Mitchell: No surprises in DOJ report, just ugly truths
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There weren’t any surprises in the highly anticipated Department of Justice findings of the investigation into the Chicago Police Department.
Just ugly truths.
Black people — young and old — have been complaining for decades that white police officers use unnecessary force and illegal tactics in predominantly black and Hispanic neighborhoods.
But their cries of racism, brutality and unlawful policing practices have mostly gone ignored.
Instead of addressing the issue, the city chose to pay off the victims (or their survivors) if they sued, and to keep the offending officer in uniform.
Chicagoans fortunate enough to live downtown or in neighborhoods where, as one unidentified police commander told a DOJ investigator, they “catch holy hell” if a “white woman has her iPhone stolen,” might learn something from the DOJ report.
It might help them understand why so many unarmed black men have been shot running away from police.
“Many individuals in these communities experience policing in a fundamentally different way than do white individuals and white communities. Restoring trust and bringing about effective policing will be difficult unless CPD eliminates unnecessary, harmful differences in how people in these communities are treated,” the report found.
“Our investigation also found that CPD has tolerated racially discriminatory conduct that not only undermines police legitimacy, but also contributes to the pattern or practice of unreasonable force,” the report continued.
What I found frustrating, however, was how the DOJ report tiptoed around the role racism has played in creating an abusive culture within the Chicago Police Department.
The Police Accountability Task Force Report that was released last April got right to it in its executive summary.
On Friday, Lori Lightfoot, Police Board President and co-chair of the mayor’s Police Accountability Task Force, was asked about the Justice Department’s apparent reluctance to put race front and center.
“You can’t talk about reforms of a large urban police department without coming to terms with race. We set that out in bold relief in our task force report back in April,” Lightfoot said.
“We have a long history in this city of difficult, fractured relationships between the police department and communities of color,” she said.
It isn’t until page 139 of the 161 page DOJ report, that the feds got down to the heart of the matter:
“Any effort to restore trust and ensure lawful policing in Chicago must focus on Chicago’s predominantly black and Latino neighborhoods, especially those with high rates of violent crime,” the report said.
Before then, the report cited numerous incidents in which police officers acted recklessly, including shooting at fleeing unarmed suspects.
But the investigators did not reveal the race of either the suspect or the officers involved in the encounters.
That could give the impression that unlawful and reckless policing is happening all over the city when it isn’t.
Black and Hispanic citizens catch the brunt of the racist and brutal cop behavior because there are still too many racist cops on the street.
The problem won’t get fixed unless it is acknowledged that racial hatred is at the heart of our troubles.
Unfortunately, police brass has been unwilling to address negative racial attitudes within the department.
The DOJ report found a “recurrence of unaddressed racially discriminatory conduct by officers. Investigators used the example of a photo from the early 2000s that later surfaced in a Sun-Times story that showed white CPD officers Jerome Finnegan and Timothy McDermott “squatting over a black man posed as a dead deer with antlers as the officers hold their rifles.”
“White officers routinely called black youth “n******,” “animal,” or “pieces of sh*t,” investigators said.
One officer told interviewers that he “personally heard co-workers and supervisors refer to black individuals as monkeys, animals, savages, and pieces of sh*t,” the report said.
In a press conference following release of the report Friday, Mayor Rahm Emanuel declared “there is no room in the city of Chicago for racial statements, for racism or comments that are permissive of racism.”
But the city’s past mayors didn’t do anything about racism within the Chicago Police Department.
A succession of police chiefs didn’t do anything about it. The Chicago City Council, now comprised of a majority of black and Hispanic aldermen, didn’t do anything about it.
It took the video release of the brutal death of Laquan McDonald, a 17-year-old ward of the state, who was shot 16 times by Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke, before ordinary citizens rose up, and the unlawful policing tactics came to the attention of the Department of Justice.
Now it is up to us to make sure the reforms outlined in the report don’t get buried in a file cabinet somewhere.
“It is dependent on this city continuing to lean in as it has done,” U.S. Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch said. “We need to hear your voice. It requires the participation of everyone.”
We can’t change what happened to Laquan McDonald.
But we can make sure his death was not in vain.
City Hall reporter Fran Spielman contributed to this article.