Chicago Police Assaulted Children, Got Away With Murders: DOJ Report Echoes What Residents Have Long Known
In a September 2014 report prepared for the United Nations Committee Against Torture, a grassroots effort called We Charge Genocide documented that, “Young people of color in communities across Chicago are consistently profiled, targeted, harassed, and subjected to excessive force by the (predominantly white) [Chicago Police Department]—leaving far too many physically injured, killed, and emotionally scarred.”
The investigation, led by directly impacted Chicago residents, determined that between 2009 and 2011, 92 percent of all CPD Taser uses targeted black or Latino people. Black residents are 10 times more likely to be shot by the CPD than their white counterparts, the probe found, and thousands of misconduct complaints are going systematically disregarded. The CPD’s “endemic” use of excessive force is racially discriminatory in nature, fuels a climate of fear and trauma and “constitutes torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment,” concluded the report, which was presented in November 2014 to the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland by a team of eight young Chicago residents of color.
That detailed investigation followed in the footsteps of the We Charge Genocide petition brought to the United Nations in 1951 under the Genocide Convention. Written by the Civil Rights Congress, the paper determined that, “oppressed Negro citizens of the United States, segregated, discriminated against and long the target of violence, suffer from genocide as the result of the consistent, conscious, unified policies of every branch of government.” It concluded that, “Once the classic method of lynching was the rope. Now it is the policeman’s bullet.”
Since the 2014 investigation alone, black, brown and poor residents of Chicago have consistently warned that there is an ongoing epidemic of police killings, racism and violence in their city. They have done so in step with the nationwide Black Lives Matter movement. Were it not for the sustained resistance of these communities, including members of Black Lives Matter-Chicago, Black Youth Project 100 and Assata's Daughters, the world might never know the names of black Chicago residents killed by police over the past five years, among them Rekia Boyd, Joshua Beal, Ronald Johnson, Pierre Loury, Kajuan Raye, Bettie Jones, Quintonio Legrier and Roshad McIntosh. And were it not for continued mobilizations and outrage, the Rahm Emanuel administration might have gotten away with its coverup of the police killing of Laquan McDonald, a 17-year-old African American who died after being shot by white officer Jason Van Dyke 16 times.
So when the Department of Justice released a 164-page report last Friday confirming that the Chicago police department is perpetrating harassment, “unreasonable” killings and systematic civil rights violations against the people of Chicago, bereaved family members and racial justice campaigners said they were neither surprised nor satisfied. Many expressed concern that the findings will almost certainly be used to justify funneling more funding into the police department that continues to unleash atrocities on the city’s residents, on the watch of Mayor Emanuel.
“The statement that the DOJ made today, I said it a long time ago. The system is corrupt,” said Dorothy Holmes, the mother of Ronald Johnson, a 25-year-old black man who was shot to death by Officer George Hernandez in October 2014. Gathered with other bereaved family members and members of Black Lives Matter-Chicago, for a press conference outside the outside the Central District police station on the day the DOJ’s findings were released, Holmes declared, “We want accountability... My son should have been here. I should not be standing here.”
‘We know these cops are killing our families’
Echoing the findings of We Charge Genocide's 2014 report, the DOJ investigation determined that the CPD systematically uses force nearly 10 times more often against black residents than whites, and that “officers engage in a pattern or practice of using force, including deadly force, that is unreasonable." The report notes, “Among the most egregious uses of deadly force we reviewed were incidents in which CPD officers shot at suspects who presented no immediate threat." In just one example, the report states:
[A]n off-duty CPD officer spotted the silhouette of a man in a vacant building and suspected the man was burglarizing it. The officer called 911, but did not wait for other officers to arrive. Instead, the off-duty officer summoned the man out of the building. According to a civilian witness, the burglary suspect angrily exited the building, yelling, “You’re not a fucking cop.” The suspect then advanced on the officer, who struck and kicked the suspect. According to the officer, the suspect then reached into his waistband and withdrew a shiny object, prompting the officer to fire twice, killing the man. No weapon was recovered. Instead, officers reported finding a silver watch near the man’s body. IPRA found the shooting justified without addressing the officer’s failure to await backup. According to press reports, in November 2016, this same officer shot a man in the back and killed him, claiming the man had pointed a gun at him during a foot pursuit. No gun was recovered.
