Black Caucus backs civilian police oversight compromise over Lightfoot’s objection

The Black Caucus joins the City Council’s Hispanic and Progressive caucuses in supporting the plan. Mayor Lori Lightfoot opposes it, but Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa said the three caucuses provide enough votes to override a veto.

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Protesters hold placards in Chicago in May of 2020 as they join national outrage over the death of George Floyd.

Protesters took to the streets of Chicago last year during national outrage over the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

The Chicago City Council’s Black Caucus has endorsed a civilian police oversight plan summarily rejected by Mayor Lori Lightfoot, setting the stage for what could be Lightfoot’s first Council defeat.

By a 75% vote, the Black Caucus agreed to join the Council’s Hispanic and Progressive caucuses in endorsing a compromise ordinance crafted by two groups that have long pushed dramatically different versions of civilian police oversight: the Civilian Police Accountability Council and the Grassroots Alliance for Police Accountability.

“We definitely need some level of civilian oversight and accountability in the Police Department in addition to what we have today. This is what our residents have asked for. …This is an ordinance that delivers that. We have to put something on the table that’s comprehensive in nature,” said Ald. Jason Ervin (28th), Black Caucus chairman.

“If the mayor sees something different, she’s obligated to put something on the table. To date, nothing has been put on the table. … We, as a City Council, have been waiting on that for a number of months. She definitely has an opportunity to put something on the table to have a conversation. But you can’t negotiate against yourself.”

Ervin refused to reveal the precise vote in the Black Caucus, except to say the 75% threshold was met.

Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th) championed the more extreme version of civilian oversight proposed by the Civilian Police Accountability Council before helping to forge the compromise with the Grassroots Alliance for Police Accountability.

Now that the Black Caucus has joined the Hispanic and Progressive caucuses to back the compromise, the stage is set for Lightfoot’s first City Council defeat, Ramirez-Rosa said.

“With those three caucuses on board, we have the votes to pass this over the mayor’s objections,” Ramirez-Rosa told the Sun-Times.

Under the compromise, Chicago voters in the 2022 primary would be asked to approve a binding referendum empowering a civilian police oversight commission to hire and fire the police superintendent, negotiate police contracts and set CPD’s budget.

Lightfoot would lose the power to hire and fire the police superintendent. Her Law Department and hand-picked negotiators would lose the power to negotiate police contracts.

And Lightfoot and aldermen would be stripped of the power they now hold to establish the CPD budget, ceding that power as well to an 11-member civilian oversight commission that would have nine elected commissioners and two mayoral appointees.

Even if voters reject the binding referendum, the 11-member commission would have the final say in disputes over police policy unless two-thirds of the Council decides otherwise. The commission also would be empowered to take a vote of no-confidence in the superintendent and hire and fire the chief administrator of the Civilian Office of Police Accountability.

Lightfoot has said she can’t “outsource” responsibility for CPD to a civilian police oversight commission.

“I wear the jacket, as every mayor does, for violence in this city, for crime in this city. And the notion that we’re gonna outsource that to someone else and have no responsibility — no ability to impact this — I don’t know anybody who thinks that’s a good idea,” Lightfoot said last month during a conference call with City Hall reporters.

“When I hear, particularly from people in communities that are most impacted by violence, it’s, ‘Please, mayor don’t walk away from us. We need you to help us manage what’s going on in our neighborhoods.’ Those may not be the loudest voices. They may not be the people that are marching in the streets. But, they are very much concerned about what’s happening in their neighborhoods. So we have to come up with the plan that is also responsive to them.”

Ervin accused Lightfoot of overstating the case.

He noted the annual city budget still would have to be approved by the Council.

“If you want the power to budget, you need the power to tax and be held accountable for taxes,” Ervin said.

He added: “This is a good ordinance. It’ll go through the legislative process. If the mayor has an ordinance she wishes to put on the table, as she states that she has, it too can go through the legislative process.”

Defying the mayor on civilian police oversight gives African American aldermen a measure of revenge.

During the frenzied negotiations that preceded one of the closest City Council budget votes in decades, Lightfoot famously warned Black aldermen who dared to vote against her $12.8 billion spending plan, “Don’t ask me for s--t for the next three years” when it comes to choosing projects for her $3.7 billion capital plan.

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