Can Chicago Police Really Be Held Accountable?
By Ken Hare
Chicago Defender Staff Writer
Last week, the Police Accountability Task Force (PATF), held the second of four community forums dealing with reforming the Chicago Police Department and its perceived culture of impunity.
Created in December 2015, the PATF is charged with developing detailed, comprehensive findings with specific recommendations for change in the short, interim and long-term within the Chicago Police Department.
The goal of the task force, which will focus on reforms in five important areas, is to elevate integrity and accountability as the primary values that drive every member of the Chicago Police Department, according to a glossy brochure distributed at the meeting.
Held in the historic South Shore Cultural Center dining room, a diverse crowd filled the room to capacity. The seven-member task force, chaired by Lori Lightfoot, president of the Chicago police board, consisted of Deval Patrick, former Governor of Massachusetts, and other board members.
They heard testimony from community residents regarding police reform. The individual testimonies were as diverse as the crowd itself, with many recounting personal encounters of police brutality.
Despite attempts by Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration to recast the CPD as being transparent and wanting to hold officers accountable, there was quite a bit of cynicism in the crowd.
Pat Hill, a retired CPD officer and former executive director of Chicago’s African American Police League, received an ovation when it was her turn to speak at the podium.
“Are there any grassroots organizations operating in these five working groups?” she asked. “Also, of the five working groups … they are all redundant, we’ve been here before.
“There are laws in place that govern police behavior; there are general orders in place that govern police behavior; there’s a Constitution of the United States that covers police brutality. So it not about law, this is about the will.”
“White male supremacy is not something you can legislate or unlegislate, it is what it is,” she said to a responsive audience.
Douglas Bevel, of the Community Accountability Council was in attendance with his co-founder, William Calloway, who was in part responsible for the release of the now infamous Laquan McDonald videotape.
Bevel said, “With all of us gathered here to fix the problems within the CPD, I wonder how many of us know that the misconduct records of the Chicago police are slated to be destroyed on March 15?”
“There is also an election on March 15th to further misdirect the public. How can we correct any of the problems with the police force if we don’t have these records?”
“We Do Not Support Torture”
Joe Shaw, a Chicago police officer for over 23 years, was the only candidate vying for the police superintendent’s seat who attended the meeting. He had a lot to say about police accountability.
Shaw challenged the Fraternal Order of Police in court over its defense of Jon Burge back in 2008. Burge is a convicted felon and former Chicago Police Department detective and commander who gained notoriety for torturing more than 200 criminal suspects between 1972 and 1991 in order to force confessions.
“This is a high-profile case and we don’t want that type of indication going out to the community. We stand in lock-step with the community because we have this incident here,” Shaw said. “We do not support torture. We do not condone torture. We will never support that type of behavior in the department.”
Shaw went on to address what accountability would look like under his leadership. “We must provide a clear method of processes and procedures consisting of internal and external checks and balances,” he said.
“An internal example would be performance evaluations and written policies with early interventions for problem officers. An external example is understanding bias-based policing, which is the intentional practice by an individual officer who incorporates prejudicial judgments based on race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, etc.”
Shaw added that he would recommend that a percentage of police personnel work and live within their own communities, so that they would have a vested interest in their neighborhoods.
Also at the meeting, Khari Shaw, a brilliant, young Black, 11-year-old, stunned the crowd when he stated that he and most of his friends were afraid of the police.
When asked outside what he thought about the meeting, Khari said, “I thought that it was not a (complete) waste of time, but it was a little bit of a waste of time because they’re not doing anything to the police
“A lot of police officers kill and harass people for no reason. There are some good cops and some bad cops.”
Lori Lightfoot stated, “It is certainly our intention to make sure that we are clear that we have problems across a number of areas and that we identify some very specific recommendations for change.”
The next community forum will be held February 23rd at Benito Juarez Community Academy, 1450 West Cermak Road. Registration starts at 5:30 p.m. and public comments begin at 7 p.m.
The task force will submit its final report to Mayor Emanuel and the city council on March 31.