Things don’t seem to be going all that well in American policing, particularly for Chicago residents.
The video that the City of Chicago was forced to release showing jaw-dropping incompetence on the part of a southwest side officer only represents the best available imagery of a police department over their heads. The Laquan McDonald death is simply the vehicle carrying the message of scores of angry protesters and a populous in disbelief over the performance of their police department.
There is little in the 30 second clip of Chicago cops following, then shooting McDonald that should surprise anyone who’s been following the topic of excessive force by American police agencies these days. The officer himself, Jason Van Dyke, isn’t actually shown emptying his gun’s magazine clip into the teenager. The dashcam video from one of the squads on the scene only shows McDonald on the ground being pumped full of lead bullets from somebody screen left. That somebody is the same somebody who was 20 times before, reported for excessive force or other citizen complaints. The unremarkable conclusion to every single complaint? Innocent. No wrongdoing. It is here where we begin to see what really troubles residents and observers of the CPD.
The culture of corruption at the Chicago Police Department threatens the very citizenry they are assigned to serve in a manner that grossly exceeds what can be considered acceptable. The CPD is far beyond “a few bad apples” and even further beyond the already broad discretion cops are given to use force. The CPD is too deep in operational and personnel inconsistencies to be able to effectively perform their duties. The public doesn’t trust the police. The police don’t trust the system, and nobody trusts the mayor and his law enforcement chief.
The ‘cover-up’ operations at the CPD are what one might consider to be laughable- except there’s nothing terribly humorous to laugh at. Murder charges in the 1st degree have never been filed against a Chicago cop, despite the police shooting someone once every week for the last 8 years. Not remarkable. What is somewhat troubling is that of those 400 police shootings, only one was found to be unjustified. The other 399 times, the cops nailed it spot on. Pretty good percentages, by any standard. Hell, you throw out the results from the West German judge and the CPD is perfect! Deadly, justifiable force, every time. I challenge readers to find a Chicago police-involved shooting where the statement from officials DOES NOT include a narrative where the offender “pointed a gun at police.” I can’t find one. That leaves me to either have to believe the police are actually quite perfect in gun-slinging, or that the statements coming from the media office at police HQ are cookie-cutter, prepared narratives that are easily defended with “the officer felt threatened.”
The CPD cost residents of the City of Chicago one-million dollars a week, every week for the last 10 years, to settle cases of police misconduct. Money well-spent if you ignore the five-million dollar check the city wrote to McDonald’s family– without their need to sue. If there was video and the city treated just 1 in 4 of the police shootings the way they responded to the McDonald case, they’d blow through that half-billion dollars in 2 years. The fact they they stretched 500 million to 10 years of abuses is pretty good accounting, and pretty good police work. The strategy to investigate, deny and cover has worked well. It has, however, crushed all trust that anyone outside the force may have had for the beat cop and their bosses.
Consider the handling of my personal arrests by the CPD in 2008 while covering news for local Chicago media. While working as a credentialed photographer covering a police-involved shooting at 63rd St and Honore on the south side, I was placed under arrest for failing to comply with a verbal request to “not photograph” the investigation following the shooting. After being charged with obstructing an officer with my TV camera, cops in the processing room at district 7 (Englewood) deleted the memory cards from my still cameras while I watched- handcuffed to a wood bench. Then, the arresting commander stopped by to sternly advise the rank-and-file processing the arrest that “all your names are going on this arrest- so make sure it’s done right!” A second arrest for the same charge 2-weeks later while photographing a south side church was dropped. When the first arrest went to trial, a judge found my actions in compliance with the law while questioning the CPD commanders truthfulness and credibility on the stand. Yeah, yeah, blah, blah. Who cares? Nobody, really. However, deleting camera cards in front of a reporter is rather brazen, don’t you think? It was years ago. There was no lawsuit and I made no complaints against the department or its officers even though it cost thousands to defend. The only real difference was a dramatic chilling of my chasing news in the city. As if getting chased by stray dogs or risking personal injury through random violence isn’t enough for reporters, we have the CPD to worry about.
How does this incident relate to the current discussion on CPD trust? Where is the video from the Burger King store across the street from the Laquan McDonald shooting? Where are dashcam videos from the several other squad cars on the scene- at least one facing directly at the offending officer? Why did it take 400 days to fire, then file charges against a cop with a history of abuse who fired 16 bullets into a dead guy? Why- and how does the CPD get away with a policy of refusal to comply with Freedom of Information requests?
This department’s list of embarrassing situations exceeds the available time and space offered here, but John Burge’s legacy of torture, Dante Servin’s firing a gun over his shoulder into a crowd, Glenn Evan’s jamming of his gun down an innocent guys throat and the felonious destruction or tampering of evidence department-wide are all indications that the current crime culture and incompetence of those in charge at the CPD is not working. These and all the other brow-raising tales out of Chicago raise the question: What else is being covered up?