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Darryl Holliday

It’s Been One Year Since Mayor Emanuel Put a “Down Payment” on Police Reform

It’s Been One Year Since Mayor Emanuel Put a “Down Payment” on Police Reform


One year ago today, a scathing report on the state of the Chicago Police Department was released to the public. Among its many explosive findings, the mayor-appointed Police Accountability Task Force found that “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.”

A week after that, Mayor Rahm Emanuel proclaimed that the city was placing a “down payment” on police reform—committing to 25 of the 126 recommendations made in the report—but, according to members of the task force, legal experts, and other local leaders, that payment has not been made in full.

Of the 25 items Emanuel promised to implement “immediately,” nearly half have been put into play, according to an analysis by City Bureau, a nonprofit journalism group. Some critical changes have shown success, but many have been stymied.

The city acknowledges the completion rate doesn’t look great, but emphasizes that it is committed to a sustained effort. “I think you could look at this and say ‘barely half are implemented,’ but what you want to look at is that the from the very beginning, [we’ve been] committed to engaging on these reforms and making them happen,” Deputy Mayor Andrea Zopp said. “If you look at the body of work, a significant number are implemented, the majority of the rest are underway and there’s been a clear commitment to get them done.”

Below is a synopsis of where the city has made substantial progress, where it has failed, and where it is stuck in limbo, collected from City Bureau and Invisible Institute’s “One Year Later” Tracker, an annotated version of the mayor’s 25 proposed reforms that is open to public comment.

Now in Play

Progress within the department’s Crisis Intervention Team training (to help officers approach mental health situations) is “encouraging,” according to Alexa James, the executive director of National Association on Mental Illness and a former Police Accountability Task Force member.

“They’re taking the [Department of Justice] report seriously,” James says. “People may be frustrated because training has slowed down, but it’s because they’re not doing a Band-Aid fix just to get numbers up. They’re building a foundational team.”

That team includes a new leader, 16-year CPD veteran Lt. Antoinette Ursitti, more sergeants, more community partners, and more officers engaged with the program on a volunteer basis. But when it comes to the raw numbers promised by the mayor in April 2016, James says the department’s 30 percent certification goal is unlikely to be met by the end of 2017.

Three other items that are either implemented or underway include expanded use of body cameras, the development of an Early Intervention System to find and retrain officers that are likely to commit misconduct, and the recording of all Bureau of Internal Affairs interviews, according to Karen Sheley of the American Civil Liberties Union and the CPD’s March 2017 “Next Steps for Reform” report.

Likewise, Chicago Survivors executive director Susan Johnson says that “things are going extremely well with CPD” when it comes to providing relief for Chicago families affected by homicide through the nonprofit’s support and training.

“We prize our relationship with the CPD,” she adds. “I’d call it a good and complex relationship. I think we’ve been making some good progress.”

Stalled or Unknown

According to two members of the Police Accountability Task Force who asked not to be identified because they are not authorized to speak on the issue, many of the city’s promises on increased oversight, transparency, and rebuilding trust within communities have lagged.

The reason, the task force members say, is due to an apparent drop in federal pressure and employment turnover within the department, including the unexpected departure of Emanuel’s handpicked reform czar, Anne Kirkpatrick, in January.

A clear example is the CPD’s third-party misconduct hotline that would allow police officers to make anonymous complaints within the department. Though the hotline is ready and was supposed to go live on April 3, it is currently awaiting CPD approval, according to former task force member Inspector General Joe Ferguson: “At CPD’s request, we have invested months into creating a completely anonymous hotline. We are waiting for CPD to tell us when they are ready to go live,” he says.

CPD says it’s looking ahead despite the setbacks. “The reforms we have made over the past year are built on the principles of partnership and trust between our residents and our officers, and they laid the foundation for the 2017 reform plan we outlined just a few weeks ago,” says CPD spokesman Anthony Guglielmi. “Reform is in our self-interest and that is why Chicago has been, is, and always will be committed to reform.”


Since promising to issue quarterly progress reports, the city has failed to update Chicago residents on a number of changes within the department, including those that will be influenced by this summer’s union contract negotiations.

But it’s not just the public that’s been left out of the loop; despite convening the Police Accountability Task Force in 2016, Emanuel hasn’t reconvened the full group since it released its report, according to one unnamed task force member, who is surprised that the mayor did not approach the group to discuss best practices, considering the amount of time and effort put into researching the report.

When it comes to the mayor’s reform promises: “There were a lot of omissions. For example there’s nothing [there] relating to the various collective bargaining agreements, which the mayor continues to be silent on,” task force chair and Chicago Police Board president Lori Lightfoot says.

(Still, Lightfoot says it’s important to look beyond the mayor’s 2016 list to see where the city has made major changes to the police department, including the creation of the Civilian Office of Police Accountability, which passed City Council in October.)

Meanwhile, the Bureau of Internal Affairs, which reviews the majority of police misconduct complaints, “remains a big black box,” Lightfoot adds. “One of the problems is [that] BIA puts out so little information publicly. CPD is going to produce an annual report, but what about BIA? It should be putting out info on a quarterly basis just like [its civilian counterparts] will be doing.”

Also of note, the Trump administration’s decision to ”pull back” on civil rights probes of police departments, including Chicago, decreases the external pressure for CPD to make substantive changes. CPD produced its 2017 roadmap for reform but “it’s unclear what the timelines are and who’s responsible for deliverables,” says the aforementioned task force member who asked not to be identified. Without that “we’ll run into the same problems… We need ownership, as in these are the deliverables and here are the benchmarks we’re going to hit.”

As the other unnamed task force member puts it, the most important failure has been the city’s lack of transparency, which “makes it so difficult for citizens to know where progress is being made.”

This report was produced in collaboration with Chicago MagazineAdditional reporting by Timna Axel and Ryan Cortazar of the Police Accountability Collaborative.

Staying Ahead of the Curve

Staying Ahead of the Curve


We will spend whatever it takes. Whatever that cost is, we will pay it.”

Those were the words of Chicago Public Schools CEO Forrest Claypool at a community event in June, just as CPS began testing its more than 6,000 sinks and faucets for lead-contaminated water.

Anna Espinosa, 38, was in the audience that night. School officials had planned for a crowd at the Back of the Yards high school gym, fully expanding the orange bleachers toward the middle of the basketball court where a table was reserved for CPS, Department of Water Management, and Department of Public Health officials. But only a handful of parents, teachers, experts, and reporters showed up, so the attendees were relocated to a dozen chairs around the table.

Darryl Holliday

Darryl Holliday

Claypool was soon peppered with questions.

”Why weren’t the meetings publicized widely?” one attendee asked.

“They were,” Claypool replied.

“Why did you wait to test until the media started investigating?” another asked.

“CPS launched this program, not the press,” Claypool said, bristling slightly at the insinuation.

And the exposure risks for CPS students from school fixtures? “Basically non-detectable,” Claypool assured those gathered on the court.

But the newly launched water testing was only one reason Espinosa attended the meeting that day. At the age of four, her autistic seventeen-year-old son had already been poisoned by lead in the family’s last home, she said, later telling reporters that the CPS officials she had just listened to were “full of it.”

Instead, Espinosa wanted to know what CPS would do for her son in his last years at Thomas Kelly High School. In other words, how does Chicago’s public school system plan to help students who were poisoned by lead as children and are now suffering the effects as young adults?

Darryl Holliday

Darryl Holliday

While CPS works to find and eliminate lead-contaminated fixtures in its buildings, students who arrive at school already exposed to lead still have limited options for treatment. Though the city imposes mandatory lead screenings on children before they turn six years old, a review of departmental policy shows that CPS has no official or comprehensive policy on how to assess and assist lead-affected children. Considering the symptoms and their effects—ranging from low grades to violent behavior—and compounded by budget cuts, the public health crisis of lead poisoning extends beyond today’s water fountains. What schools do and do not provide to children affected by lead will shape the futures of thousands of young Chicagoans.

An Invisible Legacy

The symptoms of lead poisoning include a range of seemingly unrelated ailments like abdominal pain, constipation, sleep problems, headaches, loss of appetite, and memory loss. Many are relatively mild and can be individually overlooked, but, in the case of lead poisoning, could pave the way for a myriad of lifelong effects including irreversible brain damage, aggressive behavior, lowered IQ, growth delays, and poor grades. Recent reports even link childhood lead exposure with trends in violent crime.

“Those [effects] happen even at low levels of lead poisoning. So these kids get poisoned before [age] 5, and they get to school already with learning disabilities,” says Howard Ehrman, an environmental advocate, University of Illinois at Chicago professor and former top official at the Chicago Department of Public Health. “One of the problems we have, not only with lead poisoning but all possible learning disabilities, is the fact that CPS and most public schools have never funded or made it a priority for enough people to do proper testing and then put the children, based on the Americans with Disabilities Act, into the right programs to treat their learning disability.”

Symptoms of lead poisoning often do not become apparent until a child has difficulty in school. And while those effects are often translated as bad behavior and underperformance, in a time of citywide cuts and changes to school budgets, which critics say could shrink special education funds, the impact of untreated lead poisoning raises tough questions for communities already facing disastrous levels of unemployment, incarceration, and public school closures.

In 1999, Fuller Park was the community area with the highest incidence of elevated blood lead levels among children tested, with nearly two in five kids testing positive. By 2013, only 2.8 percent of kids tested there had elevated levels. The dramatic decrease can be tied to a number of factors including disuse of leaded gasoline, an increase in lead screenings, and cleanup of lead paint in homes. But lead is an “absolute neurotoxin,” according to Ehrman, meaning that babies affected in 1999—now high school students—are likely impacted by the exposure even today.

Among those students is Espinosa’s seventeen-year-old son, Moises, who was tested in 2005 and had a lead count of 4.9 micrograms per deciliter, Espinosa says, adding that she believes it was higher in the years before. She says he was likely exposed to lead-based paint in their home, which is how most children accidentally consume lead. But small amounts of lead can accumulate in the body from many different sources.

The family’s Back of the Yards neighborhood, where the CPS community meeting took place in June, is part of the New City community area. In 2013, 1.4 percent of children (ages zero to six) tested in New City had elevated blood lead levels, putting the neighborhood fifteenth among Chicago’s seventy-seven community areas. Espinosa’s son attended schools in McKinley ParkBrighton Park, and Pilsen during that same time frame, some of which had sinks or water fountains with lead-contaminated water during this year’s tests.

“I couldn’t believe there was lead in my school [Perez Elementary], where I had grown up, and that there was lead in Pilsen Academy where [my children] went also,” she says.

