Attorney General Jefferson Beauregard Sessions, whose reputation for racially discriminatory and pro-police attitudes precedes him, declared that he was directing his Justice Department to review all of the consent decrees and agreements the Obama Justice Department had entered into with a large number of municipalities in an effort to curb the unconstitutional policing practices of those cities’ police departments. Most notable among them was Chicago. Sessions announced his review only days after meeting with the head of Chicago’s notoriously reactionary Fraternal Order of Police.
This about-face will not help Chicago.
In January, only days before President Donald Trump and his attorney general nominee goose-stepped into power, the Civil Rights Division of the US Department of Justice, together with the US attorney’s office in Chicago, issued a scathing 160-page report which found, after an intensive 13-month investigation, that the Chicago Police Department engages in a pattern or practice of unconstitutional use of deadly and less-lethal force; does not effectively use crisis intervention techniques to reduce the need for force; does not prevent officers from deliberately concealing misconduct; has a police discipline system that does not effectively deter misconduct; and countenances a police “code of silence.” The DOJ also found that “the CPD uses force almost 10 times more often against blacks than against whites.” Moreover, the report said, the CPD “has tolerated racially discriminatory conduct that contributes to the pattern of unreasonable force,” and takes “insufficient steps” to curb officers who articulate animus based on “race, religion, gender, and national origin.”
Chicago’s sordid history of racist police violence stands in stark support of the DOJ’s findings, from the police assassination of Black Panther leader Fred Hampton in 1969 and the decades-long Jon Burge torture scandal to the video-recorded murder of Laquan McDonald. Evidence and findings that parallel those made by the Justice Department have been repeatedly set forth in local court decisions, jury verdicts, lawsuits, expert reports, official and unofficial investigations, and by the historic award of reparations to scores of police torture survivors.
But in Chicago, there is no court-approved consent decree or independent monitor to ensure change; there is only a scant three-page agreement between Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the DOJ to seek a decree that incorporates the basic findings of the report.
There can be little doubt that Sessions will seek to repudiate the essence of that agreement and the findings of the DOJ’s report, so it will be left to Emanuel, the CPD, Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx — and, most important, the police accountability movement and the communities they represent — to effect the fundamental change that a robust federal consent decree and an independent monitor would facilitate.
A short to-do list for the city and its mayor would include a community-based, independent Citizens Review Board that would deal aggressively with the discipline of abusive police officers; a police contract that curbs the power of the Fraternal Order of Police in matters of police discipline and control; complete transparency when it comes to matters of police misconduct; the immediate shutdown of the Homan Square interrogation site; and an end to the unprincipled defense of police officers by a coterie of high-priced private lawyers who cost the taxpayers tens of millions of dollars every year to defend what is all too often indefensible. At the county level, what’s needed is a truly independent and well-funded special prosecutor with a mandate to aggressively investigate and prosecute police misconduct — including rampant police perjury that has so deeply infected the court system. Meantime, Foxx must begin cleansing her office of the all-too-many assistant attorneys who have enabled police violence, coverups and perjury over the decades.
Will any of that happen? Those who have fought to change these systemic practices hold a well-grounded skepticism that neither the mayor nor CPD will institute and enforce changes required to transform police culture without an enforceable court order and an independent monitor. So once again, as it was after the dénouement of the Laquan McDonald murder, it will be up to an engaged public, led by Black Lives Matter and other community organizations, to push the city and county into action.