Don’t wait for the Donald J. Trump cavalry to come roaring in.
Many Chicago police reform advocates and city officials have been touting the promise of federal action to end the city’s longstanding crisis in police-community relations.
In the waning days of the Obama administration, top U.S. Justice Department officials came to Chicago. They stood with Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Police Supt. Eddie Johnson and announced an agreement they would work toward a court-ordered consent decree to address decades of police misconduct and abuse.
Court ordered decrees have been powerful legal hammers in this arena. Many hoped a court-ordered consent decree would be the big fix to dangerous flaws in the city’s police training, monitoring and culture.
It’s not going to happen.
That’s the takeaway from Wednesday’s wide-ranging forum on police reform, hosted by the Chicago Urban League and the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform.
“Look, the prospect of the DOJ [U.S. Justice Department] carrying through to a consent decree with a court monitor has allowed us all to just wait for somebody else to be our savior,” said Chicago Inspector General Joe Ferguson.
Chicago must save itself.
That federal report and agreement were already a long time coming, 27 months after the 2014 heinous shooting of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald. The 16 shots fired by police that black October night unleashed a national firestorm, city and federal investigations, and demands for historic reform.
On Feb. 28 Jeff Sessions, President Trump’s attorney general, aimed a jaundiced eye toward the DOJ report and the prospect of a consent decree.
“We need to help police departments get better, not diminish their effectiveness, and I’m afraid we have done some of that,” Sessions said in a speech to state attorneys general from around the nation. “So, we’re going to pull back on this.”
Emanuel continues to pledges reform, regardless of who is in the White House.
I asked the panel: Isn’t a tough federal court order the best way to force change? Otherwise, won’t the powers that be inevitably succumb politics and expediency?
“We should never, regardless of who is in Washington or aligned with DOJ to do our job for us,” declared Lori Lightfoot.
“Whether or not Jeff Sessions says or does something, whether or not Trump says or does something, we have to own responsibility for those changes. Here, in Chicago.”
Instead, “we are almost two months away from when the DOJ report dropped, and what are we doing?”
While some reforms are in place, “there hasn’t been enough, and it hasn’t been enough in the right direction,” she said.
Lightfoot is president of the Chicago Police Board and chaired the Police Accountability Task Force, which issued a blistering, 190-page report.
That review, along with the DOJ report, spells out a clear blueprint for reform.
Lightfoot called on the Chicago City Council to show “leadership” by setting up an oversight committee.
And ask Emanuel and Police Supt. Eddie Johnson: “What’s your plan for action? What’s the strategic plan and what’s the specific timeline for change?” Lightfoot argued. “That hasn’t happened.”
Imagine that. A plan, with a timetable.
Chicagoans in the communities most affected by police misconduct are growing skeptical, wondering if anything fundamental will change.
Forget Trump. Where is our plan?
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