By J. Coyden Palmer, Chicago Crusader
Atty. Sheila Bedi, associate clinical professor of Law at the Northwestern Pritzker School of Law with the Roderick and Solange MacArthur Justice Center was the first to say what many were thinking when the Department of Justice’s report on their investigation of the Chicago Police Department was released last week: It was merely the tip of the iceberg.
Bedi credited the DOJ for their findings, but said had they been given more time, the investigation could have been more in-depth and revealed even more. She went on to say Black Chicagoans are frustrated with small things officers do, like run red lights when there is no emergency just because they can and a host of other, yet smaller, improper procedures.
“It’s the whole ‘we can do this because we are the police’ mentality that infuriates people, and it leads to a culture of unaccountability that we are seeing within the CPD,” stated Bedi. “The report also did not go into why police officers themselves don’t report on crimes committed by other officers.”
Last month, the Crusader reported on a lawsuit filed by a current Chicago Police officer who was targeted by his colleagues for reporting inappropriate behavior to Internal Affairs.
Officer Cornelius Davis sued eight officers alleging they retaliated against him after he reported to Internal Affairs they were passing around a nude photo of a transgender person and falsely claiming it was Davis’ wife.
In the aftermath, Davis claims a female officer assaulted and threatened him. Things were so bad, he was transferred to another district. Davis’ story came a year-and-a-half after other officers came forward to report even more serious crimes.
Officer Shannon Spalding and her partner, Daniel Echeverria, were part of a 2012 investigation which led to charges against then-Sgt. Ronald Watts and Officer Kallatt Mohammed—both of whom were accused of stealing proceeds from drug dealers.
Watts received a 22-month federal sentence in 2013; Mohammed was sentenced to 18 months. Shannon said the investigation ended too soon because she believes there was rampant corruption within the unit Watts and Mohammed worked.
In a 2015 NBC 5 News investigative report, Spaulding stated, “I think that the public should be very angry that corruption is allowed to continue and that officers who want to report it are retaliated against.” She continued, “The code of silence is so strong; the fear of what will happen to you is so strong, that nobody wants to come forward. If you go against the code of silence and report corruption, you will be retaliated against and it will ruin your career.”
Despite numerous documented incidents, the head of the union that represents Chicago police officers does not believe there is a big problem and says change could be a long time coming.
“I don’t believe CPD regularly engages in the overuse of force as the report stated,” said Dean Angelo, president of the Fraternal Order of Police. “I don’t think anyone in the CPD sees this report as the panacea for all their issues and frustrations within their career. But, it is something that will have some benefits for the members and something that will take a long time to see changes. By the time they find personnel, develop curriculum, set up the programs, you’re talking months.”
Bedi says until this culture within the CPD changes, things will not change for the public, especially Black citizens. She also said the Fraternal Order of Police will have to start the change.
Those who want to see a civilian council created to investigate police misconduct do not believe the DOJ report has any bite to it. They believe the report revealed to Chicagoans what they already know. Their concern is the new presidential administration not following through on the DOJ’s report.
“The DOJ investigators, the Mayor’s Task Force and the City Council Police Accountability hearings are all busy re-labeling the problem. The people of Chicago’s oppressed communities have already known the problem for some time. This here-today-gone-tomorrow scrutiny of CPD must be replaced by a permanent systemic change; by community control of the police; by an all-elected Civilian Police Accountability Council. Holding police accountable, prosecuting them for their crimes, should be routine, not extraordinary,” wrote the Chicago Alliance against Racist and Political Repression, which in 2014 and 2015 requested a DOJ investigation into the CPD that was denied.
Local civic groups also chimed in on the report. One of the city’s oldest and respected Civil Rights organizations believes it is up to all Chicagoans to solve the problem.
“We agree with many of the recommendations in the report, but it can’t just be more talk; there must be concrete action. And once it’s clear that what must be done is actually being done, then it’s incumbent upon community leaders to support the city’s efforts. Importantly, it’s incumbent upon us all to hold each other accountable,” said Shari Runner, president and CEO of the Chicago Urban League.
Ald. Anthony Beale (9th), who, at one time, held the position as the head of the City Council’s Police and Fire Committee, believes the city has already begun taking some steps to improve the police department. He said body cameras for every officer is one example of positive changes coming.
“It is my hope that the Department of Justice’s report is the catalyst that helps create a more transparent and accountable culture within the Chicago Police department,” Beale said.
Over the past two years, Cook County Commissioner Richard Boykin (1st) has been a loud critic of former State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez’s office, which was charged with prosecuting officers who break the law. Boykin believes there is problem in the recruitment and training process by CPD.
“Minorities have been treated unfairly by police, and our rights have been consistently violated because for years, the officers on the street have not been given the proper training or discipline when those violations occurred,” Boykin said.
Hours after the DOJ report was released, members of the Chicago chapter of Black Lives Matter held a press conference, which included the parents of men who were killed by CPD under questionable circumstances. BLM believes a multifaceted, long-term plan must be created for CPD to follow step-by-step. BLM is calling for outcomes from economic investment into areas of the city where there is a lot of violent crime.
“We know for a fact that putting money into policing—hiring more police, paying for body cameras, paying for Tasers—adds to our oppression, instead of investing in our communities. We need our schools reopened. We need mental health clinics. We need jobs for our young people. We need an investment in the businesses of our community. And how about the lead poisoning in CPS schools and the Park District,” said Kofi Ademola, an organizer for Black Lives Matter-Chicago.
At Crusader press time, Cook County State’s Attorney office announced the arrest of Chicago Police Officer Lowell Houser, who was charged with murder in the fatal shooting of Jose Nieves earlier this month following a criminal investigation.
On Jan. 2, Nieves was shot by the 57-year-old officer in the 2500 block of North Lowell in the city’s Hermosa neighborhood. Investigators found no weapon on the scene, and Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson took the drastic action of stripping Houser of his badge and gun the following day as the investigation continued.