As Democracy Now! broadcasts from Chicago, Illinois, we look at major developments in several high-profile cases of police shootings of unarmed African-American men and women, and how the independent media has played a key role in exposing police misconduct. On Tuesday, Dante Servin resigned from the Chicago Police Department just days before hearings were set to begin into whether he should be fired for shooting Rekia Boyd while he was off duty and she stood with a group of friends near his house. This comes as Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced this week that he plans to disband the city’s controversial police oversight agency that has been criticized for sluggish investigations that rarely resulted in disciplinary action. Mayor Emanuel is also facing calls to resign over a possible cover-up of the police killing of Laquan McDonald, who was shot 16 times in 2014. We are joined by Jamie Kalven, founder of the Invisible Institute and a freelance journalist who uncovered the autopsy report showing Laquan McDonald was shot 16 times and who first reported on the existence of the video of the shooting. In recent months, he has won a George Polk Award, an Izzy and a Ridenhour Courage Prize for his reporting on Chicago police misconduct. We also speak with Page May, a co-founder and organizer with Assata’s Daughters. She was also a member of the We Charge Genocide delegation to the U.N. Committee Against Torture.
AMY GOODMAN: We are on the road in Chicago, Illinois. We’re broadcasting from WYCC Chicago PBS. Yes, Chicago, Illinois, where there’s been a major development in the police shooting of 22-year-old African-American woman Rekia Boyd. In 2012, off-duty Chicago Police Officer Dante Servin fired several shots over his shoulder into a group of people Boyd was standing with near his home, striking her in the back of her head. He was charged with involuntary manslaughter, but was acquitted in 2015 on a technicality. Well, on Tuesday, Servin resigned from the Chicago Police Department, just days before hearings were scheduled to begin into whether he should be fired. By resigning, he avoids testifying publicly about the shooting.
This comes as Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced this week he plans to disband the city’s controversial police oversight agency. The Independent Police Review Authority was tasked with addressing excessive force allegations and police shootings, but has long been criticized for sluggish investigations that rarely resulted in disciplinary action. Only 2 percent of claims against officers were reportedly ever upheld, and a large majority of complaints got stuck in a bureaucratic morass.
Mayor Emanuel’s announcement came after a task force he appointed found evidence of rampant racism within the Chicago Police Department. It said the police department’s own data, quote, “gives validity to the widely held belief the police have no regard for the sanctity of life when it comes to people of color,” unquote.
Mayor Emanuel is also facing calls to resign over a possible cover-up of the police killing of Laquan McDonald, who was shot 16 times in 2014. Earlier this month, Emanuel spoke to the Chicago Tribune about the Laquan McDonald shooting.
MAYOR RAHM EMANUEL: Laquan McDonald is a wake-up call to all of us. It’s reminder that there’s a lot broken. And I’m determined to fix things that have been broken throughout the system. When I say that, you — it’s not just the criminal justice. It’s opportunity. It’s a promise. And when I say “opportunity,” meaning the opportunity to get a job and get a skill set. It’s the opportunity through mentoring, to give young men a role model and a father figure they wouldn’t have. And I see of jobs more than just getting a résumé and more all that; it’s also to be able to prove something to yourself and to others of what your potential is. And I’m going to fix a breakdown of trust that exists in the criminal justice system.
AMY GOODMAN: For more, we’re joined now by two guests here in Chicago. Jamie Kalven, founder of the Invisible Institute and freelance journalist, who uncovered the autopsy report showing Laquan McDonald was shot 16 times and who first reported on the existence of the video of the shooting, in recent months he has won a George Polk Award, an Izzy and the Ridenhour Courage Prize for his reporting on Chicago police misconduct. And we’re joined by Page May, co-founder and organizer with Assata’s Daughters, who was also member of the We Charge Genocide delegation to the U.N. Committee Against Torture.
Jamie Kalven and Page May, welcome to Democracy Now!
JAMIE KALVEN: Good to be here.
PAGE MAY: Thank you.
AMY GOODMAN: So let’s talk about the latest on Laquan McDonald.
JAMIE KALVEN: So, the case has had amazing impact. I mean, in the wake of the Laquan McDonald revelations, as I think everybody knows, the entire political landscape in Chicago has changed. And we have an opportunity that we — I never expected to see, for really fundamental, enduring change. The question is how we create a path to get there.
So, there have been a number of recent developments. You mentioned the mayor’s task force, with this extraordinary language. I mean, this is a public body appointed by the mayor that came forth with a whole long list of recommendations, but, in a kind of prelude of findings, spoke to fundamental institutional racism entrenched in the police department and the history of the police department. So, we’re beginning, at least in that semantic realm, to have some diagnostic clarity about the nature of the problem.
AMY GOODMAN: Page May, you were arrested the night the video was released of Laquan McDonald being shot and killed by a police officer, Jason Van Dyke. Can you talk about, I mean, the fact that this video was released 400 days after Laquan McDonald was actually killed, and it was only on that day, 400 days later, that the police officer was charged with murder, the prosecutor ultimately taken down in an election as result of this?
PAGE MAY: Right. I mean, I think that reveals the reality of there is no justice in our justice system here, right? It’s one mass circus. It’s one mass cover-up. And it’s only when we have predominantly young black people shutting things down and taking it to the streets that we’re even getting noticed. And what I wonder a lot about is, you know: Was it that Laquan McDonald was killed, or was it that he was killed with 16 bullets? Would this still be happening if there were only one? And that’s a part of the problem, right? So I think part of why this is blowing up so much is because there was already a lot of anger, a lot of frustration, and this absolutely tapped into sort of the daily anger that young black people in the city experience, whether they’re shot 16 times or they’re stopped and searched 16 times in the course of a week.
