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Draft consent decree dances around real problem in police department

Lisa Madigan, Rahm Emanuel and Eddie Johnson discuss the draft of the CPD consent decree on Friday. | Colin Boyle/Sun-Times

I don’t hold out much hope that this latest effort at reforming the city’s police department won’t go the way of all of the other reform efforts over the decades.

And that’s not because I believe Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Attorney General Lisa Madigan and Chicago Police Supt. Eddie Johnson aren’t sincere in their efforts.

After all, Emanuel is facing 10 opponents in his bid for re-election primarily because Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke shot black teenager Laquan McDonald 16 times.

The white police officer is scheduled to go on trial for first-degree murder on Sept. 5.


The mayor would like nothing more than to redeem himself in the eyes of the voters who accuse him of withholding a videotape of the McDonald shooting until after his re-election in 2015.

But until we are able to see the role racism has played in creating a police department where officers have been allowed to abuse black and brown citizens over decades, we will continue to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on police brutality cases.

And until we face up to the reality that the city’s systemic racial and economic segregation have contributed to the gulf that exists between white police officers and people of color, there’s little reason to believe that 225 pages of new policies will end the department’s racist nature.

We should have learned that from the Chicago Public School’s desegregation consent decree.

The only thing that did was run white students out of the city’s public schools, taking financial resources with them.

A fact sheet outlining the key provisions of the consent decree didn’t even broach the racial bias that frankly led to the scathing Justice Department report.

As expected, the consent decree put emphasis on use of force policies, including enhancing CPD’s de-escalation tactics; requiring officers to provide life-saving aid; adopting a new foot pursuit policy, and requiring monthly publication of use of force data.

The city and the Illinois attorney general have still not reached an agreement on whether officers will be required to document when they point a gun at someone.

Of the nine categories considered “key provisions” of the consent decree, there is no mention of how the department intends to eradicate racism within its ranks.

For instance, the draft consent decree requires the Chicago Police Department to “provide police services to all members of the public without bias and to treat all persons with the courtesy and dignity which is inherently due every person as a human being without reference to stereotype based on race, color, ethnicity, religion, homeless status, national origin, immigration status, gender identity or expression, sexual orientation, socio-economic class, age, disability, incarceration status or criminal history.”

How is that supposed to happen in communities of color?

Most of the white police officers that go into black and brown communities live in the city’s white enclaves, like Mt. Greenwood.

When many of these police officers show up in communities of color, they already have preconceived notions, mostly based on negative stereotypes, about the people living there.

A violent run-in between off-duty Chicago police officers and black people in a funeral procession in the predominantly white Mt. Greenwood in 2016, shows how estranged these groups are.

Joshua Beal, 25, who was armed, was fatally shot by an off-duty police officer in the melee. His death sparked protests by blacks and counter-protests by the whites living there.

What is in the draft consent decree that is going to help bridge that gap?

While many of us like to think the civil rights violations committed by former Chicago Police Cmdr. Jon Burge and his crew of renegade officers was an anomaly, Burge’s disregard for the rights of black suspects reflected a culture of racial animus within the police department.

“No one is happy about the state of public safety in Chicago. Not residents and not police, “ Madigan said at a press conference unveiling the draft consent decree.

“Too many Chicago residents do not feel safe in their communities but also do not feel safe calling the police,” she said.

Supt. Johnson said, “The consent decree will give us the resources to make sure that the Chicago Police Department is more professional and is a department that the entire city can be proud of.”

A consent decree will set parameters that will be monitored and enforced by a judge.

But more than parameters, we need a change of heart in this city.

That change has to start with being honest about race.