The probe cites numerous attacks against children, including the following:
In one incident, officers hit a 16-year-old girl with a baton and then Tasered her after she was asked to leave the school for having a cell phone in violation of school rules. Officers were called in to arrest her for trespassing. Officers claimed the force was justified because she flailed her arms when they tried to arrest her, with no adequate explanation for how such flailing met the criteria for use of a Taser. This was not an isolated incident. We also reviewed incidents in which officers unnecessarily drive-stunned students to break up fights, including one use of a Taser in drive-stun mode against a 14-year-old girl. There was no indication in these files that these students’ conduct warranted use of the Taser instead of a less serious application of force.
Such attacks are well-documented by Chicago residents, including the following testimony highlighted in the 2014 We Charge Genocide report, in which a young black man describes an interaction he had with CPD at the age of 15:
We’re sitting in a house playing video games and we hear a banging on the door. Before we know it, the door is kicked down and there’s five special-ops officers with their huge M16s drawn, pointed at us: Three 15-year-olds playing video games. And they tell us get on the ground. They say if we move they are gonna kill us. “Don’t look at me, we’ll fucking kill you in a second!” Pointing their guns at us. Then they don’t find anything. They let us all go, they laugh, try to joke with us, apologize, then leave out. And we’re sitting there like, “What just happened?” They tear up the house. They stole money.”
According to the DOJ probe, the city “received over 30,000 complaints of police misconduct during the five years preceding our investigation, but fewer than two percent were sustained, resulting in no discipline in 98 percent of these complaints." As a result, the CPD has a “culture in which officers expect to use force and not be questioned about the need for or propriety of that use.” The probe highlights active coverups in which internal investigators “directly sought to influence officers’ statements—in the officer’s favor—by asking unnecessary leading questions during investigative interviews.”
The CPD also shows tolerance for “racially discriminatory conduct,” states the report. Of the 980 complaints of racial or ethnic discrimination filed against the CPD, only 1.3 percent were sustained. Investigators found 354 complaints for the use of the word “n****r” or its variations, and only 1.1 percent of these complaints were sustained. “We have serious concerns about the prevalence of racially discriminatory conduct by some CPD officers,” the probe states.
Amika Tendaji, an organizer with Black Lives Matter-Chicago, said at Friday’s press conference, “When this DOJ report came out, it didn’t tell any family, any person who lives on the south or west side of Chicago, anything new. We know these cops are killing our families, our loved ones, and it’s nothing to them but a mountain of paperwork.”
‘Band aid-like solutions’
The DOJ report determines that “residents in black neighborhoods suffer more of the harms caused by breakdowns in uses of force, training, supervision, accountability and community policing.” Yet it goes on to call for an expansion of a “community policing philosophy,” urging the city to “Develop community policing as a core component of CPD’s policing strategies, tactics, and training.” In addition, the report urges the city to “create liaison officers in each district” and “Increase opportunities for officers to have frequent, positive interactions with people outside of an enforcement context.”
The call to funnel more public dollars into community policing flies in the face of a report released in October 2015 by We Charge Genocide, which found that, “Despite its more palatable label, Chicago's 'community policing' program is used to provide political cover for aggressive enforcement of so-called 'quality of life' crimes—and even for the physical displacement of people of color from gentrifying neighborhoods.” The probe takes aim at the euphemistically termed Chicago Alternative Policing Strategy (CAPS), which was expanded by Rahm Emanuel while he was under fire for rampant CPD killings. "At CAPS meetings, police effectively deputize a small group of residents to engage in surveillance," the report observes. “These residents are disproportionately white property owners, especially in gentrifying neighborhoods. Their complaints reflect their implicit biases about who to consider 'suspicious.' CAPS meetings legitimize and amplify these biases.”
The DOJ investigation urges numerous other reforms that would further expand public funding of the CPD it charges with systematic human rights violations, including the call to “Implement policies and develop training to improve interactions with people who are in crisis” and “Ensure investigative agencies have the appropriate resources, training, and structure necessary to conduct investigations thoroughly, efficiently, and fairly.”
