Chicago authorities are facing unprecedented scrutiny over their inability to maintain an effective and equitable criminal justice system. Amidst allegations that mayor Rahm Emanuel knew of—and covered up—a video of the police killing teenager Laquan MacDonald, the Department of Justice has announced that it will conduct an in-depth investigation of the Chicago Police Department.
The Chicago Police Department has been unable to stem an epidemic of gun violence, with 150 shootings occurring within the city during the first two weeks of 2016 alone, resulting in over twenty deaths. Even more worrying is the fact that the Chicago Police Department is a significant source of gun violence itself, and that civilian complaints over police misconduct rarely result in disciplinary action.
The Chicago Police Department’s Wanton Use of Force Is Inexcusable
On December 25, 2015, the police responded to a domestic dispute by fatally shooting teenager Quintonio LeGrier and an elderly bystander. LeGrier was armed with a baseball bat, so he could have been subdued through the use of non-lethal force, such as a Taser. Also troubling is a shocking new video showing the death of an unarmed teenager, Cedrick Chatman, at the hands of the Chicago Police Department in January 2013.
On January 7, 2013, Chatman ran from a stolen vehicle he was driving, with two police officers in hot pursuit. Seven seconds after he exited the vehicle he was dead. Officer Kevin Fry shot Chatman four times because he believed the teenager had a gun, and that he had “turned slightly” towards his partner. In fact, Chatham was carrying an iPhone box, and at no time took a menacing stance towards the officers or any bystanders.
In America, the police can only use deadly force against a suspect if they have good reason to believe that they or any bystanders are facing an immediate threat of serious bodily harm. Needless to say, these conditions did not exist at the time of Chatman’s shooting, just like in the cases of Laquan McDonald and Quintonio LeGrier. Instead, it seems that these boys were gunned down because of the color of their skin.
The Independent Police Review Authority Is Flawed
The Chatman shooting was quietly investigated by the Independent Police Review Authority (IPRA). The investigator working on the case, Lorenzo Davis, found the shooting unjustified but his superiors disagreed and overruled his findings. After the IPRA cleared Fry of any wrongdoing, they fired Investigator Davis, who is now suing the city of Chicago for wrongful termination.
The IPRA offers civilians a means of voicing their complaints against the police. But records show that the IPRA has historically failed in its mission. For example, over 2,000 Chicago police officers have at least one complaint of excessive force against them. But only around 150 of these complaints have resulted in disciplinary action, and in most cases disciplinary action involved suspension for a week or less—a small price to pay for violating the rights of the very citizens the police are supposed to protect.
Officer Fry, who killed Cedrick Chatman, had 30 complaints lodged against him during his twelve-year tenure, ten of which were for excessive use of force. But he was never punished. As for Officer Van Dyke, who killed Laquan McDonald, he had three allegations of excessive force and one for issuing racial slurs, but he was never disciplined and was able to remain on the streets, with tragic consequences.
The Rights and Safety of Chicago’s Citizens Are at Stake
In the aftermath of the McDonald case, Mayor Emanuel ordered the replacement of the IRSA’s boss. But in the absence of a systematic overview of the IPRA’s oversight procedures, Emanuel’s move appears to be largely symbolic. The Chicago government needs to take concrete steps towards improving the disciplinary measures available against cops who exhibit violent or racist behavior.
With the Department of Justice beginning an exhaustive review of the Chicago Police Department, there is some hope that reform may be on the way. Until then, criminal suspects will need to rely on passionate and effective legal representation if they want to stand a fair chance when facing the criminal justice system. That’s when Chicago criminal defense attorney Michael O’Meara of O’Meara Law LLC comes in. If you’ve been charged with a crime, call him today at 312-909-0706 and we’ll give you a free and confidential initial consultation.