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Chicago Style Shakeup: Top Cop Ousted But Who Will Go Next?
By Ashahed M. Muhammad -Assistant Editor-
Updated Dec 8, 2015 - 12:13:45 PM

CHICAGO - It came as no surprise when at a morning news conference, Mayor Rahm Israel Emanuel announced he had asked for and accepted Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy’s resignation.

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“Now is the time for fresh eyes and new leadership to confront the challenges the department and our community and our city are facing as we go forward,” Mayor Emanuel said.

Facing sharp criticism from many different areas charging him with being a part of a cover-up in the October 2014 shooting of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald, Mayor Emanuel had to do something in an attempt to quell the Black community’s cry for justice. Mr. McCarthy, unpopular among Blacks seemingly since the day he was appointed in May of 2011, was on the hot seat and the most vulnerable. It was politically expedient for the mayor and abundantly clear that the police chief had to go.

Mayor Emanuel’s best efforts to control this politically volatile situation now are evident, however two months ago, at an Oct. 5 press conference at City Hall, the City Council Black Caucus called for Supt. McCarthy’s firing, and the mayor ignored them.

Now a group of retired Black police officers with decades of experience working for the Chicago Police Department is asking tough questions. They say corruption and bad officers have existed in the department for years, and believe it is past time for meaningful reform. Many aren’t fans of the mayor.

Pat Hill, former executive director of the African American Police League and well-known rights activist, said Mayor Emanuel is not serious about reform. She can’t understand why anyone in the Black community would believe him when he said he had not seen explosive police dash cam video of the McDonald killing prior to approving a $5 million settlement with the family. The youth was shot 16 times by an officer who has been charged with murder. It took over a year for the video to be made public.

“Rahm Emmanuel has proven himself to be a liar,” said Ms. Hill. “I think a lot of people are in denial because unfortunately, in our community, a lot of people voted for him. I don’t know what their expectations were? I don’t even understand that because prior to the election he was not demonstrating that he was our friend, so that’s something we’re going to have to work out.”

Another video of a police involved shooting threatens to raise the anger of activists and community organizers to an even higher level. Dash cam video shows Chicago police officer George Hernandez shooting 25-year-old Ronald Johnson III on October 12, 2014, days before the shooting of Laquan McDonald. Police said Mr. Johnson turned and pointed a gun at Ofc. Hernandez who fired in self-defense.

Attorneys for the family say the young Black male was fleeing police with nothing in his hands when the officer shot him. The video was released Dec. 7.

As in the McDonald case, Mayor Emanuel’s administration had battled releasing that video for months. Different from the McDonald case, Mr. Johnson’s family is currently pursuing a wrongful death suit against the city. There has been neither a financial settlement nor confidentiality agreement struck.

Retired Chicago police sergeant Michael Davis saw firsthand how White officers carry their racist attitudes and biases into the field while patrolling Black neighborhoods. Misconduct has always existed amongst bad cops in the force, now it is being caught on video, which makes it more difficult to cover their tracks, he said.

“The thing that is different now is cameras, phone cameras, cameras hanging up in the sky, every place you go, and you have this city saying that they’re going to expand the body camera program but at the same time they don’t want to show it to you. There are some additional shootings in this city that are worse than the shooting of Laquan,” said Mr. Davis.

The consistent police narrative that a suspect turned and pointed a weapon was not his experience and he spent 27 years as a police officer.

“Whenever there’s a police shooting, they give you a story that makes the public think in every case of a policeman shooting someone that a male Black suspect was running down the street holding his pants and he turned around and aimed a gun at a policeman. Never in my career have I chased someone who had a gun and they turned around and aimed at me. You chase someone with a gun, they’re going to run and throw that gun away,” he said.

Mr. McCarthy’s temporary replacement is 1st Deputy Superintendent John Escalante, a 29-year veteran of the force who has held the second-highest post in the department since October 2014. The search has begun for candidates to fill the top position permanently.

Changing the man at the top is good, but does not solve the problem if there are not serious efforts to get to the root of police misconduct and corruption. That is not done simply by setting up another task force, review board, or panel as Mayor Emanuel has done.

“It’s just more of the same,” said Mr. Davis.

What is needed is for elected members of the city council to hold the mayor accountable, and that is not happening, he noted.

