Tanvi Misra is a staff writer for CityLab covering immigrant communities, housing, economic inequality, and culture. She also authors Navigator, a weekly newsletter for urban explorers (subscribe here). Her work also appears in The Atlantic, NPR, and BBC.
A scathing new report confirms what Chicagoans have known for a while.
A task force appointed by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel released a cutting new report Tuesday that confirms what many Chicagoans have known for a long time: Racism plays key role in the way the city’s police treat its minority residents. The incredible frequency of misconduct and the utter lack of real oversight is why Chicagoans are “justified” in not trusting law enforcement, the task force concludes. Reads the report:
CPD’s own data gives validity to the widely held belief the police have no regard for the sanctity of life when it comes to people of color.
Chicagoans have had a long and troubled history with the city’s police. But the “tipping point,” the report says, was the death of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald, who was shot 16 times by a Chicago police officer in 2014. A shocking dash-cam video of the incident, released last fall thanks to the painstaking efforts of a local journalist, revealed that McDonald wasn’t really threatening anyone at the time the first shot was fired. The cops had lied; they had covered up the incident. And Emanuel’s office had known about it.
Amid protests and calls to resign, Emanuel took to the chopping block. Then, right before Department of Justice kicked off an investigation into the city’s policing practices, Emanuel announced his own task force on police accountability. The members of the task force, handpicked by Emanuel himself, are racially diverse and from various professions: prosecutors, former and current government officials, heads of police boards, academics, social workers, and psychologists. Here are some of the devastating statistics they gathered in their investigation:
- Around 74 percent of those shot or killed by police officers between 2008 and 2015 were black. Fifteen percent were Hispanic and 8 percent were white. For context, whites, blacks, and Latinos make up roughly one-third of Chicago’s population, so blacks are obviously grossly overrepresented as shooting targets.
- Blacks also made up 76 percent of taser targets between 2012 and 2015. Thirteen percent of those who were tasered over this period were Hispanic, and only 8 percent were white.
- In 2013, 46 percent of traffic stops targeted African Americans; 27 percent involved white drivers; 22 percent involved Hispanics.
- Blacks and Hispanics were far more likely to be searched without a warrant or consent at these traffic stops, even though illegal items were found in the cars of white drivers twice as often.
There was shockingly little oversight on these instances of misconduct. “Every stage of investigations and discipline is plagued by serious structural and procedural flaws that make real accountability nearly impossible,” the report reads. Here are the numbers that back that up, from the report:
- Between 2011 and 2015, 40 percent of the complaints against law enforcement officials were not investigated.
- In 2015, recommended disciplinary action was was eventually reduced or eliminated in 73 percent of cases where it was recommended.
- Meanwhile, between 2007 and 2015, more than 1,500 officers each accrued more than 10 serious complaints of misconduct; 65 had more than 30.
The report lists more than 100 small and large fixes, and concludes with this:
Reform is possible if there is a will and a commitment. But where reform must begin is with an acknowledgement of the sad history and present conditions that have left the people totally alienated from the police, and afraid for their physical and emotional safety. And while many individuals and entities have a role to play, the change must start with CPD. CPD cannot begin to build trust, repair what is broken and tattered unless—from the top leadership on down—it faces these hard truths, acknowledges what it has done at the individual and institutional levels and earnestly reaches out with respect.
Of course,“facing hard truths” has not always been Emanuel’s forte. But here’s how he reacted, via The Chicago Tribune:
"I don't really think you need a task force to know we have racism in America, we have racism in Illinois, or that there is racism that exists in the city of Chicago and obviously can be in our departments," Emanuel said. "The question isn't, 'Do we have racism?' We do. The question is, 'What are you going to do about it?'"