Kofi Ademola, an organizer for Black Lives Matter-Chicago, declared at Friday’s press conference, “We know for a fact that putting money into policing—hiring more police, paying for body cameras, paying for Tasers—adds to our oppression, instead of investing in our communities. We need our schools reopened. We need mental health clinics. We need jobs for our young people. We need an investment in the businesses of our community. And how about the lead poisoning in CPS schools and the Park District.”
Maxx Boykin, organizing co-chair of BYP100-Chicago, agreed, proclaiming in a press statement that, “The best solution I see out of this report is to reallocate CPD funds in order to support the communities most impacted by their terror.” According to BYP100-Chicago, “This means less cops, more social services, better public schools, and more affordable housing in black communities.”
“There's this clear pattern where these ‘investigations’ happen repeatedly every decade or so and then ‘recommendations’ are made and what happens is these bandaid-like solutions appear as hopeful remedies,” said Monica Trinidad, an organizer with the People's Response Team who traveled to Geneva, Switzerland, in 2014 with We Charge Genocide to address the United Nations. “We saw the recommendations for police to wear body cameras as a response to police violence and look at how that turned out. Police just turned off their cameras or ‘forgot’ to turn them on.”
Our lives are disposable’
Notably, the DOJ report does not come with the customary court-enforced settlement, known as a consent decree, meaning that its calls for a halt to the excessive violence it outlines are largely symbolic. The DOJ says that, “The city of Chicago and the Justice Department have signed an agreement in principle to work together, with community input, to create a federal court-enforceable consent decree addressing the deficiencies found during the investigation.” However, such a decree could be months in the future, handing it over to the incoming Trump administration to enforce. Jeff Sessions, Trump's nominee for attorney general, who was deemed too racist to serve as a federal judge under President Ronald Reagan, has previously vocalized his opposition to federal consent decrees. At the confirmation hearing on Tuesday, Sessions proclaimed he opposes federal probes into local police departments, claiming they “can undermine respect for police officers."
Mariame Kaba, a former member of We Charge Genocide and founding director of Project Nia, told AlterNet, “It’s no secret that I have said often, and at the beginning of this process, that I have no faith in these kinds of tools to do anything in terms of fixing violent policing. I don't think it's a bad thing for the government to document its own abuses against its people. If they put out information that confirms what people on the ground have been saying, I suppose that helps people on the ground in some way make the case that they are not inventing this stuff.”
“In terms of what will actually happen,” Kaba continued, “the Trump administration has made it clear that Sessions, who will most likely be confirmed as attorney general, says he doesn't believe in consent decrees at all. This just makes it even more unlikely that changes will be made through the DOJ. This will be an agreement between law enforcement at the federal level and ‘city municipal’ law enforcement. I don't see what's going to change.” Kaba added, “The purpose of these reports and consent decrees is to funnel more money into policing. I don’t think that the DOJ hides that.”
According to Kaba, the longstanding struggle against police violence “continues to animate people's resistance, and that's because it's one of the most visible ways black people have been made second-class in this country and have faced lethal forms of violence directly from the state.” She added, “especially for younger organizers who might be feeling a sense of, 'is this ever going to be different?' I do want to say that abolition has gotten traction over the last five years, even though it's a framework and a praxis that's been in existence for many more years than that. People are actually taking seriously the idea that we should be striving to abolish prisons, policing and surveillance and that is not getting you thrown out of rooms.”
“There’s nothing new in this report that can hold the police department accountable, other than the same thing that has been happening in Chicago: community organizing, mobilization, and the watchdogs in the civil rights lawyer community,” Sheila Bedi, clinical associate professor of law at the Northwestern School of Law and an attorney with the Roderick and Solange MacArthur Justice Center, told AlterNet.
“This report only looks at one aspect of policing—use of excessive force,” she said. “But there’s a lot of problems in Chicago related to coerced confession, torture, stop-and-frisk, and more.”
Arewa Karen Winters, the great aunt of Pierre Loury, a 16-year-old black resident of West Chicago who was shot and killed by CPD in April 2016, said at Friday’s press conference: “There is a problem here. It is systemic, it is historical. Our lives are disposable to the infrastructure and institution of the Chicago Police Department.”
Sarah Lazare is a staff writer for AlterNet. A former staff writer for Common Dreams, she coedited the book About Face: Military Resisters Turn Against War. Follow her on Twitter at @sarahlazare.