Moises was diagnosed with autism at fifteen years old, and though scientists have not found a causal link between the toxin and autism, childhood lead poisoning has many of the same symptoms as Autistic Spectrum Disorder—and it has been found to contribute to autism severity in lead-poisoned children.

Espinosa’s message for parents today: “Keep insisting on getting the resources.

“There’s more resources out there to know where the lead is coming from, how they’re getting it, where you could go get more info, [and] how you could get more help,” she says.

CPS is scheduled to complete testing of 526 schools by the end of 2016, according to district spokesperson Emily Bittner, who noted that final results from all tested schools will be complete in early 2017. As of December 5, ninety-five school drinking fountains and eighty-nine sinks—thirty-two of which were in kitchens—tested above the EPA “action level” of fifteen parts per billion. Of the 184 fixtures above that level, all were shut down and more than 120 have been returned to service after pipes were flushed, repaired, capped, or replaced, according to school officials. The Chicago Park District went through a similar process this summer.

For many parents and city officials, the full array of park and school tests was worth applauding.

“I have to commend the Park District and CPS for being so aggressive and testing the faucets and the sinks within their buildings and outside,” says Chicago Department of Public Health commissioner Julie Morita. “I think it’s an extra step to ensure the safety of the water.” She added that CPDH is currently working with CPS to mail letters, informational packets, and the results of tests in their schools to parents.

“What we’ve said is that the risk is low and yet if people want to be tested, they should reach out to their health care providers,” she says.

As of December, CPS has spent $1.9 million and anticipates spending about $2.3 million total for the first-ever system-wide lead testing of school water fixtures, but when it comes to the root cause of lead, Ehrman says the city will continue to see cases of exposure until it removes the lead service pipes and fixtures that bring water into schools and homes around Chicago.

Leading the Way

Cuffe Academy kindergarten teacher Jeanine Saflarski says she’s happy with how the lead-affected water fixture in her kindergarten classroom was capped and fixed by CPS.

Of the 141 of fixtures tested at Cuffe in August, three tested positive for lead. Two sink faucets, both in pre-K classrooms, tested between twenty-six and twenty-nine parts per billion, significantly higher than the EPA’s “action level” of fifteen parts per billion. According to Bittner, the third fixture tested below that level and was flushed along with all other water fixtures in the district.

But zoom out further and a more concerning picture emerges. In 2013, 7.6 percent of children tested from the Auburn Gresham neighborhood, where Cuffe is located, had elevated blood lead levels, ranking ninth out of Chicago’s seventy-seven community areas. Though experts say Saflarski is unlikely to encounter a severely lead-affected child in her kindergarten classroom today, many of the thirteen-year-olds graduating from Cuffe’s eighth grade this year were born during a time when nearly twenty-one percent—more than one in five—of Auburn Gresham children under the age of six who were tested had elevated blood lead levels.

Saflarski says a teacher is trained to notice the smallest, earliest signs of a learning disability. “You do everything you can in the classroom to try to meet modifications and needs,” she says, adding that teachers have protocols in place for kids in need of special assistance such as speech and occupational therapy. The school system even gives teachers lists of children with medical needs like food allergies, she says, which is not the case for lead.

But even if parents were to disclose their children’s lead poisoning, there is no official protocol for what teachers should do. Younger children may be eligible for the state’s Early Intervention Program, but according to a 2012 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “lead exerts long-lasting effects and the effect of lead on a child may not be demonstrable until the child is well into the elementary school years.” The CDC report lists research-backed recommendations for lead-affected people from infancy to the age of twenty-one, including specialized counseling to help with aggressive behavior, nutritional programs, chelation therapy in severe cases to decrease lead content in the blood, and individualized plans that identify, monitor, and assist children who have learning disabilities.

“I think it’s terribly concerning that CPS doesn’t have a policy,” Ehrman says. “The policy should include, number one, a memorandum of understanding, a formal agreement, between CDPH and CPS signed off by the mayor of the city of Chicago saying there will be integration of databases,” so that city agencies can share information to identify and help children affected by lead.

Many lead-safe schools recommendations are agreed upon by lead experts, and while CPS does not formally address any of these recommendations in its policies, the district “uses a process called MTSS (Multi-Tiered System of Supports) to identify any students with potential special needs,” according to Bittner.

But a comprehensive school policy on lead is not unheard of. The Connecticut State Department of Education, for example, has published policies designed “to clarify the role of schools in meeting the needs of children and families affected by lead.”

In fact, “developing school district policy and procedures regarding children who may be affected by lead” is first on a list of ten distinct ways schools can better serve lead-poisoned youth, according to the department’s website. Other points include educating school personnel, maintaining special-education resources, development of monitoring plans, and referral of lead-poisoned students to enrichment and eligible disability programs.

Likewise, school districts in Boston; Rochester, NY; and Columbus, OH all have posted, or are in the process of creating, policies for school-based lead safety. According to the University of California’s Lead-Safe Schools Guide, benefits of a policy include avoidance of unnecessary costs, open communication with parents, better-trained school employees, and evaluation of what works on a local level.

In Flint, MI, a class-action legal battle is currently underway alleging the local public school system is not providing services and interventions that could make a difference in the ability of lead poisoned youth to succeed.

“Since the full magnitude of this crisis became public in 2015, there have been federal and state inquiries, investigations, task forces, declarations, and appropriations. Yet there has been no effective response to address the needs of the thousands of children who attend Flint’s public schools,” the lawsuit alleges on behalf of fifteen children who were exposed to lead in Flint.

Espinosa, along with many other CPS parents, is worried about the same thing. If no cost is too high for the district to find and repair lead-contaminated sinks and drinking fountains in the schools, what about the costs of ensuring lead-poisoned children get the care they need?

This article was published in collaboration with the South Side Weekly. Additional reporting by Timna Axel and Enrique Perez. 

Notorious Cop Glenn Evans Back To Work, And Now His Old Boss Is In Charge

Notorious Cop Glenn Evans Back To Work, And Now His Old Boss Is In Charge


Glenn Evans is back. The former Chicago Police commander accused of shoving his gun down a suspect’s throat has wrapped up his suspension and returned to a department now led by his old boss Eddie Johnson.

Earlier this month, Police Supt. Johnson told a small gathering of the Park Manor Neighbors Community Council that Evans, who was acquitted of the aggravated battery and official misconduct charges tied to the 2013 incident in December, is back on the force after a 1½-year suspension.

Evans, demoted to lieutenant, is on administrative duty at police headquarters in Bronzeville.

Johnson recently declared he’s never witnessed police misconduct, but he directly supervised Evans during a time when a series of serious misconduct charges were lodged against Evans.

With the exception of a single one-year stretch, Evans reported directly to Johnson between March 2008 and March 2014. While working under the future superintendent, Evans racked up at least 11 formal complaints, including an incident in which then-lieutenant Evansallegedly fractured bones in a woman’s face at the headquarters of the district where Johnson was commander.

Even though investigators eventually recommended discipline for Evans in that case, he later was promoted to district commander, again serving directly under Johnson, who at that point was a deputy chief.

Shared history

Johnson’s confirmation of Evans’ return to the force, which came in response to an audience question during an unannounced visit to a South Side community meeting at St. Columbanus Church, comes five months after Evans was acquitted of the battery and misconduct charges.

In January 2013, then-commander Evans was alleged to have chased a gun-possession suspect into an abandoned building, where he was accused of tackling the man, sticking his gun into the man’s mouth and pressing his Taser against the man’s groin. 

While serving under Johnson as both a lieutenant and later a district commander, Evans won widespread praise from community leaders for his aggressive style of policing. Still, the numerous excessive force allegations surrounding Evans call into question whether his longtime supervisor, now head of the Police Department, can truly address police misconduct in the city.

In a March 29 interview with CBS2, Johnson declared that “I’ve actually never encountered police misconduct, ’cause you got to understand, officers that commit misconduct don’t do it in front of people that they think are going to hold them accountable for it.”

Several cases involving Evans, who did not respond to interview requests, and other officers serving under Johnson raise doubts about that claim.

Johnson and Evans: A Timeline (story continues below)

Johnson commanded the Gresham District, which includes the South Side neighborhoods of Chatham, Auburn Gresham and Park Manor, between March 2008 and August 2011. Evans served as one of his lieutenants during that period.

In April 2011, Evans allegedly pushed his hand into the face of a recently arrested woman, Rita King, for minutes on end. King claimed in a federal lawsuit that Evans repeatedly told her, “I’m going to push your nose through your brain,” and hospital records from a visit several days later show that King suffered multiple bone fractures in her face, according to a report by WBEZ.

The Independent Police Review Authority, the police watchdog often criticized for supporting officers against their accusers, found some of her claims credible and recommended Evans receive a 15-day suspension. The incident involving Evans took place inside the Gresham District headquarters, where both Evans and Johnson worked at the time.

IPRA sustained a second complaint against Evans later in 2011, stemming from when the lieutenant, off-duty and in civilian clothes, allegedly threatened Chas Byars at a South Side diner after Byars criticized his treatment of another patron. While arresting Byars, Evans caused the man’s infant son to fall from his carrier and hit his head on a table. IPRA recommended a seven-day suspension for Evans in the case. This incident took place after Johnson had been moved to an interim position in which he was not Evans’ direct superior.

Despite the charges, Evans soon would be promoted to work directly under Johnson again. After then Supt. Garry McCarthy elevated Johnson to deputy chief for Area Central in March 2012, Evans was chosen to serve as one of his district commanders — bypassing the rank of captain entirely — to take over the Grand Crossing District, just northeast of his old post in the Gresham District.

More accusations against Evans

Evans continued to rack up citizen complaints, even while in charge of an entire police district. While serving under Johnson as the commander of the Grand Crossing District, Evans received eight complaints in a little more than 1½ years, according to data from the Invisible Institute.

During that period, only 14 of the Chicago Police Department’s roughly 12,000 officers received more complaints than Evans. His complaint numbers were high for a senior officer: The 22 current district commanders received only six total complaints in the same stretch. In total, police records obtained by WBEZ show that Evans has been the subject of more than 120 misconduct allegations over the course of his nearly 30-year career. About half of these cases relate to excessive force.

Additionally, four federal lawsuits have named Evans as a defendant for acts of alleged misconduct committed while directly under Johnson’s command. Since 2002, the city has paid out more than $300,000 in settlements stemming from misconduct complaints against Evans, without admitting to any wrongdoing.

Evans is not the only Johnson subordinate facing misconduct allegations. An Injustice Watch investigation last month identified 15 other federal lawsuits naming officers who served under Johnson’s command.

