By J. Coyden Palmer, Chicago Crusader
Nearly 200 angry citizens voiced their concerns regarding Chicago police behavior during the third of four public meetings conducted by the U.S. Justice Department Tuesday night at Truman College.
The DOJ is continuing their investigation into the Chicago Police Department, and the public forums are part of that process. Over a dozen people claimed they had their civil rights violated by CPD. Citizens complained of being treated rudely by CPD officers, profiled and harassed by officers with no probable cause, thereby, violating their rights.
DOJ representatives said they have heard from over 400 community members regarding their experiences with the Chicago Police Department, and they are visiting CPD stations throughout the city and accompanying patrol officers during their shifts.
The investigation is in response to the controversial death of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald, who was shot 16 times and allegedly murdered by Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke. Van Dyke has been charged with first-degree murder and is currently out on bond awaiting trial.
Throughout the two-hour meeting, allegations ranged from a woman who was arrested for not using a turn signal while driving, to a woman whose son was shot and killed by police. The woman claims her son was not a threat to the officer and should not have been shot. DOJ officials sat and listened patiently and explained to the crowd the process of the investigation.
“I know a lot of people in this room and a lot of people in this city are very angry,” said DOJ Investigator Emily Gunston. “We are here to investigate your claims and issue a report on our findings. While there is a lot of work ahead, we expect to release our findings some time later this year or early next year.”
Gunston is one of the leading attorneys in a special section of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division. The reports generated by these investigators are used to support Justice Department lawsuits to remedy patterns or practices of law enforcement misconduct.
Many Chicagoans are skeptical about the investigation.
Darren Harris attended the meeting just to hear for himself what other citizens’ experiences have been. “I’ve never had a run-in with CPD, but I have called them for service a couple of times, and they are extremely slow if it’s not a life or death situation.”
“I think too often CPD does not take the quality-of-life issues, like kids writing graffiti or people urinating in public serious enough. I had a guy one time just stop his car in the middle of my block, get out and just start relieving himself right there,” Harris said.
Last year, the Crusader did a report on residents in Bronzeville who said their neighborhood gets overrun in the summertime with people going to the 31st Street beach, but parking their cars in the neighborhood all day and returning at night drunk and having sex in their cars in residential areas.
Others at the hearing testified about how they were stopped for no reason and searched by CPD officers with little or no explanation. Citizens say even if you report the behavior to CPD officials, nothing ever happens.
Earlier this week, former Philadelphia police commissioner and Chicago native Charles Ramsey told WVON’s Cliff Kelley that the officers who gave sworn statements backing up Van Dyke’s version of the McDonald shooting should also be disciplined.
He said he was not familiar with CPD’s protocols in that case, but had that happened in Philadelphia, termination of those officers would have been “highly probable” because their actions erode public trust.
That appeared to be the theme of Tuesday night’s meeting as citizens one by one expressed how they did not trust CPD, which prompts fears in residents and stops many people from cooperating with police during investigations.
“The thing is we need the police and they need us, but it’s like we’re in a bad marriage,” said Marissa Jones of Streeterville. “Without trust, none of this changes.”
The racial makeup of the crowd at the forum was evenly mixed, which led many to believe problems with CPD comes from every community, not just the African-American community.
A final forum is scheduled on July 14th at the Salvation Army’s Ray & Joan Kroc Center, located at 250 W. 119th Street, on the city’s far South Side.