on the way which Chicago police officers use force. “They found the way in which force was used was unconstitutional…. “What they found is an inconsistency in understanding of individual police officers about what the rules of the road are and how they can use force” especially deadly force.
“In too many circumstances, the DOJ found that police officers were creating circumstances because of bad training…creating circumstances that their only option was to use deadly force and that is clearly a problem….”
She said supervisors, who are also poorly trained, who witnessed the excessive force did nothing amounting to an endorsement of that illegal practice.
Lightfoot said the field training officers are supposed to mentor the new officers but that system is flawed and ineffective.
When there are serious actions ending up with a death or serious injury, Lightfoot said IPRA ahs failed in its mission. She said out of more than 400 police involved shooting over a five or six-year period and only three or four were found of policy. “That makes no sense,” she said.
The report said too many cases were closed without any investigation mostly because when citizens call in a complaint, they have to swear an affidavit she says is intimidating and an impediment to the victim.
“There is a way in which both IPRA and the Bureau of Internal Affairs can work around the absence of an affidavit” but she said that is not done.
That is something that can and must be changed.
Demand that the mayor and aldermen on what is necessary to make sure that the recommendations of DOJ are put in place. We don’t know what the future holds in Washington but even when a consent decree that has ben signed by the DOJ and the municipality, the responsibility for change for owning the need for reform always lies in the municipality.
“Regardless what happens after January 20thi in Washington, D.C. We have a responsibility and we have the power to make the changes that are necessary right here in Chicago. We should not let what may or may not happen in Washington scare us from this opportunity…to make the police department better and improving the relation between the police and the communities they serve.
“We cannot have 2017 be like 2016,” she said. “We cannot afford to have little babies killed and nothing happens.” Lightfoot said people know who the shooters are and they should turn them in.
In describing the impact of the DOJ report, attorney Grant said it is synonymous to taking a cup of water and throwing on a five alarm fire and thinking you are going to put out the fire. I am concern about the timing of the report….
“We have a recalcitrant government in Washington, DC and they have appointed an Alabama senator who is hell bent on opposing civil rights legislation. He (Jeff Sessions) has made it clear that he does not believe in consent decrees that they are not enforceable and that he doesn’t believe that it’s the Justice Department’s role to investigate the police department.
“I am also concerned that the report does not adequately deal with racism issues,” said Grant accusing the DOJ of “going out of its way in avoiding the word race and African American s…. You’re talking about a pattern and practice of discrimination, but you left out the aggrieved party. If there is no ghost out there that you discriminate against, who is the aggrieved party.”
Grant said the report should have identified people of color and specifically African Americans and Latinos. “Why didn’t they say that”? When he saw last week’s DOJ press conference, Grant said, “It almost became a pity party for the police. “They began to apologize to the police department for its findings but no apology to the black community…or to the Latino community. They basically said this is due to training but how?
“You have two systems of policing in this city…in the country. Every report of any major city…have all come to the same conclusion. Black people are being misused by the police department. It doesn’t matter which city you’re in.
“Since we’ve been in this city, since the Emancipation Proclamation, since we’ve been told we’re free, we’ve have been telling white America the police have been beating the hell out of us. That is not new,” said Grant.
“You are not going to change the CPD until you change the leadership on the fifth floor,” he said to a cheering audience. “It’s not going to happen. This is a crisis in leadership. It has to come form the top down. Somebody has to sit on the fifth floor office and make it a priority…I’m going to change the police department. We don’t have that,” said Grant.
He also had a problem with the absence of newly elected States Attorney Kim Foxx at last week’s press conference. Grant bristled at Mayor Emanuel’s said, “Most of the recommendations we put in our finding for change we got form the police….”
“You go to the abuser, the person who is discriminating and ask them to solve they problem? They cannot solve the problem. They have no will to solve the problem. Training is not the issue. Training is an issue but not the issue. The issue is the mindset in the police system and the culture you bring to policing the community,” said Grant.
“You have to ask where are these police coming from. Do they live in our community? You can’t make something rooked straight. It’s not a matter of one bad apple. It’s a barrel of rotten apples. It has to be major reform that starts with us…a change in leadership…. “
Grant said this is not the first consent decree. This is not the first time the federal government has come into our community and told us there is a problem and nothing happened after that. The police departments do things the way they do because we allow them to. We can change it. They work for us,” said Grant.
Attorney Thomas echoed Grant’s concerns about the DOJ report. “Take what ever Donald Trump says don’t take him literally but take what he does seriously; so don’t get aught up in his Tweets but watch what he does. He appointed one of the most conservative right wing senators in the country to be the attorney general.”
Thomas quoted Sessions saying he finds these (police) instigations “intrusive.” He questions Sessions sincerity in working with the DOJ report.
“We have to deal with this on the local and state level because we won’t have hardly any good friends in Washington.” He will be looking at who Sessions to be the deputy attorney general for civil rights. “Don’t get fooled if he picks a black lawyer. You remember when Thurgood Marshall retired and we asked for a black replacement; well George Bush, Sr. found a black person,” said Thomas referring to Supreme Court Clarence Thomas.
To reform the system, Thomas said, “Who the mayor is matters. Who the governor…alderman matters.” He said they should vote in 2018 when these offices re up for re-election. “We love Barack Obama, but it’s time we get beyond Obama. We have to vote now. We have to fight on the state and local levels. We have to get read for the next election cycle. We took a hit this past November, but we have to fight on,” Thomas said urging them to get involved with their political organizations and “not get caught on up Trump’s tweets.”
Thanking the DOJ for the report, Rep. Flowers, who said she’s been calling for police reform since 1987. She too urged the people to be politically involved and asked that click on www.Ilga.gov to see the status of bills. “You an write in, send a text or a video.”
Rep. Ford also spoke saying the city of Chicago has paid out more than $650 million for police abuse. Ford scoffed at the mayor’s promise to hire 1,000 new police who will be “trained the same way. That’s not moving this city forward. That means more black people will be killed. That is increasing the odds.” Ford said he is afraid to put 1,000 more police on the streets with that kind of poor training.
“Dr. King spoke about this very issue. He said we can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is a victim of unspeakable police brutality. So, 54-years later, we’re still fighting the fight that Dr. King spoke about in his I Have a Dream speech,” said Ford.
“Blacks are still being beaten and shot by the police,” said Ford urging people to get engaged politically “to teach Rahm Emanuel how to serve out his last days as mayor.”
Also testifying was Dr. Damon Arnold, medical director at the Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois and a former Colonel in the U.S. Army and former director of the Illinois Department of Health, had an issue of one statement on page four of the report.
“It stated that the DOJ was assisting the CPD as it was conducting the investigation which could cause an element of bias in reporting so that the report has to be looked at very carefully.”
Arnold, who served two tours in Iraq, said he was held to a standard of military justice where he had to participate in rules of engagement “that assured the safety of even suspected terrorists and I could not jut indiscriminately shoot them without facing potential court marshal….”
When he came back, Arnold had a problem with black unarmed teens. “This is happening too often and this is by people who is supposed to be enforcing policing powers in our country and within the city. We need some other rules of engagement for how police officers approach African Americans….”
“If you go on the North side for the same potential offenses…, we don’t see the same death rate being doled out in those neighborhoods,” Arnold said. ‘Many are let off the hook and go home, but for a teenager to face a death penalty for taking a pop from the store is unconscionable.
“I wonder what type of society were people in the military fighting for if we can’t extend the Constitutional principles within this country just based on race,” said Arnold.