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Former Chicago Police Cmdr. Jon Burge (pictured in 2010). | Charles Rex Arbogast/AP file photo

Brown: Burge reparations won’t erase ‘stain on the history of this city’

SHARE Brown: Burge reparations won’t erase ‘stain on the history of this city’
SHARE Brown: Burge reparations won’t erase ‘stain on the history of this city’

The convergence of three separate police department scandals at one City Council meeting Wednesday could be explained by more than Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s desire to tidy up old business before he starts a new term.

A line can be drawn from the Jon Burge police torture cases to police mishandling of the David Koschman death investigation to the fatal shooting of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald, who was shot 16 times by a police officer whose actions were caught on videotape.

OPINION

I’m not saying it’s a straight line, but you don’t need a particularly broad brush to connect the dots.

A Police Department that would look the other way with detectives torturing suspects to get confessions is the same type of department that would pin the death of a nobody suburban kid at the hand of a clouted mayor’s nephew on the dead suburban kid.

RELATED: Emanuel dodges question on how he’ll pay for Burge reparations City Council agrees to pay $250,000 to Koschman mom City Council approves $5 million settlement stemming from fatal police shooting Mitchell: Why the city doesn’t want video of Laquan McDonald’s shooting released

And the department that would clear the mayor’s nephew — not once but twice, making it up as it went along the second time — is the same kind of department that would react slowly and defensively to one of its own putting 16 shots into the knife-wielding McDonald while other officers thought it wiser to stand down.

Bringing all this together Wednesday was Emanuel’s decision to direct an additional $5.5 million in taxpayer funds to police torture victims on the same day the City Council approved a $5 million settlement with McDonald’s family and a $250,000 payout to Koschman’s mother.

The fact these misdeeds — or missteps, if you prefer — were decades apart and under different police administrations might lead some to conclude they are unrelated.

I see a common thread of a longstanding police culture that allows some of its personnel to operate above or outside the law, fitting the evidence to the desired outcome, and that circles the wagons when someone goes too far or simply slips up.

For all of the emphasis Wednesday on the city finally closing a sad chapter in its history with the creation of the torture reparations fund, I would suggest nothing is behind us until we see that larger picture and address it.

Part of that larger picture may be a public that for too long didn’t take the torture allegations seriously, chalking it up as the cost of doing business for police officers battling criminal elements whose welfare was no concern of our own.

That dates back to when this was still a predominantly white city and those suspects were nearly all African-Americans.

Back then, most of us believed whatever a police officer said. I’ll admit that’s probably still my first instinct, even in this age of excessive-force cases caught on video. But I’m coming around.

Maybe it took seeing the department twist itself into knots to protect former Mayor Richard M. Daley’s nephew Richard J. “R.J.” Vanecko to bring into stark relief how this way of doing business can hurt every citizen.

The city, I should note, has made no admission of wrongdoing in the Koschman case.

Indeed, the measly $250,000 Koschman settlement came on the same day a North Side couple was awarded $325,000 for the city’s culpability in a basement flood that ruined their vintage record collection, an irony that can’t be totally explained away by the expiration of the statute of limitations on Nanci Koschman’s legal claim.

There also was no admission of wrongdoing in the McDonald case, although a $5 million payout tells another story entirely.

Please note we hadn’t heard a word about the Oct. 20 McDonald shooting before my colleague Mary Mitchell started writing about it in December. Most of you are well aware of this newspaper’s role in the Koschman investigation.

The mayor deserves credit for the city “owning up to its responsibility” for the Burge torture era that he called a “stain on the history of this city and its reputation.”

But we won’t get the “closure” he seeks until we recognize the stain runs deeper.

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