“We need a true legislative body in there. We honestly need some young people in the city council who are not beholden to anybody else to sit there and truly be concerned about the citizens in Chicago,” Mr. Davis added.  

Problems mount for Emanuel

Hundreds of teachers have been laid off, mostly attributed to closing nearly 50 schools deemed underutilized or underperforming. The move was very unpopular with Blacks since a majority of the closed schools were located in Black neighborhoods on the city’s South and West Sides. According to a University of Chicago study earlier this year, 88 percent of students affected by school closures were Black.

The powerful Chicago Teachers Union opposes the mayor. Karen Lewis, CTU’s president, was considered a formidable opponent for Mr. Emanuel in the last mayoral election. Because of serious health issues, she opted not to run. She and the union backed County Commissioner Jesús “Chuy” Garcia against Mayor Emanuel. In a contentious April 7 runoff election Mr. Emanuel won a second term, receiving 55.7 percent of the vote, which included a large amount of Black support. Much of the support he enjoyed is gone now.

On social media, the hashtag #ResignRahm is becoming popular among political activists and on Dec. 9, 10 and 11 the Chicago Teachers Union will vote on whether or not teachers will strike. A teachers’ strike in the fall of 2012 caused the mayor’s popularity to take a serious hit.

Many also still remember Mayor Emanuel’s transportation detail running through red lights on numerous occasions while being caught on the very same traffic cameras many Chicagoans despise.

He’s not seen as the mayor of the citizens of Chicago, he is widely seen as the mayor of those who are wealthy and those with corporate interests.

“He definitely has to go,” said community activist Afrika Porter. “Rahm Emanuel is responsible as well, he doesn’t get to walk free. The entire cabinet needs to go.” 

It didn’t help matters when two months ago, disgraced former CEO of the Chicago Public Schools Barbara Byrd-Bennett pleaded guilty to federal corruption charges. She was accused of illegally steering $23 million worth of contracts to former friends, co-workers and companies in exchange for kickbacks. So far, Mayor Emanuel has kept his hands clean in this case, even though Ms. Byrd-Bennett, his handpicked appointee along with the other Emanuel-appointed six people who make up the Chicago Board of Education voted unanimously to approve questionable contracts.

Ideas for reform?

Ms. Hill said the last time there was a jump in Blacks joining the police force was in the 80s during the administration of the city’s first Black Mayor Harold Washington. Many retired Black officers believe hiring more officers from the areas they patrol could heal some of the wounds.

Following a recent ceremony which drew community activists, political officials, friends and family to Oak Woods Cemetery, the location where Mayor Washington is buried, Alderman Pat Dowell was critical of the length of time it took to show the McDonald shooting video footage. “The people should be outraged,” she said.

“One of the things I am very interested in is seeing some changes in the Fraternal Order of Police union’s contract,” Ald. Dowell told The Final Call.

She believes if an officer is thought to have done something unlawful or is found to have been unethical, he should not continue to receive a paycheck indefinitely. Typically, officers involved in shootings are moved to desk duty and still paid. Others, like in the case of the infamous police commander Jon Burge, continue to receive pensions after being convicted of crimes.

She also believes changes should be made in the way the City of Chicago pays out settlements in cases of police misconduct, which has cost taxpayers millions.

“Once the city pays out a settlement that shouldn’t just be on the backs of the taxpayers, that policeman’s family should also put something into the pot, they should also be responsible for paying something on the settlement,” said Ald. Dowell.

The Justice Dept. has also announced a probe of the Chicago Police Dept.

When activists took to the city’s Magnificent Mile in Black Friday protests, it was part of efforts to demand widespread change. But the starting point many called for was the ouster of Mayor Emanuel who once seemed to be the arrogant and invincible “King Rahm.” Those who have supported him are being called to justify their support. Callers to WVON AM 1690, the city’s Black talk radio station, have blasted the mayor. Leaders and groups have held sit-ins and protests at City Hall.

Muriel Sosa is a professional woman, but with anger in her voice, she shared what motivated her to join Black Friday protests. “I’m sick and tired of them killing our babies! It has to stop!” she said. “Would they shoot a White kid 16 times and let him die in the street like a dog? Hell no! They would never do that! We’re sick and tired of it and it needs to stop! McCarthy, he should go, (state’s attorney) Anita Alvarez and Rahm Emanuel—he should not be mayor again! We’re ready for him to go,” she said.

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