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Chicago Politricks, Corrupt Practices Lead The Nation

By by Bryan Crawford -Contributing Writer- | Last updated: May 23, 2018 - 11:14:13 AM

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CHICAGO—Blacks have long complained openly that they are the victims of corrupt policies and behaviors enacted and enforced by city and state governments, but oftentimes, such cases were difficult—if not impossible—to prove.

However, a new study conducted by researchers in the University of Illinois-Chicago’s department of political science, may be just the ammunition needed to push for true reform at all levels of government in Illinois, and support claims made by those directly impacted by the corruption.

“Chicago continues to be the most corrupt city in the country and Illinois continues to be the third most corrupt state,” the Continuing Corruption in Illinois report authored by Dick Simpson, Thomas Gradel, Marco Rossi and Katherine Taylor, opens. “Public corruption remains unacceptably high in our state… . An analysis of the Department of Justice statistics from its Public Integrity Section shows that Chicago remains the most corrupt city in the United States… . Public corruption in Chicago has been endemic to the city’s and the state’s political culture for more than 150 years.”

The report itself is generated based on the more than 1,700 federal corruption convictions handed down in the state over the past 40 years involving judges, aldermen, the Illinois governor seat, Congress, the House of Representatives, as well as municipalities. All told, corruption is interwoven into the political machine that exists in the state.

“What we find is a very dreary picture,” said Mr. Simpson. “In nearly every sector—whether you talk about aldermen, you talk about Chicago schools, you talk about contracts—in every area corruption is still rife in the city of Chicago.”

The hated “red light cameras” were supposed to capture motorists violating traffic laws and are endemic to the city. Some charged the cameras were disproportionately placed in Black neighborhoods and were sometimes inaccurate. What can’t be argued is the way the lucrative contract happened in the first place, which had nothing to do with the public interest.

“One of the costliest recent corruption cases in Chicago involved the former Assistant Commissioner of the Chicago Department of Transportation, John Bills,” the report noted. “In January 2016, Bills was convicted of  20 counts of fraud, extortion, bribery, and other crimes. In August of that year, he was sentenced to 10 years in prison.

Bills used his position with the Department of Transportation to secure a $131 million contract for Redflex Traffic Systems Inc. Between 2002-2011, Redflex installed red-light traffic cameras throughout Chicago. To reward Bills for securing the contract, the company gave him $560,000 in cash, paid $18,000 in entertainment expenses, and allowed him to use a $177,000 condo in Arizona. In addition to Bills, the federal government prosecuted three co-conspirators: former Redflex CEO, Karen Finley, former Redflex Vice-President, Aaron Rosenberg, and Bills’ friend, Martin O’Malley. Redflex agreed to pay $20 million in restitution to the city of Chicago and Mayor Rahm Emanuel subsequently cancelled Redflex’s contract in 2013.”

For Black people, the area where they are most likely to be affected by the corruption presented in the report are in the areas of law enforcement and corrections. The report highlights the scandal involving the Chicago Police Department and the cover-up of the shooting of LaQuan McDonald by Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke. That particular investigation touched everyone from Mayor Rahm Emanuel, former police chief Gerry McCarthy, the police department itself, as well as the now disbanded Independent Police Review Authority, whose job it was to thoroughly investigate any instances of police misconduct or use of force. However, there are many more examples of corruption within the department that haven’t garnered the same national headlines as the McDonald shooting, but show a pattern and practice of unethical, and sometimes illegal activity of police that disproportionately affects the lives of  Black people in the city and surrounding suburbs.


In April, 24-year-old Tyler Lumar passed away, nearly two years after suffering brain injuries related to his alleged hanging attempt while being held at the Harrison District lockup facility on Chicago’s West Side. Mr. Lumar was arrested by two officers, who in a previous encounter moments earlier on the same day, had let him go after he allegedly threatened a doctor at a medical clinic over a prescription dispute. After being detained, it was discovered that Mr. Lumar had an outstanding warrant in another Illinois county related to a $25 late payment on a misdemeanor traffic violation, that was already paid, according to records, but the warrant was never removed by the courts. The warrant carried a bond amount of $500 of which Mr. Lumar, who had $130 in his pocket at the time of his arrest, could have paid $50 and been released. However, the Chicago Police Department falsified the arrest report stating that no bond information was available on his warrant and subsequently placed him on an extradition hold. The next day, in the Cook County Jail, Mr. Lumar was falsely charged with possession of crack cocaine that belonged to another inmate, who cameras showed removed the drugs from his shoe and then tossed it near where Mr. Lumar—who had been already searched eight times for drugs and found to be clean—was sitting. He was sent back to Harrison District where he was later found hanging in his holding cell, using his shirt as a noose.

During the death investigation of Mr. Lumar, a widespread practice of falsifying cell inspection log reports was found to be common within the Chicago Police Department’s holding stations, and the city of Chicago was named in the wrongful death lawsuit filed on behalf of  Mr. Lumar’s family.

