For a long time, Chicago officials have been writing checks—big checks—to families of people victimized by city cops.
According to the nonpartisan, nonprofit Better Government Association, the City of Chicago shelled out over half a billion dollars between 2004 and 2014 for acts of police misconduct: false arrests, perjury, wrongful convictions, racial bigotry and discrimination, reckless vehicle pursuits, excessive force, torture, and unjustified killings. That figure does not reflect a staggering 500 additional claims in the pipeline.
Nor does it include a 2015 settlement stemming from the October 20, 2014, shooting death of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald. The incident, captured on a police vehicle’s dashcam, is remarkable for the shocking disregard of human life exhibited by Officer Jason Van Dyke (currently facing first-degree murder charges). But it is also notable for another reason.
The boy’s death set in motion a time-honored response from Van Dyke’s fellow cops, their union reps, and, indeed, their bosses at headquarters and City Hall.
First accounts from the scene—in stark contrast to what can only be described as a pitiless execution—were fabricated, and repeated over time. And the city’s top official, Mayor Rahm Emanuel, urged by local human- and civil-rights champions Jamie Kalven, Craig Futterman, and others to come clean, chose instead to keep his mouth shut and the video under wraps—for 13 months. The strategy likely saved him from reelection defeat at the polls. Even then, the mayor did not release the damning video until a judge ordered the city to do so. By then, the political heat was impossible to withstand. Emanuel fired his police superintendent, Garry McCarthy, and impaneled a “Task Force on Police Accountability.”
In mid-April, the distinguished, handpicked five-member body released its report. It’s a thoroughgoing condemnation not only of dirty, discriminatory, and trigger-happy cops—and the fellow officers who robotically lie for them—but of the extent to which top police and city officials have historically turned a blind eye to systemic abuses within the CPD. (An important note: The Chicago Police Department is home to some of the most effective crime fighters and dignified and respectful service providers I’ve ever met. They deserve better.)
That history includes the 1968 Democratic National Convention, where Connecticut Senator Abraham Ribicoff criticized, from the rostrum of the International Amphitheatre, the “Gestapo tactics” of Chicago’s finest. An enraged Mayor Richard J. Daley, heard by some to shout anti-Semitic profanities from the floor, vigorously defended his cops and, when the tear gas cleared, rewarded them with a raise.