Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s view of police issues is about as far from those of Black Lives Matter activists and civil rights advocates as you can get. At a recent meeting in Washington, D.C., Emanuel said police are getting “fetal” due to what another city official deemed the “YouTube effect.”
For activists, cellphone videos of police interactions with civilians have validated complaints that previously would have been ignored. They have exposed police departments’ cover stories in the all-too-frequent killings of unarmed black civilians (and the media’s reporting of them) as, too often, pure fabrications. New technology has facilitated a national conversation on police killings and misconduct that previously seemed impossible.
A few years ago the ACLU of Illinois went to court and won First Amendment protection for civilians’ ability to monitor and videotape officers doing police business. Emanuel now says that constitutionally-protected activity causes officers to be less “proactive,” to “[pull] back from their ability to interdict” out of fear that it could cost them their jobs.
It’s the go-to position for politicians diverting attention from their failure to make communities safer. Before Emanuel, Mayor Richard M. Daley used this strategy, blaming media attention on police misconduct for rising crime rates.
It was reported to be the consensus among mayors and police chiefs at a Department of Justice meeting last week – where Emanuel made his “fetal” comment – that a national upsurge in the murder rate was somehow connected to less “proactive” policing caused by increased public scrutiny.
It’s hard to credit the notion. In St. Louis, an upsurge of gun violence is blamed on the “Ferguson effect” – increased scrutiny following last year’s killing of Michael Brown and the protests that incident engendered. But murders had already been increasing for several months when that unfolded.
Emanuel’s comments are irrational on several levels, said Malcolm London of Black Youth Project 100. “Looking at the facts, it’s absurd to think police officers are afraid to lose their jobs,” he said.
The record on that is clear: Chicago officers are rarely disciplined for misconduct, and very few receive significant disciplinary action. Under Emanuel, the city’s Independent Police Review Authority seems to have a priority of “protecting officers from any repercussions from misconduct charges,” said Craig Futterman of the University of Chicago law school.
If less “proactive” policing means fewer stop-and-frisks, it should be noted that as of last year, Chicago’s stop-and-frisk rate was four times that of New York City and similarly skewed toward black and Latino youth – an approach that was found unconstitutional in New York and challenged as unconstitutional by the ACLU here. (CPD agreed to monitor its use of stop and frisk earlier this year.)
“If they’re second-guessing that kind of behavior, they should be doing that,” London said. “They should be second-guessing a policing strategy that violates the Constitution.”
Futterman said research shows that enhancing police accountability and enhancing police effectiveness go hand in hand. “It’s the only way to build trust between police and the community,” he said.
Ted Pearson of the Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression said, “The solution isn’t more or less aggressive policing, it’s community control of police.” The alliance is advocating an elected Civilian Police Accountability Council.
Emanuel’s comments come at a curious moment. Calls for replacing police Superintendent Garry McCarthy are coming from the City Council’s Black Caucus and Crain’s Chicago Business. Emanuel is standing by his police chief.
While McCarthy can’t be blamed for the upsurge in violence, he does seem to have failed to establish relationships of trust and respect with broad swaths of the city. Part of the problem is his disregard for community concerns in high-profile cases of police misconduct.
He praised Commander Glenn Evans for his “aggressive” policing and promoted him while dozens of civilian complaints piled up against him, and the city paid hundreds of millions of dollars in lawsuits against him. Emanuel defended McCarthy. Evans will soon be tried for aggravated battery and official misconduct.
Now McCarthy faces a recommendation from IPRA that Detective Dante Servin be fired. Servin shot and killed Rekia Boyd in 2012 when he fired into a crowd. When Servin was prosecuted for reckless manslaughter, a judge said he should have been charged with first-degree murder (and, in a bizarre ruling, dismissed the charges against him). McCarthy criticized the prosecution, saying it might lead police officers to hesitate before acting in a dangerous situation.
At Thursday’s Police Board meeting, McCarthy may reveal how he will act on IPRA’s recommendation.
Clearly, Servin should have hesitated before firing over his shoulder into a crowd at a man who was holding a cell phone. McCarthy might be advised to start second-guessing the things that come out of his mouth. And Emanuel should be second-guessing his choice as police superintendent – and his own attitude toward police accountability.