On May 4, 1886, Chicago Mayor Carter Harrison observed a rally in Haymarket Square – protesting a deadly police attack one day earlier on workers demanding an eight-hour day – and decided it was “tame.” On the way home he stopped at the Desplaines Street police station.
Harrison, a labor reformer who had appointed several socialists to his administration, told Police Captain John Bonfield to dismiss the six companies of officers he’d gathered there. Bonfield, an anti-labor, anti-immigrant zealot who had a reputation for brutality, instead led his officers to charge the dwindling rally.
A bomb was thrown by an unknown party, police opened fire, and the rest is history.
If you support the right of workers to organize for a shorter work day, it appears that in this case, Bonfield and his officers were on the wrong side of history.
So it was interesting that local Fraternal Order of Police President Kevin Graham, speaking at the City Club on Tuesday, cited the May 14, 1915 founding of his union in Pittsburgh by cops fed up with working twelve-hour days and seven-day weeks.
In his talk Tuesday, Graham comes across as reasonable and sincere. He supports community policing and strongly endorses bolstering social services. But in his comments on police reform during and after his talk, he too appears to be on the wrong side of history.
In some cases he may also be on the wrong side of the facts. Take stop and frisk: “When we stop less people, that is going to add to the crime rate,” he said. He blamed more detailed reporting required under an agreement with the ACLU. “We need to reduce the length of the form so that we can stop more people, and we have to do that in order to cut down on the crime, because the crime is going up.”
The fact is, while street stops dropped sharply after the agreement — from about 600,000 a year to just over 100,000 — crime rates rose for two years but then began dropping, and are now slightly lower than they were in 2015. It’s likely the two-year spike had little to do with the number of street stops, since crime rates dropped in New York City when police there abandoned stop and frisk.
The agreement with the ACLU came after that group reported that hundreds of thousands of Chicagoans — mostly African Americans — were being stopped with no resulting arrests, and that in almost half those cases, officers were failing to give a reason for the stop that met constitutional standards. “The abuse of stop and frisk is a violation of individual rights but it also poisons police and community relations,” ultimately making policing “more dangerous and less effective,” the ACLU argued in a 2016 report.
Graham also faults Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx for raising the $300 threshold for felony retail theft. Foxx has ordered that retail theft less than $1,000 be prosecuted as a misdemeanor, recognizing that felony convictions make it much more difficult for people to get their lives on track.
In fact, Illinois is one of only six states where the felony threshold is $500 or less, though there’s currently proposed legislation that would fix that. And the number of larceny arrests in Cook County dropped slightly in the year after Foxx’s policy change. That’s in line with a national study by Pew Charitable Trusts that found that in 30 states that raised their felony theft thresholds, the change had no effect on overall property crime or larceny rates.
Following his speech, Graham addressed questions from the Sun-Times about ongoing contract talks, and here too he makes questionable claims. Opposing lifting the ban on anonymous complaints by civilians against officers, he said, “Nowhere in our society do we have people that do not face their accusers.”
That’s true for cases that go to court, but filing a complaint is more like calling 911, which you can do anonymously. The requirement that a signed affidavit be filed is far more onerous than what’s required for other kinds of complaints to city departments. And as the Coalition for Police Contract Accountability has reported, anonymous reporting of complaints against police is standard practice in Seattle, Pittsburgh, Atlanta, Las Vegas, San Francisco, Baltimore, Nashville, Los Angeles, and several other cities.
Anonymous reporting isn’t needed, according to Graham, because “police officers don’t go after people because somebody makes a complaint on them. That’s ridiculous.”
That’s not what the U.S. Justice Department found: “We identified a significant number of incidents where the evidence supports concluding that CPD officers intimidated potential complainants or witnesses from filing or testifying regarding misconduct complaints.”
In its civil rights investigation, the DOJ reported testimony that “officers who engaged in force against a civilian routinely file baseless police assault and battery charges against the victim and other witnesses.” This phenomenon was detailed by The Chicago Reporter last year, which found that in two thirds of police use-of-force incidents since 2004, victims were charged with resisting arrest or with aggravated battery or assault to a police officer – a tactic defense attorneys call “cover charges.”
Finally, on the code of silence, Graham is one of the last holdouts. “There is no code of silence that I know of,” he said.
Even Supt. Eddie Johnson — who approved reports falsely stating that Detective Dante Servin was threatened with a gun when he shot Rekia Boyd in 2012 — admits officers sometimes “look the other way.” As former Chief of Patrol Eugene Williams told the Police Accountability Task Force, “The way it is done on the streets is to protect and cover for your partner at all costs, even at the expense of sacrificing every ounce of one’s integrity.”
Graham should talk to Shannon Spalding and Danny Echeverria, two cops who faced massive retaliation from department brass when they investigated the corrupt Sgt. Ronald Watts. He should talk with Sgt. Isaac Lambert, a 25-year veteran who filed a whistleblower lawsuit this year alleging he faced retaliation for refusing to approve a false police report regarding the August 2017 shooting of an unarmed 18-year-old. He should talk with Jaeho Jung or Laura Kubiak, officers who also say they faced retaliation for reporting police misconduct.
Then perhaps he should agree to remove the provision in his union’s contract that bars the police department from rewarding whistleblowers. He’s not representing his own members’ best interests when he stonewalls reform.