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William Camargo

Movement To Dump IPRA, Police Board Gains Momentum

Movement To Dump IPRA, Police Board Gains Momentum

BY LA RISA LYNCH

Frank Chapman has long been critical of Chicago’s top officials — including a City Council that shelled out more than $500 million in taxpayer money to settle police brutality cases over the years, and a mayor and police force that uphold a system allowing such abuses.

Chapman talks a big game — but the Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression (CAARPR) is backing it up with a solution: a civilian police accountability council (CPAC).

“CPAC would take the power from the mayor, from the City Council, from the Independent Police Review Authority, from the Police Board, from the Internal Affairs Department and put it in the hands of people who live in the police district. They will have the power,” said Chapman, an organizer with CAARPR.

The Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression has been advocating to establish an elected civilian police accountability council since 2012. But the group says City Council members have yet to fully embrace the idea even as they call for reforms in the police department in the wake of the shooting death of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald.

Outrage over the dashboard video showing the fatal shooting of McDonald being shot 16 times by Officer Jason Van Dyke ignited days of protest in Chicago streets with marchers and activists demanding reforms in the Chicago Police Department and the mayor’s resignation.

Protestors chants 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)

Protestors chants 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)

Protesters have demanded a federal probe into the police, the state’s attorney’s office as well as Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s  administration to see if steps were taken to suppress the video until after the mayor won a heated runoff election. Additionally protesters have asked for a “real” independent police oversight council that can effectively and unbiasedly investigate and prosecute police crimes.

While the mayor’s resignation seems unlikely, the U.S. Department of Justice announced a civil rights investigation into the police department, which signals a win for protesters. But their cry for a truly independent civilian police oversight board could be closer than most think if City Council officials buy into the idea.

Backing CPAC, Chapman noted, would end rubber-stamp payouts that take place without broader police accountability.

“They got exposed in the Laquan McDonald case,” Chapman said. “This is their chance. If they want to try to right some of the wrong that they’ve done then they can support CPAC.”

Anatomy of CPAC

CAARPR’s proposal would replace both the Independent Police Review Authority (IPRA) and the Chicago Police Board with a civilian-led council made of residents publically elected from each of the city’s 25 police districts. The latest push for the civilian board comes as IPRA, the agency that investigates police wrongdoings, faced criticism over its lack of transparency, which some advocates say favors police and has led to a paucity of disciplinary actions for serious police misconduct complaints.

Between March 2011 and September 2015, 28,567 abuse allegations were filed against CPD officers, yet less than 2 percent resulted in any punishment, according to the Citizens Police Data Project, a new database that analyses police misconduct complaints. Since IPRA’s inception in 2007, the agency investigated 400 shootings and found only two “unjustified.”

CPAC would have the power to investigate allegations of police misconduct and police shootings, refer cases to the federal grand jury for civil rights violations and fire police officers. CPAC would also have the power to appoint the city’s police superintendent and rewrite the police rule book including use of force guidelines.

But the proposal has not been yet introduced in the City Council. Though half a dozen aldermen have expressed interest or are sympathetic to the cause, none has publicly committed to supporting CPAC yet, Chapman said.

Among those interested, Chapman said, were Aldermen Rod Sawyer (6th) and  Toni Foulkes (16th) who did not return calls seeking comment. Random calls to council members including, Joe Moreno (1st), Howard Brookins (21st) and Scott Waguespack (32nd) to gauge where they stand on CPAC were not immediately returned.

“We are organizing people in the wards to get the aldermen to pick it up. This is a political campaign,” Chapman said comparing it to the people-driven movement that got Harold Washington elected as Chicago’s first black mayor. “We do not want to go to the aldermen without the backing of the people. That’s the bottom line.”

In the meantime, CAARPR has set up committees in Englewood, Austin and Woodlawn — communities with a high incidence of police violence — to advocate for systemic change in the department.

Currently there are more than 200 civilian police oversight entities in the country. Many consist of a mix of volunteers and appointed personnel, though their powers to investigate and punish officers vary. If enacted, Chapman noted CPAC could be the only citizen-elected police oversight board in the country.  Also  many grew out of Department of Justice investigations similar to the federal probe currently underway in Chicago and were created by public vote, state or city statute similar to a case in Pittsburgh.

The 1995 the fatal shooting of black motorist, Jonny Gammage, by Pittsburgh police officers led to the approval two year later of a citizen police review board via public referendum after several early attempts failed. However, the board’s recommendations are non-binding and must be approved by the city’s police chief, a situation that can render some citizen review boards powerless.

