Police issues dominate City Council meeting

Parliamentary maneuvers were used to delay final action on Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s Gang Asset Forfeiture Ordinance and a $1.67 million settlement for a woman dragged out of a car by Chicago police officers at Brickyard Mall in May 2020.

SHARE Police issues dominate City Council meeting
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot speaks to Ald. Chris Taliaferro (29th) during a City Council meeting at City Hall in the Loop, Wednesday morning, Feb. 23, 2022.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot talks with Ald. Chris Taliaferro (29th) during the City Council meeting on Wednesday.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Will civil lawsuits targeting cash, cars and homes bring Chicago’s most violent street gangs to their knees? Or will Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s latest anti-crime crusade end up being a placebo at best and, at worst, further undermine police-community relations and inadvertently target innocent relatives?

Will five people dragged from a car by Chicago police officers responding to rampant looting at the Brickyard Mall in May 2020 share a $1.67 million settlement?

Chicago must wait a while longer to find out.

At an action-packed meeting dominated by police-related issues, parliamentary maneuvers were used to delay final action on those controversial items.

Ald. Ray Lopez (15th) delayed the Brickyard settlement, joined by Silvana Tabares (23rd), Felix Cardona (31st) and Nick Sposato (38th).

During a racially charged committee debate last week, Lopez warned rewarding Mia Wright and her friends would be “opening a Pandora’s box” to a parade of lawsuits from people who had been “willfully trying to destroy the city” on that tumultuous weekend of protests, looting and mayhem.

Public Safety Committee Chair Chris Taliaferro (29th) took the lead in deferring the ordinance empowering Lightfoot to file civil lawsuits to try to seize what she calls the ill-gotten “blood money” of Chicago’s most violent street gangs.

It was a preemptive move, either to stave off defeat or prevent progressive council members from doing the same.

“I’m not sure your assessment that it didn’t have the votes is correct,” Lightfoot told reporters after the City Council meeting.

But Lightfoot said she will take the additional time to “educate” alderpersons who “didn’t attend briefings and weren’t sure exactly” what was in the revised ordinance, so they can “make an informed decision.”

The mayor acknowledged “additional tweaks” may be needed to win passage.

COPA chief confirmed

With both items out of the way, the most heated debate on police-related issues surrounded the mayor’s appointment of Andrea Kersten to head the Civilian Office Police Accountability.

Kersten’s appointment was delayed — and nearly derailed — by COPA’s decision to recommend a three-day suspension for slain Chicago Police Officer Ella French.

Kersten has apologized repeatedly and profusely for what she has called the “heartache, frustration and just flat-out anger” she has caused French’s grieving family.

The vote to confirm her appointment was 31 to 14.

Ald. Maria Hadden (49th) blasted her colleagues for what she called a “double-standard.”

Some of the same people who opposed Kersten’s appointment blocked the Brickyard settlement, which seeks to hold Chicago police officers accountable.

“I genuinely can understand the strong feelings that you have. I wish that those feeling extended to the lives of Black residents in the city,” Hadden said.

“If you want law and order, if you want consistency, if you want accountability, we need it from all our public servants. That means police officers who bashed out windows, pulled somebody [by] their hair and blinded them for no reason have to be held accountable as well.”

Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th) admonished her colleagues to “get out of your feelings.”

Hairston said Kersten had no choice but to release the report recommending a three-day suspension for French for failing to activate her body camera and fill out the proper paperwork the night of the 2019 botched police raid on the home of social worker Anjanette Young.

“What we’re talking about is the situation with Anjanette Young. Nobody wanted to say that. While she was being exposed to the world, we want to talk about what we choose to remember. It’s not amnesia. It is choice,” Hairston said.

“I hear a lot of this, ‘Transparency this. Transparency that.’ But only when it suits our needs do we want them to be transparent. Do we want them to be timely with their reports? She did not do that. She did her job. We want to re-write the rules when it’s convenient for us.”

Ald. Silvana Tabares (23rd) cast one of the 14 “no” votes.

Ignoring Kersten’s multiple apologies, Tabares said Kersten has “refused to admit that she made a mistake in releasing the report seeking a suspension for a fallen police officer.”

“Now Ms. Kersten seeks a position to judge police officers who make split-second, life-or-death decisions. … And we’ve learned that Ms. Kersten has taken zero use-of-force training to see how she, herself, would respond under similar situations that police officers face on a daily basis,” Tabares said.

“These facts make me concerned that COPA is more focused on dishing out punishment instead of truth and fairness.”

Lightfoot once served as head of the Chicago Police Department Office of Professional Standards, the in-house predecessor to COPA.

As such, the mayor said she knows firsthand “how difficult” the job is and why Kersten has the strength and character to do the job that demands that she be right “every time” — not just some of the time.

“Every time you make a decision, someone is gonna be unhappy. But what I admire about you and why I know you’re the right person for this job in this moment is that you’re gonna call balls and strikes. You’re gonna do your job with integrity and dignity. And you’re gonna be fair,” Lightfoot said.

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