Civil Rights Groups Sue Chicago to Ensure Oversight of Police Reforms
By Sean Lally, Staff Writer
Civil Rights groups filed a lawsuit last week against the city of Chicago, intending to force federal oversight of the Chicago Police Department, now well-known for its egregious use of force against people of color. The suit came after Mayor Rahm Emanuel backpedaled on an agreement to allow federal courts to monitor the progress of police reforms.
The lawsuit, filed in the US District Court of Northern Illinois, seeks to enforce reforms meant to reign in Chicago police officers’ use of physical harassment aimed primarily at young people of color. As stated in the suit, "Chicago has proven time and time again that it is incapable of ending its own regime of terror, brutality and discriminatory policing." It continued, “Absent federal court supervision, nothing will improve."
Elsewhere, the suit – which includes members of Black Lives Matter – claims that the city “promotes a culture of rampant brutality, especially against people of color.” Supporting this claim, the suit says that police officers are 14 times more likely to use force against young black men, ages 20 to 34, than white men of the same age.
A federal investigation, conducted in January, revealed that Chicago police used excessive force and consistently violated the civil rights of residents. The investigation came as a result of protests provoked by a video showing a black teenager, Laquan McDonald, being shot and killed by a white police officer. The content of the video proved that police officers were lying when they said that McDonald was wielding a knife and moving towards them. That was in the fall of 2015.
In the aftermath of that event, the mayor put together a task force, which concluded that the city’s 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.”
When the federal investigation was completed and the conclusions were made public, the mayor agreed to negotiate a consent decree, which entails federal court oversight. Recently, the mayor said the city was considering using an independent monitor not overseen by federal courts, a reversal of his original position.
Emanuel told Reuters that consent decrees were more or less off the table because of Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ well-known dislike of federal intervention. Sessions recently ordered a review of all federal interventions into local police practices, saying “the individual misdeeds of bad actors” should not prevent police officers from “keeping American communities safe.” Critics say Emanuel is too eager to work with Sessions.
By Other Means
Because consent decrees are no longer a possibility, the lawsuit seeks to persuade a federal judge to order the police reforms. The suit asks the court to order the Chicago Police Department to end the “code of silence,” which keeps officers from speaking publically about excessive force; to make sure police are held accountable; and to do away with racial discrimination in police practices. Additionally, the suit seeks remuneration for individual plaintiffs who have suffered at the hands of police officers.
According to the mayor, the police department has already started to implement certain reforms, including body-cams on two-thirds of police, new restrictions on officers’ use of force and 1,000 new officers.
In pursuing further reforms, Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson said, “We will not waver from this path.” And Kevin Graham, president of the Chicago police union, said he disagreed with the way the lawsuit described his officers.
However, according to Ed Siskel, the city’s corporation counsel, “The substance of the reforms that we are all trying to achieve is not really in question. It is matters of process that we are discussing.”