Community members appreciated the working relationship between the two officers, however, with some tying Evans’ tactics under Johnson’s supervision to a general decline in crime.

After Johnson was assigned to the Gresham District and promoted Evans to be his tactical lieutenant, “Crime ceased to rise and started to decline. Our community was elated at the effectiveness of both Commander Johnson and Lieutenant Evans,” Keith Tate, president of the Chatham/Avalon Park Community Council, said at a September 2014 Police Board hearing.

Tate also tied Evans’ later “relentless efforts” in the Grand Crossing District to a drop in the crime rate.

At the meeting in Park Manor this month, Johnson declined to elaborate on exactly where in the department Evans’ new job is, though police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi clarified that Evans, who returned to work on May 1, is still stripped of his police powers. He had been on an unpaid suspension since his indictment in August 2014.

Though Evans was acquitted of criminal charges in December, he remains the subject of an IPRA investigation, according to Guglielmi. Johnson’s announcement of Evans’ return originally was noted by Worlee Glover, a community member who attended the meeting, on the Facebook group Concerned Citizens of Chatham.

Community remains supportive

Despite the many accusations against Evans, he remains well-regarded by community members in his old districts. Park Manor Neighbors Community Council President Darlene Tribue said in a phone interview that as commander, Evans made the Park Manor community, which sits between the Grand Crossing and Gresham districts, feel safer.

“They would see him standing on the street, and the gangs would run the other way,” she said.

When Supt. McCarthy transferred him from the Grand Crossing District to the Harrison District on the West Side in March 2014, Tribue led community members to protest outside police headquarters. McCarthy acknowledged the community’s frustration, saying at a Police Board hearing that month that he had moved Evans because he was his “favorite among [his] favorites,” and needed him in the increasingly violent West Side district.


“I don’t condone any violation of the law but I respect Commander Evans because he is brutally honest with residents about what is going on,” Glover wrote in an email. “There were those in attendance [at the Park Manor meeting] who made it clear they would take Commander Evans back.”

Tribue said in a phone interview Tuesday that things in Park Manor since Evans left are “back to the way [they] were before him.”

On the surface, the city crime statistics reflect her statement. While Evans was Grand Crossing District commander, serious crimes steadily declined, hitting a plateau in 2015, the first year after he left.

These statistics mirror citywide crime drops, however, and the Police Department’s record-keeping under McCarthy has been called into question in probes by CBS ChicagoChicago magazine and Truthout.

“All of us would welcome him back,” Tribue said, while noting that many of the incidents of accused misconduct occurred within the neighboring Grand Crossing District.

According to the Citizens Police Data Project, those incidents include at least seven allegations, with an additional five originating in the neighboring Gresham District.

The decision about whether Evans returns now rests partly in the hands of his old boss.

This report was published in collaboration with DNAinfo Chicago. Additional reporting by Darryl Holliday.

How Chicago's 'Fraternal Order of Propaganda' Shapes the Story of Fatal Police Shootings

How Chicago's 'Fraternal Order of Propaganda' Shapes the Story of Fatal Police Shootings

December 15, 2012, was a bleak, rainy Saturday with a chill in the air. Chicago police officer Ruth Castelli, an eight-year veteran of the force, was patrolling the city's southwest side with fellow officer Christopher Hackett. The two didn't usually ride together, but Castelli's regular partner was on leave. The day started innocuously enough—earlier that morning Castelli had participated in "Shop With a Cop," a seasonal initiative that sends officers on a shopping trip to Target with underprivileged children on their beat. The rest of the day proved to be far more consequential.

Castelli and Hackett were in their Chevy Tahoe when word came in: according to testimony that Castelli later gave, around 11:15 AM a dispatcher called over the radio that four black men in a silver SUV had just robbed someone at gunpoint at a gas station at 38th and Kedzie. Castelli and Hackett sped off to find the vehicle, their sirens silent.

The story of what happened next would gradually take shape based on bits of information, coming first from Fraternal Order of Police spokesman Pat Camden, and then eventually from a Chicago Police Department statement attributed to then-superintendent Garry McCarthy.

The tale they told would be used to justify the fatal shooting of an unarmed man—and to absolve the officer involved of any wrongdoing.

Camden explained how the scene unfolded. In conversations reported by the Chicago Sun-Times and the Chicago Tribune, he described a tense and dangerous encounter between Castelli, Hackett, and 23-year-old Englewood resident Jamaal Moore. Moore was a suspect in the gas station robbery, Camden said. A 911 call reporting the incident sent Castelli and Hackett on the chase. News reports differ on what Moore and his cohort were accused of—some quote Camden alleging one robbery, while another attributed a string of robberies to the inhabitants of the silver-gray SUV. There was also confusion about the exact number of people in the automobile.

Regardless, Camden went on, within 90 seconds of the dispatch, Castelli and Hackett were hot on the trail of the SUV. Their own police vehicle topped out at 70 miles per hour, Castelli later told investigators. The chase ended when the fleeing driver careened the SUV into a large black lamppost at Garfield and Ashland. Most of the passengers jumped out and ran, Camden said.

What happened next is hazy in news reports—one of the police cars on the scene skidded onto the sidewalk, McCarthy said, and "may have hit Moore," who was struggling to get out of the car.

Hackett then wrestled with Moore, according to news reports. "[Hackett] was thrown around like a rag doll," McCarthy told reporters at an unrelated press conference later that day. Then, as Hackett tried to handcuff Moore, the 23-year-old flipped him to the ground not once but twice. One of the officers yelled that Moore had a gun. After that, said McCarthy, Moore charged at Castelli.

She responded by firing her 9mm semiautomatic handgun.

"Based on the male officer saying that [Moore] had a gun, she was in fear and she fired twice, striking him," McCarthy said.

When the Independent Police Review Authority (IPRA)—the body that investigates police shootings—eventually cleared Castelli of any wrongdoing in Moore's death, the agency cited what had by then become a familiar narrative, crafted and repeated by both the FOP and CPD: the officers were preventing Moore's escape following an alleged armed robbery attempt, and they "reasonably believe[d] that such force [was] necessary to prevent death or great bodily harm" to Castelli, her partner, or anyone else.

There was just one problem: this story wasn't true.

“Anytime I talked to the media, it was always a disclaimer at the front end. These statements are based on preliminary facts immediately following the incident . . . facts always subject to change.”


Key aspects of the media's original reporting began to fall apart just hours after Moore was shot. First, Moore's connection to the robbery was called into question. On the day of the shooting, Camden told the Tribune that Moore, ostensibly pegged as the driver of the silver SUV, had "pulled out a weapon" during the alleged truck robbery. But when contacted for a follow-up by DNAinfo, Camden said he had "no idea if there was a robbery" and downgraded the role of the car to "a possibility of a connection" to "a gray SUV."

More discrepancies would emerge, each one discrediting the story initially presented by the police union and CPD, and each calling into question the outcome of IPRA's investigation.

It wasn't the first time or the last that the FOP, through Camden, blurred the lines between fact and fiction. In its dual roles of providing both information to the media and legal defense for its members, the FOP has helped shape the narrative around police shootings, arguing consistently that the officers involved feared for their lives.

There have been 48 fatal police shootings in Chicago since 2012, Camden's first full year on the job. At least 17 have resulted in lawsuits, and at least one—that of Esau Castellanos-Bernal—has resulted in a federal investigation.

(Since no local or national media outlet comprehensively tracked victims of police violence prior to last year, City Bureau and the Reader compiled a data set of fatal police shootings since 2012 based on press releases from the city and CPD, and from local and national media databases. IPRA counts 47 fatal police shootings during this time, based on CPD data. But the department's tally of fatalities has previously been called into questionby Chicago magazine and other news outlets.)

The FOP, through Camden, provided an initial version of events for 35 of these shootings. A City Bureau and Reader analysis found 15 cases in which crucial aspects of Camden's statements were later proved to be false or misleading based on evidence filed in lawsuits, unearthed in media investigations, or captured on video.

A sobering mix of factors enables the FOP to put forth misinformation with little pushback, City Bureau and the Reader found through media analysis, as well as interviews with union officials, labor experts, and local reporters. The Chicago Police Department rarely issues an official statement in the hours immediately following a police shooting—supervisors with the authority to issue statements may be asleep, and the information must work its way through the department's own bureaucracy. In this information vacuum, the news media usually turn to the FOP, frequently citing the police union's version of events as the definitive one. In the media's rush to publish a story, and with few resources to investigate cases further, articles often go to press relying entirely on the FOP's narrative. A legal case tilted in favor of the officer then moves through a weak accountability system heavily circumscribed by the FOP's contract with the city.

According to experts this is just one alarming example of the power of police unions. Police officers—and their unions—possess an increasing sense of invincibility, says Stephen Downing, a retired Los Angeles Police Department deputy chief and board member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, a group of current and former police officers and others working against the effects of the "war on drugs."

"The growing strength of police unions over the last 20 years has given them a feeling of impunity and arrogance that their only job is to protect the police officer," Downing says, "regardless of what they've actually done."

Pat Camden boasts of commenting on more than 500 police-involved shootings during more than four decades with the Chicago Police Department and the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 7. (Illustration: Paul Higgins/Chicago Reader | Photo: John H. White/Chicago Sun-Times)

Pat Camden boasts of commenting on more than 500 police-involved shootings during more than four decades with the Chicago Police Department and the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 7. (Illustration: Paul Higgins/Chicago Reader | Photo: John H. White/Chicago Sun-Times)

Camden enters the scene

On February 1, 2008, Jody Weis was sworn in as the 54th superintendent of the Chicago Police Department. Then-mayor Richard M. Daley gave Weis, a former FBI agent, a mandate regularly thrown at new police chiefs: to stem the tide of shootings in the city while beefing up community policing.

Weis, criticized as an outsider from his first moments on the job, began by cleaning house; three deputy superintendents resigned within days of his hiring. Patrick Camden, a former police officer who called himself the "voice and face" of the department and was a fixture on the scene of police shootings, was among those compelled to retire.

Camden joined the force in 1970 and worked at CPD's Office of News Affairs from 1985 to 1998. He "retired" that year, only to be rehired 24 hours later in the newly created civilian role of deputy news director, a position he held for the next ten years. Camden estimated then that he had offered up information on police shootings 325 times as a department spokesman.

The city had recently undergone a shift in its accountability structure, withthe 2007 creation of IPRA, meant to replace the internal Office of Professional Standards. Unlike OPS, the new agency was run by civilians, and crucially, was billed as being independent from police.

But Camden felt that the launch of IPRA had also stymied the free flow of information he'd been used to directing as press officer for CPD. As he left the department, Camden lamented that, under IPRA, the public knew less about police shootings than it did before.