AMY GOODMAN: And can you talk about the disbanding of the civilian complaint review board of Chicago?
PAGE MAY: Could — I knew this was coming, right? IPRA has been one big stage that is used to create an illusion of accountability, an illusion of process. And it’s going to be replaced with another similar illusion, if we don’t use this as a moment to build infrastructure that actually helps to hold people accountable. And I think what’s interesting is we’re in a moment of saying, “What does justice look like for Laquan?” You know, this was the first time where reporters were calling me, saying — the first question is — clearly, it’s not enough to arrest this one officer; something systematic has to change. And I think IPRA is one example of what that’s going to look like, but there’s a lot more work to do. The Chicago Police Department gets 40 percent of the budget, right? And that doesn’t include their guns or their bullets. They have to pay for them themselves. So every bullet that Van Dyke pumped into Laquan McDonald’s body, he paid for out of his own personal pocket. So, this is about the budget. This is way more than about a culture of policing and bad apples. This is about an institution that has never, in the centuries it’s existed, ever served to keep black people safe. So we have to reimagine what it means to keep people safe.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about this database the Invisible Institute, your organization, has released of 56,000 misconduct complaint records against, what, 8,500 Chicago police, and what’s happened to this information?
JAMIE KALVEN: Right. And this is — so, what this — this is information from the city. This is the information that the task force referenced, you know, that you quoted before. And what it provides is — these are the disciplinary histories of those officers and the outcomes of investigations by IPRA, the Independent Police Review Authority. What it provides is a portrait of impunity. The odds of an officer being identified, vigorously investigated, receiving any kind of meaningful discipline are so small, so infinitesimal, that although, you know, officers with an abusive bent may not know the exact statistics, they know that they have — they have impunity. And people in the neighborhoods most affected by this kind of policing know, as well.
I mean, we have another project that we do called the Youth/Police Project. We do extensive interviews with black teenagers on the South Side about their experiences with the police and the day-to-day interactions — not the worst thing that happened, not Laquan McDonald, but the day-to-day. And they say, you know, “When we go do an encounter with the police, we know two things going in: They have all the power, and if something happens, if, you know, the encounter goes wrong, we will not be believed.” That’s what the data shows. And that’s what’s really at stake here.
I mean, I think there’s a danger when we talk about police accountability. We use a kind of abstract language — impunity, accountability, transparency. These are useful words. They are, you know, for conceptual purposes. But the underlying reality every day in Chicago are particular blows from particular hands against particular bodies. And that’s really what the data is.
AMY GOODMAN: Do you have faith, Page May, in the electoral process? You were one of the — organized against — Bye Anita campaign, which was ousting Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez, the one who only brought the murder charges after the video was released, and also Rahm Emanuel.
PAGE MAY: Do I have faith in the electoral process? I have faith in our movement. I have faith in a movement that is — was able to kick out Anita Alvarez without endorsing another candidate, that was able to call into question the very usefulness or necessity of having a state’s attorney — right? — someone whose sole job is to prosecute people. And so, I believe in engaging things like the electoral process as a way of pushing people, right? But I believe in MLK’s quote — right? — that the only — the only way to raise the consciousness of the nation is through creative civil disobedience. And I think we have to be disobedient in all stages that we have access to, which includes things like the electoral process. We were out there — right? — disrupting not only Anita Alvarez, but also Donald Trump.
AMY GOODMAN: This latest story — I’m reading from the Chicago Sun-Times: “When a pair of Chicago Police officers try to make the case they were ostracized for reporting wrongdoing by fellow cops, city lawyers don’t want jurors to hear the words ‘code of silence’ uttered in the courtroom. Officers Shannon Spalding and Daniel Echeverria filed a whistleblower lawsuit against the department in 2012, well before Mayor [Rahm] Emanuel acknowledged the existence of a ‘code of silence’ in the department in a speech to the City Council [last year], after protests erupted.” The significance of this?
JAMIE KALVEN: Oh, this is hugely significant, and this is the next big Chicago story. I’ve spent well over a year working on precisely that story with those officers. And, you know, it’s partially in view right now, the scope of it, but the account that they give of the actual operation of the code of silence, they’ve been subject to retaliation, you know, merciless, relentless retaliation within the department, for uncovering massive corruption and brutality within the now-disbanded public housing unit. So the most disenfranchised, marginalized population was under, essentially, a reign of terror by a group of officers. These officers uncovered it, undertook to investigate it undercover with the FBI and Internal Affairs, were outed within the department, and they have become the — you know, the focus of hostility within the department.
AMY GOODMAN: And Rahm Emanuel uses the words “thin blue line,” “blue veil” and “code of silence,” and he says, “You can’t use this in your trial.”
JAMIE KALVEN: Use it in court, yeah. I mean, I don’t know what they’re thinking. I don’t —
AMY GOODMAN: We have five seconds.
JAMIE KALVEN: Yeah, yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: But what does it say that it was you, a totally independent reporter, who broke all these stories, not the corporate media in Chicago?
JAMIE KALVEN: I think — I think it says that the code of silence extends to the media and our broader political culture.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, we’re going to leave it there. I want to thank Page May, co-founder of Assata’s Daughters, and Jamie Kalven, founder of the Invisible Institute.
That does it for the broadcast. I’ll be speaking tonight around 7:00 in Madison, Wisconsin, at the Barrymore Theatre, then on to Toronto, Canada, Thursday and Friday, then on Saturday in Troy, New York, at the Sanctuary for Independent Media, then the Philadelphia Free Library on Monday.