In the year since protests rocked Ferguson, Missouri, after the police killing of an unarmed black man named Michael Brown, a lot has happened around the issue of police accountability in Chicago.
Mayor Emanuel finally agreed to a reparations fund for victims on police torture in the 1980s and ‘90s. He shook up the Police Board. And after a damning report from the ACLU detailing the unconstitutional use of “stop and frisk,” the Chicago Police Department agreed to independent monitoring of investigatory stops. (The youth group We Charge Genocide is still pushing for a city ordinance that would go further in ensuring transparency and protecting rights during police stops.)
On the other hand, detective Dante Servin was acquitted of involuntary manslaughter in the 2012 killing of Rekia Boyd, when he fired into a group of unarmed West Siders. Chicago was rated number one in the nation for the number of fatal police shootings—70—over the past five years. Police Cmdr. Glenn Evans, who had been promoted while civilian complaints and legal settlement costs piled up, was indicted for aggravated battery and official misconduct.
Most recently, an investigator with the Independent Police Review Authority went public with documents showing he was fired for refusing supervisors’ orders that he change his findings in a dozen incidents of excessive force and shootings, three of them fatal. (This week the investigator, Lorenzo Davis, revealed that a new IPRA policy would erase the record of investigators’ findings when they are overruled by superiors.)
Since 2007, IPRA has concluded nearly 300 investigations of police shootings and found only one to be unjustified.
“The reason we have all these problems is that the system is set up to cover up, instead of to prosecute, police crimes,” said Frank Chapman, the veteran activist who is field organizer for the Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression, a group that’s worked for decades on cases like those of Rekia Boyd and Howard Morgan. “It’s such an ingrained pattern, you’re not really going to change it without a systemic change.
“There’s a very basic problem we have in our community—we do not have any control at all, period, over the police. The way they police our communities, the policies that are framed and put into practice in our community, we have no voice over that, and it’s really undemocratic.
“If we were talking about the white community, instead of African American and Latino communities, we’d be calling it a police state. Stop and frisk, isn’t that what goes on in a police state? Don’t they stop and frisk whoever they want whether they’ve committed a crime or not?…
“There’s total irresponsibility toward the black community. [The attitude is] screw you, we’re going to do what we want to do and the system is on our side. We don’t have to be accountable to anyone. It’s essentially impunity, and that’s the definition of a police state. You have no rights that they are bound to respect. It’s like we’re back to the Dred Scott case.”
The answer is based on “the simple democratic concept that the people in the community ought to have a voice,” Chapman said. The Chicago Alliance is heading a growing coalition pushing for an elected Civilian Police Accountability Council.
According to an ordinance they’ve drafted, the council would consist of 25 civilians elected by residents from each of the city’s 25 police districts. It would have the power to appoint the police superintendent and determine departmental regulations. And it would have the power to investigate shootings and complaints of misconduct, and the authority to discipline police officers.
“It’s based on the idea that people in the community should have a decisive voice in how their communities are policed, and they should have the ability to hold the police accountable when they commit crimes,” Chapman said. “IPRA and the Police Board aren’t doing that. The Civilian Police Accountability Council would replace both those institutions.”
It’s not going to happen unless a mass movement is mobilized to push the demand, Chapman said. The alliance has been organizing extensively throughout the South and West Sides. To date, scores of organizations are backing the ordinance, and well over 20,000 petitions have signed a petition in support.
Now the coalition is planning a mass demonstration to support the campaign, with thousands expected at the Federal Plaza on Saturday, August 29 at noon.
“It’s not about good police officers and bad police officers—it’s not about black or white police officers—it’s a systemic problem that police can commit these crimes with impunity,” Chapman said. “That has to be stopped.”