His public frustration with CPD's new information system found an outlet three years later when he became the spokesman for the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 7.

Camden's presence marked a sea change in the organization's relationship with the media. Then-president Michael Shields announced Camden's hiring in May 2011 with the stated goal of changing the public's perception of the union. To do this, Shields said, "it is imperative to have a voice in the media." Shields saw Camden's experience with CPD—and with local news outlets—as invaluable.

"When Pat Camden shows up on a scene of a police shooting, the media looks to him for guidance," Shields said.

(That year also marked a huge shift in the union's political spending strategy, with total political expenditures more than doubling, according to filings with the Illinois State Board of Elections.)

Prior to 2011, the FOP's official spokesman was its sitting president. City Bureau and the Reader could not find any instance in which Mark Donahue, FOP president from 2002 to 2011, was quoted in a breaking news story about a police shooting.

But under Camden, the union's media reach greatly expanded.

When Camden got a call about a shooting, nine times out of ten he headed straight to his sedan—no coffee, no food, no special uniform—to get to the scene.

"I'm not rushing," Camden said in a recent interview, "but I'm trying to get there in a reasonable amount of time."

He once had a squad car that could clear the streets, but those days were long behind him—without traffic, it took him about 45 minutes to drive into the city from his home in Will County. Once at the scene, his shock of white hair, tan face, and neatly trimmed salt-and-pepper moustache made him easily recognizable.

Camden often arrived after some of the initial confusion had died down. From there, he'd talk to union reps already present. They'd tell him what they'd gleaned from the officer, and Camden would relay that information to the media.

Crucially, he would give his statement from the officer's point of view—before a witness had a chance to comment.

"Somebody says, 'Hey, I want to get on TV'—maybe they haven't been on the scene or anywhere near the scene but they want to be on television," Camden says. "At that point, the officers need to at least get the basic facts of the shooting out."

“Not only did I just lose my son under false pretense, you have [the public] thinking he is ‘that kind of kid.’ It’s lies about him, but that is the story people start believing.”


Camden says he was never skeptical of an officer's story—especially the part where an officer feared for his life. Camden always believed him.

"Why would an officer shoot somebody if he wasn't in fear of his life?" he asks.

But many fatal incidents call into question the underlying assumption that cops only shoot civilians when in fear for their own lives.

In March 2012, for example, Rekia Boyd was shot in the back of the head by Dante Servin, an off-duty CPD detective. Camden told the Tribune that Servin, while driving down his block near Douglas Park late at night, saw a group of people "causing a disturbance." When Servin told them to "quiet down," one of them approached his car and pointed a gun in his direction. Servin fired four shots over his shoulder and out of his window, hitting Antonio Cross in the hand and Boyd in the head.

Servin was in fear for his life, Camden said on the scene. Cross, who was taken to the hospital in handcuffs, was charged with assaulting a police officer. Police did not say whether a gun had been recovered, the Tribunenoted; we now know that there was no gun—Cross had been wielding a cell phone as he gestured towards Servin.

Then in September 2013, Marlon Horton was shot and killed by Kenneth Walker, an off-duty police officer working as a security guard at a Chicago Housing Authority development near the United Center. Camden told theTribune that Walker saw Horton and Shaquila Moore, a civilian security guard, struggling in the lobby of the complex. They got Horton to leave the building, but then saw him urinating on a truck in the parking lot. Walker told Horton to leave and identified himself as police, at which point Horton began fighting, pulling Walker to the ground and, according to Camden, ripping out a dozen of Moore's braids. Camden said that Walker shot Horton after Horton "lunged" towards Walker.

Security camera footage tells a much different story. Though it is partially obscured, the footage shows Walker initiating the physical conflict with Horton; Moore then joins in. Horton never pulls Walker to the ground or rips out Moore's hair. Though Horton appears agitated, nothing suggests he posed an immediate danger to Walker or Moore. Jarrod Horton, Marlon's brother, has sued Walker, Moore, the city, and CHA in federal court.

These are just a few of the "well over 500 police-involved shootings" Camden now boasts of commenting on in a combined three decades at CPD and FOP. It's a role that seems to be unique among big-city American police unions.

"I cannot remember any occasion when the Los Angeles police union made any kind of statement [about a police shooting]," says former LAPD deputy chief Downing, explaining that the Los Angeles Police Protective League prefers not to comment on pending investigations. Veteran Detroit Newscrime reporter George Hunter said in an e-mail that Detroit Police Officers Association officials "generally don't get involved in day-to-day crime stories unless the media reaches out to them first." Christian Boone of theAtlanta Journal-Constitution and Joshua Scott Albert, who covers Philadelphia for the Daily Beast, both said that the police unions in their respective cities rarely speak out in initial media reports. Crime reporters in Baltimore, Oakland, New Orleans, Milwaukee, and Miami, who asked not to be named, described similar situations in their cities.

Gwendolyn Moore’s son Jamaal was fatally shot by police in 2012. She says his reputation was sullied by misinformation about the circumstances of his death. (Jonathan Gibby/City Bureau)

Gwendolyn Moore’s son Jamaal was fatally shot by police in 2012. She says his reputation was sullied by misinformation about the circumstances of his death. (Jonathan Gibby/City Bureau)

A union like no other

Chicago's FOP Lodge 7 operates under the auspices of the Illinois Fraternal Order of Police, though it often acts independently. (Unions in other cities can be chapters of larger unions such as the FOP or the International Union of Police Association, or independent bodies.)

Though it would not become the official bargaining agent for CPD's rank-and-file until 1980, Lodge 7 was incorporated as a charter of the national FOP in 1963. The 60s in Chicago fostered a political climate not unlike that of today, with a nationwide social movement tackling racial inequality. The civil rights movement criticized and made new demands on police, including that they wear name tags and implement citizen review boards. These attempts at reform prompted swift unionization efforts, according to Samuel Walker, professor emeritus of criminal justice at the University of Nebraska at Omaha and an expert on police accountability.

"Many local unions originated or at least became more militant in response to specific police-community relations initiatives in the 1960s," he wrote in his seminal 2008 study "The Neglect of Police Unions."

Though their stated goals included improving the wages and working conditions of their members, police unions also began lobbying against reforms and negotiating contracts that were protective of officers accused of misconduct in the line of duty.

Lodge 7's first president, Joseph Lefevour, was quoted in multiple media stories throughout the 1960s defending officer misconduct. In July 1966, he told an AP reporter that he blamed Martin Luther King Jr. for riots protesting police violence. "He preached nonviolence," Lefevour said. "Yet, wherever he goes, violence erupts."

Lefevour also vigorously defended CPD officers following the infamous "police riots" at the 1968 Democratic National Convention. Hecharacterized Mayor Richard J. Daley's orders that police should "shoot to kill" protesters as a "positive position," and excused extreme police brutality by saying, "[Police officers] are Americans. When they saw people tear down the flag and run up the Viet Cong flag, well, they're red-blooded Americans." The Reader later reported that the "police riots" were in fact a coordinated offensive against protesters, orchestrated by police leaders and people in Daley's inner sanctum.

Lodge 7 also argued against a proposal to create a "Fred Hampton Day," named in honor of the Black Panther leader whose death at the hands of Chicago police became the era's most notorious example of police disinformation. Police claimed that officers attempting to serve the Panthers with a search warrant for weapons had been dragged into a gun battle with Hampton and others. It later emerged that the attack on Hampton had been coordinated between CPD, the FBI, and Cook County state's attorney's office—and that Hampton had been unarmed and in bed.

Lodge 7 would later use membership dues to pay for the legal defense of Jon Burge, the Chicago police commander implicated in torturingpotentially hundreds of black and Latino men into false confessions over three decades.

Defending officers is a key part of the FOP's mission—and that of most police unions. Ron DeLord, the founder and former ten-term president of the largest police association in Texas and an expert on union-police relations, says that the key reason any officer joins a union is first and foremost to obtain legal protection in case of allegations of misconduct.

"You paid us to provide your day in court," DeLord says. "It isn't our job to try you [for what you did], that's the job of the judicial system."

According to Lodge 7's tax forms, its top expense from 2010-2014 after staff salaries was legal fees—at a rate of roughly $1.5 million a year. In 2014 alone, the FOP paid $230,000 to Daniel Q. Herbert & Associates, the law firm representing officer Jason Van Dyke as he faces first-degree murder charges for the fatal shooting of Laquan McDonald. (Herbert was previously Lodge 7's in-house counsel.) In November 2015 the FOP started a collection to raise money for Van Dyke, and eventually put up $1.5 millionto release him on bond. Chicago's FOP is also pushing the city to destroynearly six decades of police misconduct files as part of an ongoing contract dispute.

Filling 'the void'

The FOP's mission to protect its Chicago members and its desire to shape the narrative of a police shooting are thus closely entwined. In the first few hours after a police shooting, a lack of information creates what Camden calls "the void." Journalists tipped off to a shooting scramble to find details of what has transpired. This leaves the first person or agency to comment with significant leeway to influence the story.

"It's a law of nature," Camden says. "If there's a void, somebody has to fill it."

That "somebody" is rarely CPD, which reporters say can take hours to make an official statement about a shooting. Getting an on-the-record response from a CPD department head, chief, or beat cop is highly unusual. This leaves journalists left to rely on press releases that offer little more than boilerplate information. In the September 2012 fatal shooting of Christopher McGowan, the department wrote merely that, "The offenders pointed a weapon at the officers and as a result of this action, officers discharged their weapons fatally wounding one of the offenders."

A veteran journalist who's covered breaking news and crime for more than a decade—and who asked that his name not be used because of concerns that his employer might object—identified several limitations to fully reporting on police shootings, among them that a reporter may not be on the scene, could wait hours for a statement from police, may not have access to witnesses, and is often working to publish the news as soon as possible.

CPD has "no written policy" for disseminating information following a police shooting, according to spokesman Anthony Guglielmi, although the department does suggest that the ranking officer on the scene respond to news media inquiries, with the option to "designate a subordinate member to speak to the media."

That rarely happens, the veteran journalist said.

And so, the void.

The journalist said that in his experience, not only would Camden take his calls—he'd go so far as to initiate the conversation, reaching out after a shooting to give his version of events.

"There was pressure to get something out," the reporter noted. Best practice was to "wait for the official police statement and lead with it, and fill in the gaps with the Camden stuff." But in the rush to meet a deadline, "a lot of what [Camden] said became the majority of the story."

Camden's demeanor, said the journalist, "was very buddy-buddy with reporters." At the center of that was access: "The thing with Camden is, he is a spokesman for the police officers, so you always had to take what [Camden] said with a grain of salt. . . . But he was so good at his job and so nice with reporters. You could always call him on his cell . . . and he was often the only one releasing information at the time."

