Whether by police or civilians, many Blacks in Chicago died in 2016. While many became statistics, one victim continued to have an impact although he died two years ago. His name is Laquan McDonald.
He’s been in the newspapers, television newscasts, and his name has been heard over and over again since Nov. 24, 2015. That’s when Chicago and the nation were horrified when a video was released showing Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke shooting the 17-year old 16 times on Oct. 20, 2014.
In 2016, McDonald’s brutal death remains a catalyst for change in the Chicago Police Department, the topic of many community town hall meetings where residents gave input on how to change the culture of behavior. Though 2016 is nearly over, the McDonald case will bleed into 2017 as the case continues to move through pretrial proceedings at the Leighton Criminal Court building.
If 2015 was the year of the McDonald story, 2016 was the sequel and 2017 may be the conclusion. Amid soaring crime rates, fresh police shootings and legal settlements, what Van Dyke did to McDonald will not be forgotten by activists. In 2016, the fallout from the McDonald case continued to haunt the Chicago Police Department as activists kept the pressure on the department’s top brass to change its culture..
Once the thorn in fired Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy’s leadership, the McDonald case is now a stain that his successor, Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson, must deal with. In April, Mayor Rahm Emanuel appointed Johnson, a Black 27-year veteran of the force, to head the 12,000-member department as police superintendent. Johnson’s appointment came after an intense search that was shrouded in racial overtones as Hispanics lobbied heavily for interim Police Superintendent John Escalante, who retired in September before taking a job as the top cop at Northeastern Illinois University.
For Johnson, his first year as superintendent has been tough. Shootings and crime hovered near record levels in Chicago. According to the latest crime figures, as of Dec. 22, 771, people have been killed and 4,260 have been shot. On Aug. 28, Chicago Bulls star Dwyane Wade’s cousin, Nykea Aldrigde, a mother of four, was gunned down as an unintended target in the Parkway Gardens neighborhood. Her alleged killers, Derren Sorells, 22, and Darwin Sorrells, 26, were both charged with first-degree murder and attempted first-degree murder.
The arrest was a rare victory for the Chicago Police, who have been unable to solve many shooting cases. Many residents are afraid to come forward or “snitch” out of fear of retaliation.
Desperate to reduce the shootings, Johnson recently toured New York City’s police training academy. In an effort to improve reduce public distrust, starting in January, Johnson’s department will launch a pilot program to change the way new recruits are introduced to neighborhoods where they work.
New Anti-Violence Program
In September at Malcom X College, Mayor Emanuel introduced his anti-violence program that won the support of many of the city’s Black clergy and community leaders. The mayor announced goals to increase the city’s police force by nearly 1,000 officers. The plans were initially criticized by activists, who said the mayor’s approach to city’s record crime rate was one-dimensional. The mayor also promised $36 million to expand a mentoring program for young Black males as part of his anti-violence plan.
In 2016, amid concerns and criticism, Emanuel formed the Civilian Office of Police Accountability (COPA). In January, the new police oversight agency will replace the beleaguered Independent Police Review Authority (IPRA). Emanuel promised that COPA will be more efficient and produce more results with tighter deadlines and more transparency. The city’s inspector general from time to time will audit COPA’s performance as part of an additional layer of oversight.
But like its predecessor, there are still concerns about COPA’s independence from City Hall. The agency cannot hire its own lawyer without consulting the city’s law department. Activists have pushed the mayor to include more residents at the agency, which they believe would eliminate political influences.
As COPA began to take shape, several incidents in 2016 undermined efforts to restore trust in the Chicago Police Department. In August, Che Smith, known to many as rapper Rhymefest, posted a video on Twitter showing how he was having a difficult time as he tried to file an incident report at a police precinct after he was robbed at gunpoint. Superintendent Johnson called Rhymefest to apologize after his experience.
Controversial police shootings also continue to plague Johnson’s administration. In July, a Chicago Police officer fatally shot Paul O’Neal after a high-speed chase in the South Shore neighborhood. The officer, whose name was not released, said he saw O’Neal reach down into his waistband, after the officer “perceived” shots had come from the teenager. The shots came from three other officers, who were later stripped of their police powers for violating department policy. O’Neal was found to be unarmed. On Aug. 5, IPRA released nine video clips from the police dashboard, but the officer who shot O’Neal was reportedly not wearing a body camera during the actual shooting.
In another police shooting, Officer John Poulus in November shot and killed 19-year-old Kajuan Raye during a chase in the 1400 block of West 65th Street. Poulus, who believed Raye matched the description of a man committing battery on an individual, said during the chase Raye turned and pointed a weapon at him two times. But an intense grid search for the gun turned up empty. In 2013, Poulus shot and killed another Black man who he claimed had a gun, but the weapon was never found.
After Raye was shot, Poulus was relieved of his police powers three days later. Raye’s mother filed a federal wrongful-death lawsuit against Poulus and the police department, accusing them of violating Raye’s constitutional rights.
Bettie Jones Shooting
On Jan. 4, the family of Bettie Jones filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against the city of Chicago. The lawsuit came a week after the family of Quintonio LeGrier filed a similar wrongful-death lawsuit for a controversial police shooting where Jones and LeGrier died.
Officer Robert Rialmo shot Jones and LeGrier,19, after responding to a dispatch call about a domestic disturbance in the 4700 block of West Erie on Dec. 26. LeGrier’s father had called police to help control his son, who suffered from a mental condition.
Both Jones and LeGrier lived in the same apartment building, but when Jones opened the door of the building, she was gunned down by a hail of bullets. LeGrier, who wielded a baseball bat was also fatally shot. IPRA is still investigating the incident.
The lawsuits add to the legal woes of the City of Chicago. In 2016, Chicago offered a $4.9 million settlement that went to the family of Phillip Coleman, who died after he was dragged and handcuffed by police in 2012. On Dec. 12, Chicago paid $27 million in judgments to three Black victims of police misconduct. Recently, a federal jury awarded $22 million to Nathson Fields, who was wrongly convicted of murder in 1984. In addition, the city offered a $2.36 million settlement to the family of Darius Pinex and $3 million to the family of Cedrick Chatman. Both men were killed by Chicago police in 2011 and 2013, respectively.
Over the last decade, police misconduct has cost taxpayers a half a billion dollars to settle.