News broke this morning that Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy has been discharged from his position by Mayor Rahm Emanuel. This news comes on the heels of massive protests and public outcry about the city’s attempt to cover up the murder of Laquan McDonald – a murder that has now resulted in first-degree murder charges against the officer involved.
After a judge issued an order on November 19 for a damning dashcam video of McDonald’s death to be released to the media, city officials scrambled to minimize the scandal. State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez quickly filed charges, more than a year after she herself had viewed the highly incriminating footage, and Mayor Emanuel virtually went into hiding, allowing the press no access to his daily schedule.
McCarthy’s firing is a major victory for activists who have challenged the superintendent’s consistent defense of reckless, violent police officers, one of whom faced trial for the killing of Rekia Boyd, and another of whom was charged with using excessive force after DNA evidence established that his weapon had been shoved down the throat of a suspect.
The Chicago Police Department has also been marred by recent charges in a sex-trafficking case, wherein police have been accused of prostituting a 14-year-old-girl.
The perception that police crimes are routinely hidden from public view is one that is shared by many Chicagoans. As Charlene Carruthers, the national director of Black Youth Project 100, recently told Democracy Now!, “This is a system dedicated to not knowing things that could be known.”
Frustration with McCarthy, Alvarez and Emanuel has reached a fever pitch since the release of the dashcam video of McDonald’s death. “Our communities are fed up with the exploitation, murders and cover-ups,” said local activist Atena Danner, an organizer with the Chicago-based direct action organization Lifted Voices, who says that police and city officials have demonstrated a “blatant disregard ” for Black and Brown lives.
Until now, Emanuel has staunchly defended McCarthy, indicating that he had no intention of firing his top cop. McCarthy, for his part, went so far as to brag during a recent news conference that “the mayor has made it very clear that he has my back,” in spite of recent police scandals.
Activists have criticized McCarthy throughout his tenure for his indulgence of violent police, with representatives of the group We Charge Genocide actually taking their case to the United Nations. Unmoved by calls from an international committee to clean up his department’s act, McCarthy continued to ignore the outcry of community members who have demanded justice for police victims like Dominique Franklin, who was tased to death by Chicago police after allegedly stealing a bottle of liquor.
In October, Black Youth Project 100 (BYP 100) led a massive effort to hold the Chicago police accountable for their violent practices, severely embarrassing McCarthy on an international stage, as BYP 100 and allied organizations surrounded the International Association of Chiefs of Police conference with street blockades. McCarthy was forced to walk past one of the shutdown intersections on his way to address some of the thousands of police who had gathered for the conference, while activists chanted that the top cop was on his way out.
Even after McCarthy’s firing, local organizers say the fight is not over. “Alvarez and Emanuel were clearly a part of concealing Laquan McDonald’s murder from the public eye, and they need to be held accountable,” said Danner, who helped organize a blockade led by Lifted Voices at the recent shutdown.
“Anita Alvarez railroads young Black and Brown people and lets police get away with murder. Officer Van Dyke’s indictment was too little, too late. She needs to go,” added Lifted Voices organizer Camille Crawford.
With groups like Black Youth Project 100, Black Lives Matter and Fearless Leading by the Youth (FLY) relentlessly organizing street protests, and demanding the firing of officials and greater police accountability, Chicago will likely continue to be rocked by protests and disruption in the weeks to come. “This is only the beginning,” said FLY organizer Veronica Morris Moore.
Local organizers have vowed to continue fighting for justice for Laquan McDonald, Rekia Boyd, Dominique Franklin and others who have died on McCarthy’s watch. “One down, two to go,” has been the online refrain of local activists since word of McCarthy’s firing hit social media this morning, with activists echoing calls from the American Bar Association for Alvarez to resign, and demanding a swift end to Emanuel’s tenure as mayor.
“By withholding evidence in a murder case, Anita Alvarez and Rahm Emanuel are both complicit in conspiring to cover up the murder execution of Laquan McDonald,” said local Black Lives Matter organizer Aislinn Sol. And while Emanuel may hope that his newly announced “police accountability task force” will turn down the heat, both he and Alvarez will likely face a harsh winter in the windy city.