In May, a Chicago police sergeant and an officer under his command, were indicted for lying to judges to obtain search warrants of properties used as drug stash houses—in many instances using the false testimony of informants as the basis for obtaining the warrants. The officers would then go in and steal money and drugs that they would resell on the streets, splitting part of the proceeds with their informants. This is yet another decades old example of Chicago police corruption. Now all of the cases involving the two officers, David Salgado and Sgt. Xavier Elizondo, and warrants they requested are under review.

(L-R) Gerry McCarthy, Jason Van Dyke, Mayor Rahm Emanuel

Besides the loss of public confidence, cases and convictions thrown out and increased tension with those policed, cops doing wrong is costly. “Chicago has paid more than half a billion dollars since 2005 to settle lawsuits against police officers—money the city cannot afford,” warned the Chicago Reporter, which put together a database tracking these settlements. “Between 2011 and 2016, the City of Chicago paid $280 million in settlements in police misconduct cases,” said the Chicago Reporter.

 “Rather than rein in the practices that lead to police misconduct settlements, city officials borrowed tens of millions of dollars to pay for these lawsuits, adding to the city’s mounting debt,” it continued. “Over time, the interest on the bonds more than doubles the cost taxpayers bear for police misconduct.”

But, police corruption where Black people are oftentimes the victims, extends well beyond the Chicago city limits.

In March 2016 in Joliet, a suburb 45 miles southwest of Chicago, Elijah Manuel was granted an opportunity by the U.S. Supreme Court, to sue the city of Joliet and the Joliet Police Department after he was arrested in 2011 and held for seven weeks on possession of the drug ecstasy after a traffic stop. The pills in Mr. Manuel’s pocket at the time of his arrest were vitamins, and this fact was later independently proven by an Illinois police lab. A year prior in 2010, also in Joliet, officers John Wilson, Alan Vertin, Tom Banas and Sgt. Patrick Cardwell were all named in a $5 million civil rights lawsuit filed by Patrick Moore, a Black Joliet resident who was falsely arrested and jailed on possession of crack charges during a drug sting. Mr. Moore alleged the police filed a false report which included a false narrative to justify his arrest.

In October 2015, Lawrence Crosby, a Black motorist, was stopped by police in Evanston, Ill., a suburb just north of Chicago, on suspicions that he was driving a stolen vehicle after a report made by a woman who saw Mr. Crosby fixing loose molding on his car. The woman called 911, telling the dispatcher, “I don’t know if I’m racial profiling. I feel bad.”

During the encounter caught on dashcam, police drew their weapons on Mr. Crosby and discovered the car was not stolen and belonged to him. He was still charged with resisting arrest and disobeying a police officer. The charges were dropped five months later, and Mr. Crosby sued the Evanston Police Department and the city for malicious prosecution, battery and use of force, failure to prevent battery and use of force, vicarious liability, and conspiracy. Two decades ago, the Evanston Police Department’s drug and gang task force was at the center of a corruption probe that centered on falsified reports and arrests.

“On February 17, 2016, Gallup released a poll on Americans’ confidence in their state governments. Illinois ranked last with only 25 percent of the population reporting that they felt confident in the state’s government,” the report reads. “This was the second time Gallup had taken this poll with the same results. Previously in 2013, Illinois also ranked the least trusted government with only 28 percent of residents reporting that they trusted the state government. This means that over three years Illinoisans have become more cynical and jaded about their elected officials. Gallup research also shows that 50 percent of all Illinoisans would leave the state if given the opportunity, more so than any other state in the nation.”

“We’re losing population and corruption is one of the reasons we’re losing population. We have undermined faith in government,” Mr. Simpson said.

Whether they are victimized by police directly, or indirectly by politicians who pass legislation that further marginalizes and criminalizes Blacks, this report, although unlikely to spark any real change or reform, does serve as evidence that Black people bear much of the brunt of corruption that exists in Illinois and Chicago.

While many reforms have been developed and put in place, it’s not unreasonable for Black people to be skeptical that reforms will offer widespread and sweeping changes to fully stamp out corruption that disproportionately affects them.

“This loss of faith in Illinois’s institutions is the result of budget stalemates, low-bond ratings, a sluggish economy, and perpetual cases of corruption that pervade every level of government. Illinois and Chicago have implemented some reforms to curb corruption,” the report said. “For instance, currently there are a series of bills in the Illinois House and Senate to strengthen and clarify the role of the Office of Illinois’ Executive Inspector General. We have begun to require that civic education and civic engagement begin to be taught in high school. In future years, we may have a more informed electorate willing to take stronger actions such as campaign finance reform. The state has electronic voter registration by which citizens can register to vote online and is moving to Automatic Voter Registration when citizens obtain driver licenses or other state licenses in order to increase citizen participation in elections. And some police reforms have been adopted in Chicago.”

More is needed, however, to change a corrupt political culture, the report said.

It suggested additional reforms, including public funding of political campaigns; a fair remapping of all legislative districts; increased citizen participation in elections and government; strengthening inspector generals and creating a Suburban Inspector General; fundamental changes in police departments and correction facilities across the state; preventing public officials from representing individuals and corporations for profit before other units of governments; and making public information easily available in more useable forms on the Internet.