But that information was always tainted by the FOP's perspective, and its mission to protect its officers.

"What is interesting [about the FOP] is that they seem to embed a point of view in an information statement," said Cristina Tilley, a former news reporter and an adjunct lecturer at Northwestern University. "They are simultaneously confirming the information and are kind of spinning it."

Jane Kirtley, a media ethics and law professor at the University of Minnesota, argues that journalists need to be critical of messages from the Fraternal Order of Police, which often come "with an authoritative veneer" despite their biased point of view.

"The union has its own agenda," she added, often motivated by "an even stronger incentive to maintain the reputation of its members."

Her advice for journalists is to always make clear when a statement can't be backed up and explain the limitations of the information available. "This is what we heard according to the FOP, which is the police union—not everybody knows that."

"There's a huge responsibility on the part of the news media," Walker says. "Here's somebody who now has a record, a proven record, of deliberately giving out false information."

Camden denies ever giving out misinformation deliberately, but echoes calls for responsibility from the media: journalists should know that the information they are getting may not be accurate.

"Anytime I talked to the media, it was always a disclaimer at the front end," Camden says. "These statements are based on preliminary facts immediately following the incident . . . facts always subject to change."

Camden, pictured in 2003 during his time as a CPD spokesman, has often been the only voice of authority talking to reporters immediately after a police shooting. (Tim Boyle/Getty Images)

Camden, pictured in 2003 during his time as a CPD spokesman, has often been the only voice of authority talking to reporters immediately after a police shooting. (Tim Boyle/Getty Images)

Weak accountability

The November 19, 2013, interview of officer Ruth Castelli took place at IPRA's West Town office, a little more than six miles from where she shot and killed Jamaal Moore. IPRA's office sits on the fourth floor of a redbrick building, where tall windows are framed in forest green.

The interview began around 10 AM, and Castelli's team of lawyers and union reps outnumbered the investigators present to tackle her case—one IPRA investigator's questions were scrutinized by Castelli, her lawyer, and her FOP field rep, Kriston Kato.

Castelli began the interview by noting that, per Kato's advice, "I am not making this statement voluntarily but under duress and am only making this statement at this time because I know that I could lose my job if I refuse."

Castelli's entourage and her disclaimer point to one way the FOP does more than shape public perception of a shooting; the union also has the power to influence follow-up investigations via its contract
with CPD.

In these instances, a strong union contract comes up against IPRA's weak and slow-moving accountability system, in which investigations take an average of 328 days to resolve.

The current agreement between Lodge 7 and the city runs through June 30, 2017, and lays out a wide range of contractual protections, from when and how an officer can be interviewed (during daylight hours, while on duty) to a provision making the results of a polygraph inadmissible in cases brought before the police board.

"The power balance has changed, because now, unlike the 60s, they have these various provisions in their contracts which provide special protections and special privileges," says Walker, the police-accountability expert.

As stipulated by the union contract, a police officer accused of misconduct has up to 48 hours before he or she is interviewed by IPRA, though this shrinks to two hours in the case of a shooting, with allowance for an individual officer's extenuating circumstances. (Strikingly, Castelli's IPRA interview took place nearly a year after she shot and killed Moore.) From there, IPRA must provide the names of the primary and secondary investigators, as well as those of anyone else who will be in the room. A maximum of two members of IPRA or the Internal Affairs Department can be present in an interview at a time.

Kato, a former violent-crimes detective on the west side, was himself accused of misconduct during his time on the force. In 1991 the Readerreported on allegations that Kato, who is Asian-American, had beaten false confessions out of people, many of whom were African-American.

Any influence Kato may have had on Castelli's interrogation is hard to pin down. Though the FOP contract stipulates that a union rep can advise officers during the interview, there are no statements from Kato recorded in the Moore case transcripts.

The IPRA investigator, Kymberly Reynolds, was herself a police officer with the LAPD from 1989 to 1991. Since 2010 she has not disciplined an officer listed in any of the 159 complaints she's investigated, according to the Citizens Police Data Project.

Three months after Reynolds interviewed Castelli, IPRA cleared her of any wrongdoing in Moore's death, finding that she acted in accordance with the department's use-of-force policy. According to department records, Castelli is still employed by CPD.

In a statement, IPRA said, "We are aware that the union contract governs how we interact with officers. We're examining the contract to see if there might be changes that can be made in the future."

The Laquan McDonald case

On the evening of October 20, 2014, police officers received a call that a young man was trying to break into cars in Archer Heights, and that he was armed with a knife. Before the night was out, 17-year-old Laquan McDonald would be dead, shot 16 times by officer Jason Van Dyke.

As in so many other cases, the media machine justifying McDonald's death shifted into full gear, starting with the arrival of Camden on the scene.

Talking to the Tribune, Camden painted the incident in lurid detail: "He's got a 100-yard stare. He's staring blankly. [He] walked up to a car and stabbed the tire of the car and kept walking."

From there, Camden claimed that McDonald "lunged" at police and was then shot in the chest. The officers on the scene, he said, were forced to defend themselves. "You obviously aren't going to sit down and have a cup of coffee with [him]," Camden told CBS 2.

News media reported the case as Camden described it. Chicago police had no choice but to shoot McDonald, NBC Chicago said. Its reporter on the scene repeated the FOP's claims, citing the union as a police source and saying that, though IPRA had launched an investigation, "police say this was a clear-cut case of self-defense." Reports from the TribuneABC 7, andCBS 2 echoed that conclusion.

What really happened that night is now evident from the release of autopsy reports and a grainy but painfully clear dashcam video. As McDonald walked away unsteadily from the line of police vehicles, he was shot again and again by Van Dyke. The officer continued to shoot McDonald even after the 17-year-old fell to the ground.

Officials eager to distance themselves from the FOP's initial statements began backtracking the day after the video's November 24 release. Camdentold the Washington Post that his statement about McDonald being a "very serious" threat to the officers wasn't firsthand or even secondhand information. In fact, he said, "I have no idea where it came from."

“[Camden]’s standing up there representing an official body; the public is listening to him represent the police organization, even though it’s the union. The police department and the city administration should be objecting to that; if they’re not, then they’re complicit.”


"I never talked to the officer, period," Camden told the Post. "It was told to me after it was told to somebody else who was told by another person, and this was two hours after the incident . . . hearsay is basically what I'm putting out at that point."

Likewise, then-police chief McCarthy walked back his comments on the shooting, telling NBC Chicago that the initial press release was wrong. He took responsibility for the error— "I guess that's my fault," he said—even though the first media comments had come from Camden.

Indeed, the roughly 3,000 pages of e-mails subsequently released from the mayor's office show a battle to separate the public image of the police department from that of the FOP.

An exchange between John Holden, public affairs director for the city's Law Department, and Shannon Braymaier, deputy director of communications for the mayor's office, regarding the wording in an NBC 5 story about the e-mail release, notes that the station's reference to "the Chicago Police Department's story" about what happened the night McDonald was killed was, in fact, the FOP's story.

"They amended the online story which clarifies the subject line issue, but leaves in the reference to the Chicago Police Department's story. I have told Don [Moseley, the well-respected NBC producer] twice that it was not the 'Chicago Police Department's story' but rather the FOP's. I will continue to monitor," Holden wrote.

"This mistake is the crux of their entire story," Breymaier replied. "This is a completely unnecessary self-inflicted wound that should and could have been easily avoided."

The e-mails also include a letter from McDonald's lawyer, Jeffrey Neslund, spelling out how the city was culpable in letting Camden spread false information. "There must . . . be accountability for the City and the Department's role in allowing false information to be disseminated to the media via the FOP in an attempt to win public approval and falsely characterize the fatal shooting as 'justified,' " Neslund wrote in an e-mail dated March 6, 2015. "Here, within an hour of the shooting, the FOP spokesman gave a statement to the press describing the circumstances surrounding the shooting which contained misrepresentations, misleading information and outright falsehoods."

Downing, the former LAPD deputy chief, also places blame on the CPD and the city for allowing Camden to disseminate false information from a crime scene. "I'd throw his ass in jail in a minute," he said. "That's gotta be the best definition of interfering with an investigation. He's standing up there representing an official body; the public is listening to him represent the police organization, even though it's the union. The police department and the city administration should be objecting to that; if they're not, then they're complicit."

Dominoes of reform

Since the Laquan McDonald shooting, Camden has been noticeably silent; just one of nine police shootings since then—that of Martice Milliner, who was fatally shot in Chatham—featured comments from the FOP rep. An eyewitness interviewed by the Tribune disputed the circumstances of Milliner's killing as laid out by Camden.

Camden attributes his new low profile to the FOP. "I don't respond to shootings anymore unless the union specifically calls me," he says. "It's just the administration policy at this point in time." Dean Angelo, the current Lodge 7 president, told the Tribune in November that the decision was made months after the McDonald shooting and was unrelated. But after a recent panel on police transparency, Angelo told City Bureau and theReader that allegations of Camden making false statements at the scene of police shootings were "concerning," and suggested that Camden should have never given such statements in the first place.

"That's why you don't see Pat Camden out anymore," he said. "I'm the spokesman for the union now. The department makes the statements on the scene now, as it should have always been." He confirmed that Camden is still employed by the union as a media liaison.

Media commentary, meanwhile, has largely turned against the entire policing structure in Chicago, taking the mayor's office, CPD, IPRA, and the FOP to task. A November 27, 2015, editorial by the Tribune, which endorsed Rahm Emanuel in both 2011 and 2015, led with "the more we learn the worse it gets." The Sun-Times, which also endorsed Emanuel both times,called for McCarthy's resignation.

The mayor has responded with a flurry of new measures: extending the pilot body-camera program, creating a task force to review police misconduct, outfitting more officers with Tasers, and appointing a new IPRA chief to overhaul the agency.

CPD is responding too, in part by changing how police deal with the media. The department is developing a formal policy on the distribution of information after a police shooting, says CPD rep Guglielmi.

The policy will be based on others around the country, Guglielmi says, but he declined to give any additional information.

And on December 16, almost three years to the day of Moore's death, the U.S. Department of Justice began a probe into CPD. The civil "pattern or practice" investigation will look into whether the Laquan McDonald case was a paradigm of misconduct and civil rights violations.

The probe could result in a federal consent decree, which would give the DOJ temporary oversight of the police department. Changes mandated by the consent decree could even come head-to-head with aspects of the city's union contract, as has happened in Seattle and Cleveland, both of which have police departments under federal oversight.

