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Mayoral candidates react with outrage or resignation to cover-up acquittals

Former Chicago Police Officer Joseph Walsh walks into the Leighton Criminal Courthouse, Thursday afternoon. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Mayoral candidates reacted with either outrage or resignation on Thursday to the acquittal of three Chicago Police officers charged with covering up the police shooting of Laquan McDonald.

County Board President Toni Preckwinkle called the verdict a “devastating step backward” and a “brutal reminder that considerable work remains” to restore trust between citizens and police in the black and brown communities shattered by the shooting of the black teenager.

Preckwinkle has vowed to fire Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson because he “refused to acknowledge that there was a code of silence” in the Chicago Police Department, even though that code of silence was famously acknowledged by Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

“We cannot improve the safety of our communities if our police force is not held accountable for its actions and the very real culture of the code of silence goes unpunished,” Preckwinkle said.

Community activist Amara Enyia echoed that view during an endorsement session before the Chicago Tribune’s editorial board.

“When we talk about the issue of trust between the department and communities, it’s verdicts like these that only continue to erode that trust from ever being established,” Enyia said.

In a news release headlined “It is a damn shame!” Willie Wilson called the judge’s decision in the case of Detective David March and officers Joseph Walsh and Thomas Gaffney “disgraceful” and “unacceptable.”

Former Police Board President Lori Lightfoot co-chaired the Mayor’s Task Force on Police Accountability; that panel’s scathing indictment of the Chicago Police Department laid the groundwork for the U.S. Justice Department to do the same.

The DOJ report, in turn, paved the way for the now-pending consent decree outlining the terms of federal court oversight of the Chicago Police Department.

In this Oct. 20, 2014 frame from dashcam video provided by the Chicago Police Department, Laquan McDonald (right), walks down the street moments before being fatally shot by CPD officer Jason Van Dyke sixteen times in Chicago. | Chicago Police Department via AP File

In this Oct. 20, 2014 frame from dashcam video provided by the Chicago Police Department, Laquan McDonald (right), walks down the street moments before being fatally shot by CPD officer Jason Van Dyke sixteen times in Chicago. | Chicago Police Department via AP File

Lightfoot called the verdict a “real missed opportunity to make a statement” and told the Trib edit board she was “disappointed” but “not surprised,” adding, “This case was, in some ways, more important than the Van Dyke case because it was about how the system works.”

She later issued a sharply-worded statement urging Johnson to “move to terminate any of the three officers who remain on the job” and asked the U.S. Attorney’s office where she once worked as a prosecutor to “review the case for possible criminal charges.”

“What those officers did was a disgrace. They should be ashamed of what they did to facilitate a false narrative about the murder of Laquan McDonald. But more than the actions of a few bad actors, their behavior is indicative of the continued need for substantial cultural change,” she said.

Former Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy was fired by Mayor Rahm Emanuel in the tumultuous days that followed the court-ordered release of the Laquan McDonald shooting video. At the time, Emanuel branded McCarthy a “distraction.”

“From the beginning, I thought it was going to be very difficult to prove a conspiracy case,” McCarthy said.

Like Jeremiah Joyce, McCarthy said, “I respect the system and verdict.”

Paul Vallas has two sons who are police officers and a wife who’s a former cop and now works for the TSA — though she’s doing so without pay during the marathon federal government shutdown.

“I don’t know if I’m surprised. I don’t know,” Vallas said.

“But I always thought that the higher-ups got away. I mean — there was a cover-up and it began at the top. I’m talking about Emanuel and I’m talking about McCarthy. I don’t care how they try to deny it.”

State Comptroller Susana Mendoza said the “verdicts are disappointing and heartbreaking” but “they’re not surprising.”

“This is something we’ve seen happen time and again throughout our country. It’s another tragic reminder of the broken culture within the police department and the work we have to do to fix it,” she said. “To keep our neighborhoods safe, we must end the code of silence that for too long has allowed police officers to escape accountability, no matter the evidence at hand.”

Former Commerce Secretary Bill Daley looked for a lesson in the verdict.

“We cannot allow this verdict to divide us,” Daley said. “We must learn from this situation. It’s time to work together to repair the relationship between the police and the community it serves. We can only do this as a united city.”

Former state Board of Education Chairman Gery Chico said “the acquittal of these three Chicago police officers is a disappointing decision for its failure to uphold justice for Laquan McDonald. The verdict also furthers the distrust that already exists between our police and our community. Chicago must comply with the Justice Department’s Consent Decree.”

“Chicago cannot become the city we want it to be without the assurance that all Chicagoans are treated fairly and equally. We have a great deal of work to do, and today’s decision only increases my desire to keep working to make our city more just, equitable and safe.”

The American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois called the acquittal of the three officers a “painful reminder of the complete lack of structural accountability for police officers in Chicago.”

“The judge’s findings will allow these three officers to escape criminal consequences for their part in covering up the murder of Laquan McDonald,” the ACLU said in a statement.

“The court’s decision does nothing to exonerate a police department so rotten that a teenager can be murdered—on video—by one of its officers and no one in the chain-in-command lifted a finger to do anything about it.”

The local Fraternal Order of Police had a different view in a Facebook post after the verdict. The union representing rank-and-file Chicago Police officers said the ruling was “clearly based on the evidence, or lack of it, in this case.” And they praised Cook County Judge Domenica Stephenson: “Her courage should be an inspiration to other judges in high-profile cases.”

On the other hand, they slammed the special prosecutor and the media, saying the officers’ names were “dragged through the mud” in a “wholly biased media assault, particularly by the Chicago Tribune and the Sun-Times. … When the elected officials discuss low police morale and its influence upon the ability of officers to protect the public, they should look at this case and consider what these officers have gone through.”