Healing Chicago’s Wounds

In their editorial following the Van Dyke verdict the editors of the Chicago Tribune touch on several of the same themes I did in my reaction piece:

On the night of the shooting, a police union spokesman at the scene fed reporters a false narrative in which Van Dyke fired in self-defense after McDonald lunged at him with a knife. The Police Department’s official statement did not correct the falsehoods. Van Dyke’s fellow officers closed ranks, coordinating their stories to protect him. Three of them now face criminal charges for conspiring to provide “virtually identical false information,” according to prosecutors.

The video told a different story. And it revealed some outrageous malfeasance. Questions about the lack of sound with the images led to the discovery that many officers were routinely disabling their vehicles’ cameras or audio — at least five other cameras had recorded video at the scene, all without sound. The Cook County state’s attorney’s office acknowledged that video supplied by police in other criminal cases rarely included audio. Neither prosecutors nor police supervisors had bothered to find out why.

We’re recounting all of this as a reminder that McDonald’s death exposed much more than what Mayor Rahm Emanuel first tried to present as a problem with “one individual.” It revealed systemic failures in the Police Department, from top to bottom. It showed the complicity of generations of politicians who were eager to look the other way.

Sustained outrage over McDonald’s death has forced the city to acknowledge those failures and work in earnest to address them. Real progress has been made, but there is still a long way to go before Chicagoans are confident that police officers are being held accountable for their actions.

While the verdict may begin the healing of Chicago’s wounds, it’s only the first of what must be many steps. The personnel, recruitment, training, and assignment strategies of the Chicago Police Department need to be changed. None of those can be effected with the present union representing the police officers. It should be decertified. I don’t object to police officers having union representation but I do object to union representation that makes it impossible to discipline the police force. As the editors point out, what has been revealed is a systemic problem not one of a few individuals. It’s not just a few apples; it’s the barrel.

I don’t believe that any regular Democrat will make the moves necessary. Can you imagine Bill Daley or Gerry Chico going toe-to-toe with the FOP? They will not alienate people whose support they need to maintain Democratic hegemony in Chicago. They’ll use the same strategy the late Mayor Daley did in negotiating with public employees’ unions. He’d go into a closed door meeting, give them whatever they wanted, and then announce victory.

4 comments… add one
  • steve Link

    “I don’t believe that any regular Democrat will make the moves necessary. ”

    I dont even know much about Chicago and I would agree with this, but we are so polarized now that I wonder if anyone can take on the police? Some individual police departments around the country have gone through reforms in the past, but I dont know if it is possible now.


  • Gray Shambler Link

    I even wonder if the police are the problem, or are social problems and conditions in certain neighborhoods making their jobs impossible. Police don’t enforce the law, they arrest or ticket people after the fact. People in civil societies enforce their own conduct.
    Chicago police violence is mild compared to that in some parts of the world.
    A restaurant owner whom I know came from rural Mexico just under 15 years ago, (illegally), told me where he came from the police and the cartel enforcers were the same people, moonlighting murder.
    If anyone knows of a large, diverse city with lots of drugs and gangs and guns where the police are well received and well behaved I guess that would be a model.

  • The Chicago police have a history of torturing suspects and gunning people down in the streets. I don’t know how you’d go about disaggregating those from “social problems and conditions in neighborhoods”.

  • Gray Shambler Link

    I guess I’d disaggregate by asking why these things happen. Do police torture confessions because “no snitch” social mores frustrate them and make crime resolution impossible? Do they shoot people down in the streets for fun? For bragging rights? Because they don’t even fear their own internal affairs division? Or could it be they work in a high stress environment, dealing with unpredictable behavior of probably armed people under the influence of illegal drugs who don’t even know themselves what they will do next?

    I agree the situation is unacceptable and police need to be held accountable for their actions, but if you can name a comparable city dealing with law enforcement better, hire their commissioner away.

    But what I think you mean is that in Chicago, police power is so entrenched by politics from Daly on down, then I would suppose litigation is the way to go. Would be more attractive if Chicago had smaller shoulders and deeper pockets.

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