…Believe It, Its True

By Ken Hare

Chicago Defender Staff Writer

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Youth being escorted in juvenile detention center.

In an exclusive interview with the Chicago Defender, our editorial board got the opportunity to talk with a couple of members of the Police Accountability Task Force (PATF), Lori Lightfoot and Professor Randolph Stone from the University of Chicago.

The PATF is comprised of five members that held public meetings across the city to engage the public and give them an opportunity to vent their frustrations as well as offer suggestions for reforming the Chicago Police Department (CPD).

In the wake of the murder of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald by white police officer Jason Van Dyke, there were large protests downtown and calls for the resignations of Mayor Emanuel and Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez.

In all, PATF spent four months meeting with interested parties including pastors, lawmakers, victim families and the police as well. Last month, they released a 190-page report detailing their findings and offering ideas that could possibly lead to real reforms if taken seriously and implemented. The report opens up by acknowledging prior task force committees. In fact, there have been five previous task forces convened over the last 100 years for the purpose of recommending police reforms.

The first, in 1898 was appointed to examine what amounted to patronage hiring in violation of civil service laws. That group found that “the (police) administration now in force in Chicago is unalterably opposed to the merit system and has done everything in its power to destroy the law and nullify its provisions and has made it a mockery, a byword, and a sham,” the committee reported.

In the early 1970s, CPD found itself facing allegations of police brutality, particularly in African American communities. Congressman Ralph Metcalfe, called for a “Blue Ribbon Panel” to report on the misuse of authority. The panel found that CPD used fatal force more frequently than in other big cities and that 75 percent of those killed were Black. It also noted that “false arrests, illegal searches, and psychological violence occurred daily in exchanges between police and minorities and young people.”

Fast forwarding to today, the latest PATF report says “Of the 404 shootings by police officers between 2008 and 2015, 299 of them, or 74 percent of the victims shot or killed were Black.” Thus, little has changed since the early 1970s the report stated. The report also goes so far as to suggest the “implementation of citywide ‘Know Your Rights’ training for youth.”

The task force also looked into whether Black and Brown teenagers are being arrested and interrogated without the presence of an attorney, and quite possibly being coerced and/or threatened into confessing to crimes they may not have committed. That practice is so pervasive that the numbers uncovered by the Chicago Defender’s FOIA request seem unbelievable. “It is hard to believe that this is going on right under our noses in a so-called ‘democratic’ society,” says a community activist.

Of the 18,041 youth arrested in 2014, of which 17,386 were charged with a crime, only 25 had an attorney present at the time of interrogation. In 2015, 14,994 youth were arrested, 14,399 were charged with a crime, and only 31 had an attorney present during the interrogation process.

Illinois State Senator Patricia Van Pelt’s SB2370 just passed the Senate and has moved to the House, which amends the Code of Criminal Procedure 1963, providing that a minor who was under 18 at the time of the commission of any offense must be represented by counsel throughout the entire custodial interrogation.

An oral, written or sign language statement of a minor made without counsel present throughout the entire custodial interrogation of the minor would be inadmissible as evidence in any juvenile court proceeding or criminal proceeding against the minor, under Van Pelt’s legislation.

“This issue is resonating in a very big way,” said Lori Lightfoot. “The question is whether the political class in this town gets it, whether they think this a moment that will pass, just as the news cycle passes. I think it’s fair to say that there are people within that class who are hoping that this moment passes away and that they can go back to business as usual and that no changes would be necessary.”

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