The dashcam video from Ruth Castelli’s police vehicle reveals the moment when the officer, shown here with her face blurred, pulled her gun on Jamaal Moore. (NBC 5)

The dashcam video from Ruth Castelli’s police vehicle reveals the moment when the officer, shown here with her face blurred, pulled her gun on Jamaal Moore. (NBC 5)

What really happened

Camden and McCarthy's initial story about the morning Ruth Castelli fatally shot Jamaal Moore—the gun, the robbery, the part where Hackett was thrown around "like a rag doll" by a person who had just been run over by an SUV—fell apart.

The most definitive story of what happened the morning Moore was killed comes from the video footage obtained from Castelli's car and security-camera footage taken from the gas station at Garfield and Ashland. The images are made blurry around the edges by the rain, and the ground shines as the last minutes of Moore's life play out.

In the gas station footage, Moore's silver SUV skids across the wet pavement, begins to spin around, and strikes a lamppost, which falls and crashes on top of the car. Four people jump out of the back, running across the gas station parking lot. Moore, struggling to join them, is then hit by the police SUV, with Hackett behind the wheel.

Dashcam footage shows Moore crawling out from underneath the police vehicle. Hackett then climbs on top of him, attempting to put him in handcuffs. He then appears to fall forward over Moore, later testifying that he "got too high on [Moore's] shoulders." Moore breaks free, and begins to get up and run away.

McCarthy's claim that Moore had charged at Castelli was untrue—surveillance footage shows him standing up briefly only to turn and fall to the ground.

Castelli claims that she saw a "black object" in Moore's hand and shouted, "Gun! Gun!" But the dashcam corroborates neither of those things; the shot is not clear enough, and there is no audio. (Eighty percent of CPD's dash cams don't have functioning audio, Gugliemi told DNAinfo in December, and 22 officers were disciplined last month for interfering with the recording devices.)

But we now know that the only guns the night Moore was shot belonged to Castelli and her partner.

A black flashlight was found at the scene, but whether Moore was actually holding it at the time Castelli shot him is in dispute. Castelli testified that he was holding it; in official depositions, two witnesses said he was not.

Camden stressed to the Tribune that even though no gun had been recovered from the scene, the earlier truck robbery had involved one—as if to further implicate Moore in a crime with which he was never charged. Police documents show that Moore was not charged for the alleged truck robbery. Instead, he was posthumously charged with aggravated assault of an officer with a handgun—a charge that was later changed to aggravated battery of an officer with his hands after it was determined that Moore was unarmed.

Cook County medical examiner records show that Moore, who died at the scene, was shot twice, in the back and the side of his pelvis.

Moore's mother, Gwendolyn, sued the city in federal court, alleging, among other things, that police officers at the scene had referred to her son as "just another dead nigger." City lawyers settled for $1.25 million without legally admitting any guilt. In a memorandum opinion, federal judge James Holderman wrote that the dashcam video "undercuts [the police and FOP] version of events."

But Moore's mother says that apologies and settlement money, whatever the amount, will never undo the damage done by Castelli, McCarthy, and Camden. At the time of his death, Moore had been engaged. The money from the settlement will go to Moore's young son, she said, but it won't change the fact that he'll grow up without a father. Moore is gone, hismother said, and his name has been dragged through
the mud.

"Not only did I just lose my son under false pretense, you have [the public] thinking he is that kind of kid," she said. "It's lies about him, but that is the story people start believing." v

This report was produced in partnership with the Chicago Reader, a Chicago-based journalism lab. Additional reporting and editing by Darryl Holliday. 

In Chicago, Mental Health Workers are Armed and Dangerous

In Chicago, Mental Health Workers are Armed and Dangerous


One out of every four police shooting victims has a severe mental illness. That lesson was echoed this holiday season when Chicago police encountered 19-year-old Quintonio LeGrier in the midst of an “emotional problem” and shot him dead, allegedly without warning, according to a lawsuit filed by the teen’s father.

Five days earlier, another black man involved in a mental health crisis was killed by police—this time in Georgia, where Bobby Daniels was shot twice while trying to calm down his mentally ill son. In that instance, merely being associated with an emotional breakdown resulted in death when police became involved.

Evelyn Glover-Jennings cousin of Bettie Jones, holds a prayer with her family and elective officials of the west side of Chicago on Sunday December 27, 2015. (William Camargo/City Bureau)

Evelyn Glover-Jennings cousin of Bettie Jones, holds a prayer with her family and elective officials of the west side of Chicago on Sunday December 27, 2015. (William Camargo/City Bureau)

And the list goes on. In February 2012, a black, autistic 15-year-old was killed within seconds of encountering Calumet City police after the boy’s family called 911 for help. In December 2012, Philip Coleman died in a hospital after police tasered the 38-year-old several times and dragged him out of a police lockup on the far south side following a psychotic breakdown.

In March of this year, a black 39-year-old bipolar, schizophrenic man in Dallas named Jason Harrison was also killed by police. Officers had been to his home “a hundred times or more without incident,” according to a lawsuit, but the final response came after the man’s mother requested assistance getting Harrison to the hospital during an emotional breakdown. Again, within seconds of an officer’s demand to drop a screwdriver Harrison was fatally shot five times. A graphic video of that encounter shows what can happen when police are tasked with providing mental health services.

“By all accounts—official and unofficial—a minimum of one in four fatal police encounters ends the life of an individual with severe mental illness,” according to a report from the Treatment Advocacy Center, a Virginia-based nonprofit dedicated to eliminating barriers to the treatment of severe mental illness. “Given the prevalence of mental illness in police shootings, reducing encounters between on-duty law enforcement and individuals with the most severe psychiatric diseases may represent the single most immediate, practical strategy for reducing fatal police shootings in the United States.”

The December 2015 report, “Overlooked in the Undercounted,” finds that the risk of being killed during a police encounter is 16 times greater for individuals with untreated mental illness than the general population. Other research shows that whites are more likely to perceive blacks as violent, dangerous, and in possession of superpowers than they perceive other races. For those who are black and have mental illness, the odds of coming away unscathed from an encounter with police are stacked overwhelmingly against them.

In a city where police “accidentally” shoot and kill a woman within moments of fatally shooting a 19-year-old man undergoing an emotional breakdown (and later that same day shoot a third person), serious questions regarding officer training and misuse of force remain unanswered. Aside from the police department via a statement offering a public apology to the family of LeGrier’s neighbor Bettie Jones, who was mistakenly shot and killed by Chicago police officers shortly before the teen was killed, answers as to what prompted the shooting of LeGrier remain elusive.

“What it doesn’t recommend? The continued reliance on police to act as a force of armed mental health workers.”

What has emerged is a rethinking of the police department’s Crisis Intervention Team program, which teaches de-escalation techniques to officers responding to mental health crises, as Mayor Rahm Emanuel and interim police superintendent John Escalante announced following the weekend police shootings.

“There are serious questions about yesterday’s shootings that must be answered in full by the Independent Police Review Authority’s investigation,” Emanuel said in a statement on Sunday. “It is clear changes are needed to how officers respond to mental health crises.”

What’s unclear is how better CIT training could have saved Bettie Jones, the “accidental” victim. Or Mekel Lumpkin, the young father who was shot by police five times on the south side hours after Jones and LeGrier were killed. Witnesses say Lumpkin had a gun but put it down when police arrived.

Instead, the mayor’s announcement has deftly shifted attention away from the larger issues of excessive force and lack of accountability in the police department. Meanwhile, a report from the Chicago Tribune detailing police radio traffic and 911 dispatch information shows that responding officers may not have known that LeGrier was in mental distress at all, meaning that dispatchers would not have specially requested a CIT-trained officer.

Police shot and killed Quintonio LeGrier on December 26 while the 19-year-old was in the midst of an “emotional problem.” (William Camargo/City Bureau)

Police shot and killed Quintonio LeGrier on December 26 while the 19-year-old was in the midst of an “emotional problem.” (William Camargo/City Bureau)

Odds are that knowledge of LeGrier’s mental state wouldn’t have changed the outcome: as of this month, only 1,800 of CPD’s approximately 11,000 officers were trained in the perennially underfunded, voluntary CIT program, and “less than a majority” of mental health calls are responded to by a CIT-trained officer, according to 2014 congressional testimony from then-first deputy superintendent Al Wysinger.

And as many critics were quick to point out, Mayor Emanuel in 2012 closed six of the city’s 12 mental health clinics—largely in low-income, high-crime neighborhoods—without holding hearings or initiating a study or task force. Lacking the proper services or treatment, family members are left to call police when a loved one suffers from a mental episode. Faced with an overzealous criminal justice system, many mentally ill people wind up in Cook County Jail, which has been called America’s largest mental hospital, even in the words of its own top official, Cook County sheriff Tom Dart.

The Treatment Advocacy Center report finds that shifting the responsibility for responding to mental health crises from mental health professionals to police is untenable at best. First, the group says, we must begin accurately counting the number of fatal police encounters with the mentally ill to develop a better understanding of how the situations bear out. Then it advocates for rebalancing the scales by increasing funding for mental health treatment. The report outlines five public policies geared at reducing these encounters, including increasing the number of treatment beds for the mentally ill, reforming laws that create barriers to treatment, and making treatment funding decisions that consider the cost of treatment and taxpayer savings that result from providing treatment.

What it doesn’t recommend? The continued reliance on police to act as a force of armed mental health workers.

This piece was published in collaboration with the Chicago Reader.

For Black Officers in Chicago, City’s Police Crisis Calls for Action

For Black Officers in Chicago, City’s Police Crisis Calls for Action


Edward “Buzz” Palmer has been at this moment before. When he first saw the July 28, 1967 cover of Life magazine—a black boy lying dead in the street, shot by police—Palmer was a young black police officer in a racially divided city, working in a department that still segregated its squad cars.

“It was the times,” Palmer explains. “The times create the conditions. King had been assassinated, Malcolm X had been assassinated. What it pointed out was the need for the black community to be protected. We saw all this killing going on.”

The July 28, 1967 cover of Life magazine featured a photo of 12-year-old Joe Bass Jr., dead on a Newark street after a shoot-out between civilians and police. (Source: Creative Commons/Life Magazine)

The July 28, 1967 cover of Life magazine featured a photo of 12-year-old Joe Bass Jr., dead on a Newark street after a shoot-out between civilians and police. (Source: Creative Commons/Life Magazine)

Palmer was moved by the image to form the Afro-American Patrolmen’s League, the first African-American police organization of its kind. He spent two years in the department before handing the role over to Pat Hill, who quickly had her own challenges to face.

