Lightfoot put police accountability, racial equity atop her agenda. Now she’s on an apology tour

The mayor’s handling of the case of Anjanette Young resembles Rahm Emanuel’s attempts to cover up the shooting of Laquan McDonald.

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Mayor Lightfoot discusses the video of the botched Chicago police raid of Anjanette Young’s home and said the city will no longer withhold video from residents seeking police records.

Mayor Lightfoot discusses the video of the botched police raid of Anjanette Young’s home and said the city will no longer withhold police video from residents seeking it for their records.

Anthony Vazquez/Chicago Sun-Times

How could this happen in Lori Lightfoot’s Chicago? 

In February 2019, police violently invaded the home of social worker Anjanette Young. They executed a search warrant on the wrong apartment.

Police officers left Young standing in her own home, naked and handcuffed, while they searched for weapons that were not there. She was violated and debased. She “feared for my life that night,” Young recalled last week. She pleaded her innocence, more than 40 times, to little avail.

That horrendous event did not occur on Mayor Lightfoot’s watch. But the continuing violation of Anjanette Young continued.

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The Lightfoot administration denied Young’s Freedom of Information request for the police body camera video that recorded the raid.

Lightfoot’s Law Department went to federal court to try to prevent CBS/Channel 2 from broadcasting the damning video.

Lightfoot’s lawyers asked a federal judge to sanction Young for sharing the video.

Finally, after at first claiming she knew nothing of the scandalous event until last week, Lightfoot admitted she had received emails from her staff about it last November, more than a year ago.

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Lightfoot has taken steps to undo the damage. But the handling of Young’s assault by police resembles, far too closely, Rahm Emanuel’s fierce attempts to cover up the infamous 2014 video of white police officer Jason Van Dyke shooting Black teenager Laquan McDonald.

That all leaves avid Lightfoot critics, and supporters alike, asking: How could this happen under her watch?

Lightfoot, a former federal prosecutor, previously served as president of the Chicago Police Board. She chaired the Chicago Police Accountability Task Force, whose recommendations led to the ongoing federal consent decree that is mandating sweeping police reforms.

In 2019, she was elected the first Black female and LGBTQ mayor in Chicago’s history, largely on the strength of calls for reform and racial equity.

Lightfoot put police accountability and racial equity at the top of her agenda. Now she is on an apology tour, deeply ensnared in a police abuse scandal that may haunt her for all time to come.

Questions remain. Lightfoot has made mistakes, but her mission is unprecedented.

But there is another precedent, one you won’t find in a court of law. The precedent of our legacy of systemic racism, a legacy that is embedded in American institutions and culture.

The systematic violation of Black bodies began long before there was a Chicago Police Department.

That violence has been propagated by white overseers since Black people were first dragged, in shackles, from the slave ships to our “new America.”

Our system is built on an ethic that devalues Black life, dating back to colonialism, when only white men were considered full human beings. It’s a system built on, and by, a culture in which the white “master” bought, sold, raped and tortured Black men and women.

To this day, this system of structural racism continues to ensure that Black people are stereotyped, misjudged and brutalized by American institutions, including policing. We remain dehumanized chattel, sinister objects, unworthy of considered humanity. Young, and too many others, sadly personify that truth.

Lightfoot has enacted real reforms. She promises more.

She will — and should — fight on, as imperfect as that fight may be.

But until America’s infrastructure of institutional, systemic racism is dismantled, until Black bodies are valued on the same terms as white bodies, the rafts of policies, practices and decrees of well-intentioned reformers will just be piles of paper, left to the dust.

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