Steinberg: Cops aren’t plagued by their racism; we are

SHARE Steinberg: Cops aren’t plagued by their racism; we are

Lori Lightfoot is shown in April 2016 as she revealed and discussed the findings of the Police Accountability Task Force. | Getty Images

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You know what’s happening. I know what’s happening. Do I have to say it? I guess so. It’s my job.

OK. Here goes.

Of course the very fact that there was a police task force is part of the well-oiled machinery of doing nothing with flair. Crisis 101 teaches you to appoint a task force, buy time, create the illusion that change is occurring, when what you are really doing is kicking the can down the road, again.

The can tumbled to earth with a bang Wednesday in the scathing “Recommendations for Reforms” report, documenting what everybody knows, including the kind of succinct assessment that makes good headlines. “Chicago police ‘have no regard’ for lives of black people, report says” is how the Washington Post put it. And Napoleon escaped from Elba. Sorry if I’m the one to tell you.

The Sun-Times online headline was “Racism, lack of accountability plague Chicago Police Department.”

That’s misleading. The police department isn’t plagued by racism and lack of accountability. They’re fine with it.


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It’s their tradition. And the mayor, he’s a master at shucking plagues he promised to fix. He ignores plagues better than pharaoh. Before the task force report even became public he was watering down police racism by mixing it into the ocean of state and national racism going back to the Pilgrims. Rahm was tap dancing before the music even started.

It’s Chicago that’s plagued by the cops’ racism and unaccountability, the residents of the South and West Sides, the taxpayers who pony up the half a billion dollars that had to be paid out to hush up cases of police exercising their racism and unaccountability.

And I could argue that most of the city isn’t plagued either, not really. White Chicago is perfectly happy to give cops free rein to do whatever they please, provided they don’t do it on video. The status quo clicks along, the shiny new buildings get built, and no harm done, except of course to the black folk being harmed, but if there are no witnesses, who’s to say what happened?

RELATED: Police union: Low morale will crater following ‘biased’ report

The mayor drew his leg back and gave the can a Robbie Gould boot when he appointed CPD veteran Eddie Johnson as the new superintendent, a nomination that the City Council bleated a unanimous “amen,” with apt irony, on the same day the report thudded on its doorstep, with its sweeping catalog of recommendations that ain’t gonna happen.

Johnson was a big wet kiss to the cops, a soothing damp cloth of familiarity to place over the department’s fevered brow. Past police scandals show that if you want to actually shake things up, you grab an outsider, hire O. W. Wilson, who brings fresh eyes and starts kicking ass. Johnson’s blinkered eyes have never seen police misconduct in his 27 years on the force. The man said it himself.

The quote is worth repeating. Read it carefully, and circle the one key word that proves the entire task force is a waste of time and money. Pens at the ready? Here goes:

“I’ve actually never encountered police misconduct, because you’ve got to understand, officers that commit misconduct don’t do it in front of people that they think are going to hold them accountable for it. Now that I’m sitting in this chair, if I come across it, I will deal with it accordingly.”

Have you circled the word?


“If I come across it.”

Is there an “if” in your mind that there will be police misconduct and lots of it during Johnson’s tenure? Me neither.

The “if” is a line of startling obliviousness and/or mendacity. That’s like saying, “I’ll go to the Art Institute and look at the paintings, if they have any.” The man hadn’t even been officially hired and he is testing his pre-packaged Sgt. Schultz excuse: “I know nothing. Nothing!” 

The media deserves some blame too, for swooning in relief at the proposed reforms that’ll never happen. Our problem, at times like this, to paraphrase infamous Chicago Ald. Paddy Bauler, is that we seem to think the whole thing’s on the up and up.

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