Wednesday, December 02, 2015

We Must Do Better

I’ve debated weighing in on the LaQuan McDonald murder and cover-up ever since the video was released. If you're reading this, you know what I ultimately decided. But I felt it prudent to be measured in my response, this being the age of the hot take and all. Even as I file this, I’m not sure it's worth sharing. But that’s never stopped me before.

Am I angry? I am. And that anger can help one dig a deep hole when processing thoughts on a subject such as this. The calls for Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez to resign in the wake of the dash cam video’s release grow by the minute. While their resignations would be a welcome holiday gift for those of us calling for justice, it won’t solve the problems that will continue to exist after they’re gone. In some cases, their resignations would worsen some of the existing circumstances. 

It’s like the hydra: cut off one head and two will grow to take its place.

I’m talking about issues like the culture of silence in the Chicago Police Department that enables the actions of police officers like McDonald’s killer Jason Van Dyke, and Dante Servin, acquitted of killing Rekia Boyd when he blindly fired into a crowd of people in an alley. Or the 10 percent of Chicago police officers with multiple misconduct charges on their records, who account for 30 percent of all complaints, who almost always walk away scot-free. CPD’s “no snitch” policy is as bad, if not worse, than the one they’re trying to break in black neighborhoods.

I’m talking about issues like the multiple independent reviews of police shootings that are deemed justifiable, from 21-year-old Tamir Rice’s murder in Cleveland to the several instances debated (and I use the term loosely) by CPD’s Independent Police Review Authority.

I’m talking about issues like the militarization of police departments across the country the past quarter-century. The motto “to serve and protect” has largely been abandoned. Police officers these days act more like an occupying force than one sworn to keep the peace and preserve life, even those of the criminals they arrest. Foot patrols have given way to armored vehicles, SUVs, surveillance equipment and LRADs, and cops like Van Dyke who unload an entire clip into a teen walking away from him.

I’m talking about issues like allowing police unions to intimidate critics and simultaneously claim persecution, as NYPD Patrolman’s Benevolent Association president Patrick Lynch has recently. Or to control media narratives whenever an officer fires his weapon, as Chicago Fraternal Order of Police spokesman Pat Camden does at the scene of every shooting involving a police officer.

I’m talking about issues such as how media outlets with limited resources accept the nonsense coming from Camden’s mouth as gospel.

I’m talking about the issue of how CPD may be overworked and stressed out, thanks to the hundreds of millions of dollars in overtime pay the past four years, that is the linchpin of former Superintendent Garry McCarthy’s crimefighting initiative. Or the FOP’s claim the Police Department is understaffed, despite a 2012 report showing Chicago has the most police officers per capita of all major American cities.

I’m talking about issues involving the goosing crime stats to give politicians, if not the public, the perception the city is making headway on major crime.

I’m talking about the tone deafness of Emanuel, who said last week the culture needed to change, then immediately headed to Millennium Park to light the city Christmas tree. Or how his administration waited until after he was re-elected to approve the $5 million settlement with LaQuan McDonald’s parents. Or how the City Law Department fought to prevent the video from being released.

I’m talking about the vindictiveness of Anita Alvarez, a “tough on crime” prosecutor who regularly refuses to investigate misconduct cases involving CPD or the Cook County Sheriff’s Department. A prosecutor who almost never doubts the thoroughness of police investigations, even as actual evidence—from the David Koschman cover-up to McDonald—are examples of why she should.
I’m talking about neighbors and residents who justify their ignorance and intolerance of what’s happening by bringing up bogeymen like “black on black crime” or “why don’t they protest in their own neighborhoods?” (They do. Every day.)

I’m talking about the issue of Chicago’s historic and ongoing hyper-segregation that leads neighbors and residents to take a “NIMBY” attitude.

I’m talking about the complete breakdown in the checks and balances between this city’s executive and legislative branches of government that has allowed the mayor to act as an Elective Majesty for as long as I’ve been alive, with the exception of four years in the 1980s.

We can do better. We must do better. I vote like clockwork because, evidence to the contrary, I believe in the power of the ballot. I believe sustained protests can effect positive change. I believe politicians who consider their seats to be family heirlooms should regularly have the fear of having to find honest work instilled in them every four years. I believe in One Chicago, in Building a New Chicago in the neighborhoods that need the boost the most.

If we lose that belief, everyone loses.

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