Mayor Lori Lightfoot recently criticized Chicago’s Civilian Office of Police Accountability, saying she was “extraordinarily unhappy” with the slow pace of their work.
If the mayor wants to point out those not moving quickly enough to bring real change to policing in the city, she needs to look in the mirror. True self-reflection would reveal that she has become an obstacle to police reform — not the change agent she promised.
As a candidate, Lightfoot spoke of transforming the Chicago Police Department. Responding to an ACLU questionnaire about police reform, she promised to take transparent accountability measures “over and above the monitoring” required by a federal consent decree designed to address patterns of police violence against people of color and people with disabilities.
Mayor Lightfoot’s actions have not met that rhetoric. She is defaulting on her campaign promises to fix broken and violent policing. While continuing her “performative” oratory, she is acting behind the scenes to block reform in key areas designed to improve both transparency of law enforcement and the accountability of officers who commit unlawful acts.
During her candidacy, Lightfoot criticized the consent decree governing the Chicago Police Department as not going far enough to reform. She cited the failure of the decree to require the immediate development and implementation of a foot pursuit policy for CPD. Yet, in two years in office, the mayor took no meaningful action to adopt a policy.
Instead, under her watch, the city rejected repeated recommendations for CPD foot pursuit policy, including a specific request in October 2019 . Predictably, without a policy restricting foot pursuits, police killings after foot chases have continued, including the recent police shooting deaths of Adam Toledo and Anthony Alvarez
The mayor also has blocked reform of problematic search warrants served at the wrong address and/or the wrong person resulting in “wrong raids.” In August 2020, community organizations and their allies, including the ACLU, alerted the city and the mayor of our intent to enforce consent decree provisions related to wrong raids. The city refused to meet with us, even after the video documenting the abuse of Anjanette Young surfaced.
This disdain for community input in police reform is in stark contrast to Lightfoot’s repeated public references to the need for community input and involvement in reforming CPD. Last year the mayor trumpeted her creation of a working group to provide input on changing CPD’s use of force policy. That working group, made up of community members and residents of communities affected by police violence in the city, presented the CPD with more than 100 recommandations for improving the use of force by CPD. The city rejected nearly all of them with a late night press release.
The mayor’s disregard for meaningful reform is matched only by her indifference to the impact of police misconduct on Black and Brown communities. During her tenure, police have continued to make hundreds of thousands of traffic stops each year, the vast majority of them targeting Black and Brown drivers. These stops have increased dramatically during her tenure. Similarly, Chicago police targeted Black people for enforcement under the State of Illinois’ new cannabis law, arresting them in 2020 at three times the rate for people of all other ethnicities combined in 2020, according to CPD data. And a recent report revealed that CPD targets Black men in warrants 25 times more than white men with approximately 25% of such warrants containing inaccurate or incomplete information.
Mayor Lightfoot’s approach to reform increasingly appears to be performative rather than substantive. Whenever there is a public revelation of police misconduct, she holds a press conference and makes promises of unilateral action, despite her previous efforts to block reform. This is not real reform.
Police reform is challenging. Nobody doubts that. But reform cannot be achieved by making public pronouncements in the moments of public embarrassment and then stiff-arming reform in the courtroom, the legislature and the back chambers of City Hall. Real reform needs to be driven by community members who have suffered police violence and police abuse over many years and have insight into needed changes. Candidate Lightfoot appeared to understand this. Mayor Lightfoot ignores it.
The obstacle is not others; it is the mayor herself. It is time to stop casting blame.
Colleen K. Connell is executive director of the ACLU of Illinios.
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