Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

How the Chicago Police Department tried to cover up a police execution

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Curtis Black reports in the Chicago Reporter:

Laquan-McDonald

It was just about a year ago that a city whistleblower came to journalist Jamie Kalven and attorney Craig Futterman out of concern that Laquan McDonald’s shooting a few weeks earlier “wasn’t being vigorously investigated,” as Kalven recalls. The source told them “that there was a video and that it was horrific,” he said.

Without that whistleblower—and without that video—it’s highly unlikely that Chicago Police officer Jason Van Dyke would be facing first-degree murder charges today.

“When it was first reported it was a typical police shooting story,” Kalven said, where police claim self-defense and announce an investigation, and “at that point the story disappears.” And, typically, a year or 18 months later, the Independent Police Review Authority confirms the self-defense claim, and “by then no one remembers the initial incident.”

“There are an average of 50 police shootings of civilians every year in Chicago, and no one is ever charged,” said Futterman. “Without the video, this would have been just one more of 50 such incidents, where the police blotter defines the narrative and nothing changes.”

Last December, Kalven and Futterman issued a statement revealing the existence of a dash-cam video and calling for its release.  Kalven tracked down a witness to the shooting, who said he and other witnesses had been “shooed away” from the scene with no statements or contact information taken.

In February, Kalven obtained a copy of McDonald’s autopsy, which contradicted the official story that McDonald had died of a single gunshot to the chest. In fact, he’d been shot 16 times—as Van Dyke unloaded his service weapon, execution style—while McDonald lay on the ground.

The next month, the City Council approved a $5 million settlement with McDonald’s family, whose attorneys had obtained the video. They said it showed McDonald walking away from police at the time of the shooting, contradicting the police story that he was threatening or had “lunged at” cops. The settlement included a provision keeping the video confidential.

“The real issue here is, this terrible thing happened, how did our governmental institutions respond?” Kalven said.  “And from everything we’ve learned, compulsively at every level, from the cops on the scene to the highest levels of government, they responded by circling the wagons and by fabricating a narrative that they knew was completely false.”  To him this response is “part of a systemic problem” and preserves “the underlying conditions that allow abuse and shield abuse.”

In April, the Chicago Tribune revealed Van Dyke’s name and his history of civilian complaints—including several brutality complaints, one of which cost the city $500,000 in a civil lawsuit—none of which resulted in any disciplinary action. In May, Carol Marin reported that video from a security camera at a Burger King on the scene had apparently been deleted by police in the hours after the shooting.

“This case shows the operation of the code of silence in the Chicago Police Department,” said Futterman. “From the very start you have officers and detectives conspiring to cover up the story. The question is, why are they not being charged?”

Van Dyke’s history “also shows what happens when the police department consistently chooses not to look at patterns of abuse complaints when investigating misconduct charges,” he adds. This failure “is one of the reasons an officer like Van Dyke has an opportunity to execute a 17-year-old kid.”

Rather than acknowledging the systemic failures, Mayor Rahm Emanuel is now trying to frame the issue as the action of one bad officer, as the Tribune reports.  “One individual needs to be held accountable,” he said Monday.

Kalven calls Emanuel’s “reframing” of the narrative “essentially false.” He points out that “everything we know now, the city knew from Day One. They had the officers on the scene. They knew there were witnesses. They had the autopsy, they had the video…. They maintained a false narrative about those events, and they did it for a year, when it could have been corrected almost immediately….They spent a year stonewalling any calls for transparency, any information about the case.” . . .

Continue reading.

Apparently nothing whatsoever will be done to police who gave false testimony about what happened and the police who destroyed evidence. The problem goes well beyond the individual police officer who has been indicted on a murder charge: the entire department seems to have colluded in covering up the crime. We should see more charges: obstruction of justice, accessory after the fact, and so on.

In the Guardian, Brandon Smith presents the video and the story of how he filed suit to get the video. From the story:

. . . The arm of government that investigates police misconduct here in Chicago, the Independent Police Review Authority (IPRA), has found only one police shooting in the past five years to be “not justified”. This leaves all the others, nearly 400 shootings, to be considered “justified”. And it leaves the impression that police here sparkle with unicorn magic.

But communities of color know otherwise.

“It’s an all-out extermination campaign,” says William Calloway, my friend and the inspiration behind my initial FOIA request for the video. Before the lawsuit and before the request, Calloway told me that I should try to pry the video loose where a bunch of other news organizations (14, to be exact) had refused. As an activist, Calloway works with the families of victims of police violence.

“People need to know that Chicago has some of the most police shootings in America, and that more than 70% of them are perpetrated against people of color,” Calloway says, citing data uncovered by the Better Government Association and others. “People need to know that communities of color are policed differently, policed much more violently, than in predominantly white communities. And people need to know that police are not being held accountable. And all this needs to change.”

Mayor Rahm Emanuel keeps implying that this incident is a one-off situation. But that’s wrong. And Emanuel hasn’t mentioned that others acted improperly that night, too. At least five other officers didn’t approach Laquan as he took his last breaths. Police deleted the parts of the surveillance tape from across the street that showed the murder. Witnesses have said that they were not interviewed about what they saw but rather told to leave at penalty of arrest.

Minutes later, police lied to a spokesperson preparing to brief reporters, saying that Laquan “lunged” at officers. (The video shows he was walking away from all officers.) And last but not least, an investigation into the shooting, led by Cook County state’s attorney Anita Alvarez, should have taken weeks at most – not 13 months. Lest we forget, video showed what happened.

Everyone responsible for these situations deserves charges ranging from obstruction of justice to accessory to murder. Emanuel has yet to say anything except to condemn officer Van Dyke. He spent the vast majority of the press conference he held Tuesday singing the nonspecific praises of our city and our police officers. Even the answers to reporters’ pointed questions somehow pivoted to how great we’re doing as a city – at a press conference called to discuss police violence. . .

Chicago’s response to this incident shows a stubborn unwillingness to confront the problem, a determination to minimize incidents by ignoring how the entire system protects police who shoot black civilians, including by lying about what happened, destroying evidence, refusing to take any action unless forced, and in general by exerting the maximum effort to keep the system intact as it is, even if an occasional officer must be sacrificed by being a scapegoat, the role forced upon Van Dyke.

Rahm Emanuel personifies the unwillingness to confront the problem and recognize its true dimensions. His response to this incident exemplifies bad faith and a craven reluctance to accept the responsibilities of his position.

UPDATE: Black leaders in Chicago are (rightly) pushing for an investigation of the police department. (Link is to a story in the NY Times.) Rahm Emanuel should be leading the push rather than resisting it.

Written by Leisureguy

26 November 2015 at 10:04 am

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