“I knew the culture of the police department when I went in,” Hill said. “I knew the disparity in treatment of black officers, and I spent a lot of my time fighting against policies in the department.”

A call for more black police officers

Last Wednesday morning, Hill stood with other retired black police officers at a news conference to call for the hiring of more black officers and a federal investigation into the Chicago Police Department and the Independent Police Review Authority, the civilian body tasked with investigating complaints of police misconduct. Since then, Mayor Rahm Emanuel has replaced the head of IPRA, and U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch has announced a civil rights investigation of the police department.

At their news conference, the retired officers cited the persistent under-representation of African-Americans in CPD as a root cause of tensions between black neighborhoods and the police department. According to police records, the CPD is 23 percent black, compared with 33 percent of the total Chicago population.

The news conference came three days after the firing of former police Superintendent Garry McCarthy, and 10 days after the release of a dashcam video that shows 17-year-old Laquan McDonald being shot 16 times by CPD Officer Jason Van Dyke. The shooting, captured and repeated on an unending loop online and on TV, was yet another moment of historical reflection for Hill.

“For me this is about the third time. It’s the third go-around. Certain concessions are always made and everything goes back to being business as usual: scandals, police brutality [and] discrimination in the department,” she said. “ I can’t be as optimistic as a person who’s going through it for the first time.”

Like the cover of Life Magazine in 1967, Hill said the latest symbol of police misconduct — the image of McDonald; a black boy lying dead in the street, shot by police — is yet another moment of striking cruelty and a call for meaningful reform.

Much like the ousting of McCarthy, past Chicago police scandals have also led to resignations and promises of reform. In 2007, CPD superintendent Philip Cline resigned amid an uproar over video footage of Chicago police beatings. The film included a widely-circulated Youtube clip of an off-duty officer beating a female bartender on the Northwest Side. Ten years before, superintendent Matt Rodriguez announced his retirement amid a series of scandals, including police corruption and brutality allegations.

Hill and Palmer sought to reform the department through diversifying its ranks, but young black activists today argue that policing itself is oppressive.

“As a black cop or brown cop, you are in a position of power over the group of people you are policing,” Janae Bonsu of The Black Youth Project 100 told The Chicago Reporter last month. “Black police antagonize us. Black police still profile us.”

Palmer and Hill agree that the problem is systemic — “violence has a handmaiden, and the handmaiden is poverty” as Palmer puts it. But Hill takes issue with the idea that an officer’s race doesn’t matter for the community they work in.

The village needs warriors to protect it, not settlers to occupy it.” —David Lemieux

“So many young people — so many young black people especially — are taking the initiative to be heard. In that respect that’s a positive,” she said. But the young activists weren’t there in 1967, she noted — while being actively engaged in the current moment, they lack the historical perspective that comes with age.

“They really can’t take it too far [back] … There’s a big difference between white police and black police. Our upbringing is totally different and we’re treated differently. We’re suspended and punished at a higher rate — we’re scrutinized differently.”

David Lemieux, a retired black police officer and 26-year veteran of CPD, added to the chorus of calls for systemic change and improved relations between police and the public.

“In order for there to be any change in the relations between the community and the police, the infrastructure has to be saturated with people that represent the community,” he said. “The village needs warriors to protect it, not settlers to occupy it. Who are the boots on the ground? That’s what’s important.”

The history of black officers in the Chicago Police Department is long and often checkered. In 1872, Chicago appointed the first black police officer to serve outside of the South, but black officers in the early years of the department weren’t permitted to wear uniforms, and were instead restricted to plainclothes duty, mostly in black neighborhoods.

Still, black officers were better represented in Chicago than in most American cities. Between 1872 and 1930, Chicago appointed more black officers than any city except Philadelphia, and in 1940 the city had its first black captain—one of only two in the country. Yet black officers couldn’t arrest white citizens, and black sergeants were assigned exclusively to supervise black officers.

Pat Hill was among a group of retired police officers who on Dec. 2 called for a federal investigation of the ‪Chicago Police Department. Hill, who retired from the force in 2007, is the former executive director of the African American Police League, formerly the Afro-American Patrolmen’s League. (Max Herman/Chicago Reporter)

Pat Hill was among a group of retired police officers who on Dec. 2 called for a federal investigation of the ‪Chicago Police Department. Hill, who retired from the force in 2007, is the former executive director of the African American Police League, formerly the Afro-American Patrolmen’s League. (Max Herman/Chicago Reporter)

Pat Hill was among a group of retired police officers who on Dec. 2 called for a federal investigation of the ‪Chicago Police Department. Hill, who retired from the force in 2007, is the former executive director of the African American Police League, formerly the Afro-American Patrolmen’s League. (Max Herman/Chicago Reporter)

A scandal over police involvement in a string of burglaries ushered in the era of O.W. Wilson, a prominent police reformer who reorganized the department around principles of efficiency rather than patronage. Wilson promoted sergeants and recruited more African American officers, but his retirement in 1967 preceded a new era. The 1968 assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., and Mayor Richard J. Daley’s order to “shoot to kill” rioters, caused mounting racial tensions. “Shoot to kill” was the backdrop for the formation of the Afro-American Patrolmen’s Union by Buzz Palmer.

The AAPL brought a lawsuit against CPD in 1973 for discriminatory hiring and management practices, and won in 1976 with a judge ruling that CPD must hire more blacks and women.

Hill noted that while Wednesday’s news conference achieved its goal of having black officers speak out, it failed to comment on the systemic nature of racism in the Chicago Police Department by focusing too closely on a single individual.

A similar issue is raised in the handling of McCarthy by Emanuel. Hill and others didn’t support McCarthy’s hiring when he was confirmed in 2012 and while she agrees with his dismissal, she sees the way politicians are “kicking him on the way down” as political posturing.

“I don’t think it’s about one individual,” she said. “I think it’s important for black officers currently in the department and retired to take positions on this because the black community needs that.”

Palmer and Hill also agree that the black community needs the Black Lives Matter movement, including Chicago-based groups like BYP100.

“We’re living in a new era,” Palmer explained. “One of the reasons why things always died down was because blacks did not have access to the media. Now they have access to social media. When Ferguson went up the newspapers didn’t cover it, but all at once all these young people were on their smartphones and they got a million hits and people had to pay attention to it.”

He added, “This is not an issue that is going to go away.”

This report was published in collaboration with The Chicago Reportera nonprofit investigative news organization that focuses on race, poverty and income inequality. Additional reporting by Will Cabaniss.

Who is Linked to the False Chicago Police Account of Laquan McDonald's Death?

Who is Linked to the False Chicago Police Account of Laquan McDonald's Death?


It’s the year of police chief firings, and the latest official to fall is Chicago superintendent Garry McCarthy, who was summarily dismissed on Tuesday following the withholding and eventual release of dashcam footage of a police shooting that contradicted officials’ accounts of the altercation. But McCarthy is not the only one potentially implicated in what many in Chicago have called a cover-up in the shooting of Laquan McDonald.

McCarthy had been an embattled superintendent even before the release of the video, facing backlash over a series of violent summers, marked most recently by the shooting death of nine-year-old Tyshawn Lee. But as the McDonald story unfolded, McCarthy’s name wasn’t the only one on the lips of protesters upset at a clear lack of transparency and honesty. Both Rahm Emanuel, the city’s mayor, and Anita Alvarez, the state’s attorney responsible for criminally prosecuting police officers, have come under fire for their roles, in a city infamous for corruption and police misconduct.

Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy listens to comments from attendees during the November Police Board Meeting at the Chicago Public Safety Headquarters on November 19, 2015. (Jonathan Gibby/City Bureau)

Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy listens to comments from attendees during the November Police Board Meeting at the Chicago Public Safety Headquarters on November 19, 2015. (Jonathan Gibby/City Bureau)

McCarthy’s departure comes after the firing of Ferguson police chief Thomas Jackson in March and the firing of Baltimore police chief Anthony Batts in July. All three cities have been the site of protests and calls for police accountability following fatal police-involved shootings since August 2014, but as leader of the second largest police force in the nation – and the top cop of the third largest city in the US – McCarthy stands out as a warning to city officials in Chicago.

The turning point for the superintendent came on 24 November when the video of the Laquan McDonald shooting was released to the public, one week before McCarthy was fired by Emanuel. At a press conference that evening, McCarthy stood alongside Emanuel in defense of his department’s decision not to press charges against the officer involved until the day before the video’s release.

Much of the country watched in shock that day as officer Jason Van Dyke unloaded 16 bullets into 17-year-old Laquan. In video obtained from a police dashcam on the scene, two Chicago police officers can be seen trailing Laquan as he walks unsteadily away from a line of patrol cars. The video shows the initial shots that topple Laquan – and then his body taking the impact of the dozen shots that followed.

The images set off protests across the city as hundreds of people blocked major streets and shopping areas in downtown Chicago across several days, including Black Friday. Playing no small part in the outrage was what many saw as an attempted cover-up in the case: the initial police press release made no mention of the 16 shots – instead choosing to preemptively criminalize him – and the civil settlement between Laquan’s family and the city was contingent on their not releasing the video. Questions over the department’s handling of the case in its early hours still linger.

At the center of complaints about Alvarez is that her “tough on crime” prosecutorial approach translates in practice to throwing the book at petty offenders while letting cases against police officers accused of deadly shootings linger with inaction. The Chicago Tribune reported that she had the McDonald video within two weeks of his death but took an additional 400 days to bring charges against the teen’s killer.

She’s up for reelection for a third term in March but has been hemorrhaging public support since the case broke. Democratic stalwart Luis Gutierrez announced on Tuesday that he would no longer endorse her. A series of news editorials simultaneously followed, alongside political pressure from Chicago’s Black Caucus and heavy-hitters like Cook County board president Toni Preckwinkle.

“I’ve had no confidence in [Alvarez’s] leadership for a very long time,” Preckwinkle, who is backing her former chief of staff, Kim Foxx, over Alvarez in the 15 March Democratic primary election, told reporters on Monday. “I think the way she has run the office is disgraceful.”

While the city’s largely young, black activist groups have pressed for accountability and resignations for months, the Chicago Tribune wondered aloud whether Emanuel would be mayor at all had the Laquan McDonald video been released following his death in October 2014 – six months before Emanuel won an election against longtime West Side political player Chuy Garcia with critical help from black voters.

Chicagoans Kenneth Wright and Debora Samuels sound off on McCarthy’s firing in the city’s Archer Heights neighborhood, where Laquan McDonald was shot and killed.

Emanuel, meanwhile, has rapidly rolled out police accountability-related initiatives since 24 November. Along with firing McCarthy, he announced an expansion of the department’s body camera pilot program on Sunday and the creation of a clout-heavy taskforce on police accountability that was called into question within hours of its introduction.

