U.S. District Court Judge Prentice H. Marshall’s recent ruling condemning the Chicago Police Department for illegally arresting thousands of minorities grew out ‘of an October 1982 expose by The Chicago Reporter.

The article, “Minority Leaders Charge Police with Disorderly Conduct,” revealed that in the first six months of 1982, the number of disorderly conduct arrests in Chicago reached 97,221 — 62 percent of total such arrests in the previous year. The number of those arrests escalated most rapidly in predominantly minority police districts.

On March 30, Marshall declared unconstitutional the Police Department’s practice of arresting individuals on disorderly conduct charges, but later failing to appear in court. The Reporter found the police officers often used the arrests to harass black and Hispanic youths.

The ruling follows a February 1983 class action suit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union against the city, charging the Police Department had unlawfully arrested and jailed thousands of minorities. ACLU legal director Harvey Grossman says the Reporter article alerted the ACLU to the problem.

Marshall ordered the Police Department to require that officers who make disorderly conduct arrests must appear in court to justify those arrests, except in cases of extenuating circumstances. Marshall also said the city must clear the records of all those persons charged with disorderly conduct during the last five years in cases where the arresting officer failed to appear in court. The city must notify those people of their right to sue the city for damages, which could cost millions of dollars.

Marshall’s ruling was especially harsh because city lawyers repeatedly failed to attend pre-trial meetings, he says. The decision may soon be modified if the ACLU and city can agree on the extent of the city’s liability.

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