Panel Warns Chicago Police Must Publicly Acknowledge Racism

A task force Mayor Rahm Emanuel appointed to look into police practices warns that the Chicago Police Department must publicly acknowledge its racist past, and overhaul the way it handles allegations of excessive force.

A draft of the task force’s executive summary declares that it is time for “a painful and necessary reckoning,” warning that the CPD is infused with a mentality that “the end justifies the means.”

In 18 scathing pages, the summary eviscerates the department for “superficial and false” statements in the aftermath of the 2014 shooting of teenager Laquan McDonald, noting that despite the fact that he was shot 16 times, he "posed no immediate threat to anyone.”

Still, the Police Accountability Task Force said the McDonald incident was only “the tipping point” in a long history of intimidation.

“Racism and maltreatment at the hands of the police have been consistent complaints in communities of color for decades,” the report states. “The community’s lack of trust in CPD is justified.”

The draft of the task force report became public as the Chicago City Council Committee on Public Safety recommended a change in city law, essentially codifying Mayor Emanuel’s end run on the Chicago Police Board in his choice of Eddie Johnson as Police Superintendent. In choosing Johnson, Emanuel rejected the three candidates sent to him by the police board, as current procedure dictates. A final vote on Johnson’s appointment is expected in the full city council on Wednesday.

“How do we ensure that we are effectively policing the police?” Emanuel asked, when he announced formation of the Police Accountability Task Force last fall. “By reinvigorating our oversight, we will continue to take the necessary steps to build trust between the police and the residents and community they serve.”

That was then, but the mayor may be less than pleased with the task force’s assessment of the police department which ultimately reports to his office.

“Far too many residents are at daily risk of being caught up in a cycle of policing that deprives them of basic human rights,” the report states. “The department must acknowledge its sad history and present conditions, which lave left people totally alienated from the police, and afraid for their physical and emotional safety.”

The authors are especially critical of the Independent Police Review authority, which they call woefully understaffed and lacking in authority.

“IPRA is badly broken,” they wrote, declaring that the agency and its companion Bureau of Internal Affairs lack true independence and are not held accountable for their work.

There is “widespread perception that there is a deeply entrenched code of silence supported not just by individual officers, but by the very institution itself,” the report states. “The collective bargaining agreements between the police unions and the city have essentially turned the code of silence into official policy.”

Because of that, the report says, those agreements “make it easy for officers to lie if they are so inclined.”

In a statement Tuesday night, Fraternal Order of Police president Dean Angelo told NBC5, “We are very concerned about that type of language being used by a group that was asked to examine the department. On the surface of what has been shared by the media thus far, it appears that the task force erred in their reporting.”

In their criticisms of the department, the task force cites alarming statistics, declaring “CPD’s own data gives validity to the widely held belief the police have no regard for the sanctity of life when it comes to people of color.”

In making that declaration, they note “police officers shoot African Americans at alarming rates”, noting out of 404 shootings between 2008 and 2015, 74 percent involved African-Americans, versus 14 percent of Hispanics, 3 percent Whites, and .25percent Asians.

Johnson, the incoming superintendent, is a 27 year departmental veteran. His rise from within the ranks is a stark contrast with his two predecessors, Jody Weis and Garry McCarthy, both of whom were outsiders, and perceived as carpetbaggers by many in the rank-and-file.

The task force noted in its report that input had been provided by community members throughout the city—that far from listening only to complaints from the city’s most distressed areas, they had conducted more than 100 discussions, reaching out to 95 community groups, 63 elected officials and 83 religious institutions, as well as current and former police.

“The consistent theme of these deeply-held belief came from a significant cross-section of people,” they wrote. “Doctors, lawyers, teachers and other professionals, students and everyday workers.”

“Regardless of the demographic, people of color loudly expressed their outrage, about how they are treated by the police.”

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