A bandage for Chicago’s problems?

Emanuel’s taskforce wouldn’t be the first time the creation of a new agency or group has been offered as the bandage on Chicago’s police problems. The Independent Police Review Authority, which currently investigates and suggests action on police shootings and other misconduct, was created in 2007 to take over misconduct reviews for the Office for Professional Standards, an internal agency deemed largely ineffective by critics.

But the birth of IPRA failed to create the promised sea change in accountability and the Laquan McDonald shooting is seen as only the latest iteration of its failure. The agency sustains complaints against police officers at around 3% and has only twice recommended an officer involved in a shooting be fired – despite Chicago police having fatally shot 70 people over a five-year span, topping departments in the largest US cities. More broadly, in terms of concrete criminal charges, the police officer accused of killing Laquan was the first officer in 35 years to be charged with first-degree murder.

Groups on the ground – particularly Black Youth Project 100, a local organization under the Black Lives Matter mantle – see structural changes in leadership as one of their key demands. But if Ferguson and Baltimore are any indication, it might be what they do next that matters most. It took months of protest in Ferguson to bring down a Justice Department investigation into racial bias in the police department, and the firing of Baltimore’s police chief took place less than a year after the city was brought to a standstill by anger at the death of Freddie Gray.

A protestor with a poster of the 16 shots of where Laquan McDonald was shot by officer Jason Van Dyke at the Magnificent Mile during Black Friday November 27, 2015 at a protest in memory of Laquan McDonald, backed by Reverend Jesse Jackson and other elected officials. Protest have been happening since the release of dash cam video of the killing of Laquan McDonald by Chicago Police officer Jason Van Dyke. (William Camargo/City Bureau)

A protestor with a poster of the 16 shots of where Laquan McDonald was shot by officer Jason Van Dyke at the Magnificent Mile during Black Friday November 27, 2015 at a protest in memory of Laquan McDonald, backed by Reverend Jesse Jackson and other elected officials. Protest have been happening since the release of dash cam video of the killing of Laquan McDonald by Chicago Police officer Jason Van Dyke. (William Camargo/City Bureau)

How much outrage remains in Chicago – and where it will be directed – could hit the headlines sooner rather than later. The mother of another police shooting victim, Ronald Johnson, killed on 12 October 2014, four days before Laquan, filed a motion with a county judge in August to have the video of her son’s shooting made public.

Control of the CPD now falls to officer John Escalante, a 29-year veteran of the department who took over for McCarthy’s right-hand man, former first deputy superintendent Alfonza Wysinger, in October after the department’s highest-ranking black officer (and next in line for McCarthy’s job) stepped down. With at least one federal investigation under way and mounting calls for reform on all sides, Escalante is in the unenviable position of keeping clean in a system that appears more sullied each day.

This report was published in collaboration with The Guardian. Additional reporting by La Risa Lynch, Martin Macias, Tatiana Franklin, Ronald Reese and Monzell McKnight.

Chicago Activists Explain Why Black Space Matters

Chicago Activists Explain Why Black Space Matters


Just minutes before the Chicago Police Department released a video Tuesday of a white police officer shooting a black teenager to death, several groups of black activists marched to Cook County state’s attorney Anita Alvarez’s office on the near west side of Chicago to attend a community forum. She had waited too long to charge officer Jason Van Dyke for the murder of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald, they said. It was more than a year after the October 2014 shooting and the charges came only after a judge had ordered the release of the video showing his death.

But the activists declined to give interviews to reporters flanking them during their public demonstration. One woman told a journalist he was taking up “valuable black space in an action about black suffering.” After not being allowed into Alvarez’s community forum, the protesters regrouped at a nearby gallery and asked reporters to stay out of the “strictly black-only space.”

Activists made it clear to reporters and allies that the action Wednesday was a space organized and led by black youth. (Martin Macias/City Bureau)

Veronica Morris-Moore, an organizer with Fearless Leading by the Youth (FLY), told reporters, “This is a space where black people are trying to process this right now. . . . I understand this is a public sidewalk but I need you to respect these people in here if you want to talk to them . . . [and] not look like you’re here to capture a circus show.”

This desire to protect not just black lives but “black space” is a tactic that has been embraced by activists and explored by writers in recent months, starting with the highly publicized incident at the University of Missouri when a young journalist was barred from an activist camp on the campus quad, and later at Loyola University, when students stood in solidarity with Mizzou organizers by barring media from a public event on the Chicago campus.

Claims to “black-only” space are as much a defense as they are an action, activists say—a defense from manipulative messages, as well as a proactive strategy to reclaim the protest narrative. A distrust of media, political figures, and public opinion has grown in the absence of meaningful reform.

Chicago’s organizers drew this connection during last week’s protest, when an activist next to Morris-Moore told a man livestreaming the protest on his phone to “stop filming—she said stop.”

Morris-Moore continued to address reporters and onlookers: “I’m asking if you could respect us. . . . You don’t have to, but if you have any half of decency in you, please leave. Don’t stand here.”

In the weeks leading up to—and the days following—the release of the Laquan McDonald video, young black activists from groups including FLY, Black Youth Project 100, Assata’s Daughters, Say Her Name, and Black Lives Matter had intentionally stepped away from establishment figures. Organizers declined an invitation from Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Monday to discuss the video’s release. They called for a media blackout of the “black-only” march on the night the video was released.

“Black people please meet at Roosevelt st and Halsted Ave at 5:30pm. This is a space for Black rage for Black people,” a BYP100 Facebook event page read.

The call for a black-only protest space prompted both support and opposition from allies of all races:

For some, the request for “safe spaces” seemed as foreign as it did unnecessary. Why advocate for the racial segregation that blacks had spent so long fighting? Why hold allies of all other colors at bay?

“We need to figure out how black people can get space, understanding that space is also time. Black people, especially poor black people, do not have space to heal from [trauma] or even combat [police violence]. Time is a luxury,” LaCreisha Birts, an organizer with BYP100, said in an interview.

It’s a sentiment that some people had trouble understanding. Presidential hopeful Donald Trump has dismissed demands for black space as “crazy” and said Black Lives Matter protesters are “looking for trouble.”

“They wrongly assume we all enjoy such luxury and are blindly seeking something even more extravagant,” author Roxane Gay wrote in Error! Hyperlink reference not valid.. “They assume that we should simply accept hate without wanting something better. They cannot see that what we seek is sanctuary. We want to breathe.”

The rejection of establishment politicians, media, and nonblack people served two main purposes, according to interviews with members of several activist groups: To create black-only spaces that would make it easier to grieve the loss of black lives and to retake the narrative of the “black man or woman shot by white officer” story, which they said had been hijacked to create a spectacle worthy of mass consumption. Activists were fed up with media accounts that they said had twisted their message in order to inflate page views, without giving voice to their demands, including calls for Mayor Emanuel, police superintendent Garry McCarthy and Alvarez to resign, and for Chicago as a whole to invest in the economic and educational opportunities of disenfranchised communities of color.

For example, while the activists planned memorials and public demonstrations, city officials emphasized a call for peace:

“People have the right to be angry. People have the right to protest. People have the right to free speech, but they do not have the right to commit criminal acts,” McCarthy told reporters at a press release designed to mitigate any violent response to footage of McDonald’s death.

“We are prepared to facilitate people’s First Amendment rights to free speech, but we will be intolerant of criminal behavior here in the city of Chicago,” he said.

The underlying assumption, activists said, was that young black people are likely to riot and commit criminal acts. By spreading the pleas for peaceful protest coming from public officials, they said, media was endorsing the idea that violence was impending.

But there were no riots. With few exceptions, the peaceful protests were filled with chanting, spoken word, and over the weekend, a rejection of Black Friday consumer culture as it traveled down the Magnificent Mile shopping district and throughout downtown on five consecutive days.

“We are organizers—we are strategic, not random people who show up to a march,” said BYP100’s communications director Camesha Jones. “People have a right to protests. We support that—it’s righteous rage.”

But just as public officials and the media fetishized black anger, organizers said, so too did they sensationalize black death, creating an unending loop of violence made normal by round-the-clock coverage. Nowhere was that as blatant as in the highly-criticized-then-deleted tweet from the Daily Beast with a GIF of McDonald dying on video.

Later in the week, Morris-Moore described her mixed feelings on the media’s interactions with activists: “Media has both been doing harm to our cause and at the same time getting our message out there.”

Multiple activists said the biggest problem was that reporters only showed up to big protests and demonstrations to cover the mayhem aspect, rather than discuss the causes for which organizers advocate on a regular basis.

“Who is interested in covering this in an objective way—and who has an angle they are trying to perpetuate?” Jones asked.

Of the hundreds of protesters who filled Chicago’s streets Tuesday night, police arrested five on charges ranging from resisting a police officer to aggravated battery. (The most serious charges were reserved for Dean M. Vanriper, a 38-year-old white man from Murrieta, California, according to police.)

Activists joined hands at Roosevelt and Halsted before marching through the city streets November 24. (Martin Macias/City Bureau)

Activists joined hands at Roosevelt and Halsted before marching through the city streets November 24. (Martin Macias/City Bureau)

Those arrests are the statistics media will focus on, according to Jones: “They are focused on the violence and not the demands. That includes the violence of the police and suspected violence of protesters.”

“One of the things that media gets wrong, for me, is that the movement for black lives only sees police brutality as a problem and doesn’t have a scope or sphere about what community violence looks like,” BYP100 organizer Max Boykin said. “We see community violence and we see it as part of this larger problem of state violence against black bodies.”

Organizers with several Chicago-based activist groups joined hands outside of the Cook County courthouse November 25 for the release of BYP100 member and acclaimed spoken-word poet Malcolm London, who was charged with aggravated battery by police the night before—charges that were later dropped.

“We are poised to march as long as needed,” said BYP100’s Charlene Carruthers, as a crowd of activists waited for another protester to be released from court. “This did not start last night and it didn’t end last night. We are marching in protest of constant, structural racism by the Chicago Police Department.”

The marches will no doubt continue but the young organizers may not have to wait long for media and political allies to fall in line. Even now, major news outlets and politicians are calling for some of the same measures groups like BYP100 and Black Lives Matter have pushed in recent months, including a federal investigation of the Chicago Police Department and the firing of McCarthy and Alvarez.

If and when those demands for accountability become mainstream, the difference between public space and black space may not seem so far apart after all.

This report was published in collaboration with the Chicago Reader. Additional reporting by Ronald Reese, Michael Key, and La Risa Lynch.