Pittsburgh’s citizen review board highlights a myriad of challenges that can  erode the effectiveness or authority of police oversight boards including  who sits on them. Members should be credible enough to weigh community interests with that of city government — a balancing act that IPRA continually gets wrong, according to critics. IPRA’s investigators mostly consist of retired or former police officers while the Chicago Police Board has been derided by activists as being a rubber-stamp board filled with mayoral appointees.

Other hurdles to establishing is pushback from police unions.  New York City experienced such a situation in 1965 when it attempted to include civilians on a police review board. Police unions railed against the idea which was eventually defeated in a citywide vote. Nearly two decades later, the city re-established civilian oversight of the police.

St. Louis also faced a similar situation. The shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown by a white police officer last year in Ferguson, Missouri, a suburb of St. Louis, fueled calls for civilian oversight of the police. The city’s police union opposed the idea, saying that it would “restrain” officers from performing their duties. After contentious debate, St. Louis approved in April a measure to create a citizen oversight board, which some say doesn’t go far enough because it lacks subpoena power.

In Chicago, a growing chorus of politicians and community leaders are lending their voices to dump IPRA. Chicago’s South Austin Community Coalition Council has signed on to support CPAC, but Elce Redmond, an organizer with the west side group, recognizes there will be resistance from the Fraternal Order of Police, the state’s attorney’s office and “the powers that be.”

“Once you start saying there is going to be an independent authority looking over the police, then it is going to expand to looking over politicians and they really don’t want that,” Redmond said, adding that it opens the door for “politicians who are culpable in many of these situations” to be prosecuted as well.

When reached for comments, the national Fraternal Order of Police referred comments to the local chapter. Dean Angelo, Sr., president of the Chicago FOP chapter, did not return calls or respond to emailed questions seeking comment.

Cook County Commissioner Richard Boykin (1st) has called for a federal probe into the mayor’s and state’s attorney’s office. He’s also called IPRA “a sham, a shame and a disgrace” that has lost all credibility. He welcomed any effort to create a “real independent board” even if through the ballot box, but cautioned that elections have their downside when money is involved.

“You don’t necessarily get the best and the brightest running for public office,” he said. “You get the person who has the most money [or] can put the most money in places [to] fund people and then actually control them.”

Protestors chants at the Magnificent Mile during Black Friday on November 27, 2015. (William Camargo/City Bureau)

Chapman balked at Boykin’s comment. He questioned why a politician would be suspect of the process that got him elected to office. But Chapman noted that CPAC’s elections will be different because they will be decentralized where residents from each police district vote for a CPAC member..  

“Why would an elected official be against an election?” he asked. “How in the hell did he get into office. Here you are an elected official saying you don’t trust elections because they are corrupt. We are not talking about professional politicians. We are talking about people who live in [those police] districts.”

Damage control

Attorney Standish Willis has been here before. The civil rights lawyer called for civilian oversight of the police when torture allegation surfaced under former commander Jon Burge. Burge was convicted of lying to federal prosecutors about torture allegations and was sentenced to four years in prison. He was released in 2014.

“I think it is worth fighting for [but] I don’t have confidence that the City Council will pass it because they are not that independent,” Willis said.

But he praised CAARPR for their continued push to create an elected civilian police accountability council. The group began pushing for CPAC soon after the death of Rekia Boyd, who was shot and killed by a Chicago police detective in 2012.

“It’s always good to raise [the issue] because I think people that pay police should have control over police, especially in the context of what police have been doing over the years with people of color, particularly black people,” Willis said.

Instead both the mayor and City Council are in damage control mode. Emanuel made an impassioned speech before the City Council December 9 taking ownership and then apologizing for the McDonald shooting, though his critics continue to call for his resignation. The Council’s Black Caucus later released a 7-point plan to reform the police department — none of which called for creating a truly elected civilian police board.

Those reforms, however, did include a mandate that CPD “stop shooting people in the back,” prosecute police officers who file false reports, appoint a special prosecutor in officer-involved shootings and include community members on the mayor’s blue ribbon task force on police accountability.

Meanwhile, the police shootings of McDonald, Boyd and Ronald Johnson and the subsequent payouts demonstrate the need for elected civilian oversight of the police, added Ted Pearson, CAARPR’s co-chair.

A Chicago Police officer shot and killed Johnson, who was armed at the time, but was running away from police. No charges were filed against the officer involved in the shooting.

“The only way we are going to solve this problem is when the people are in charge of the police. It is not such a radical concept. It is a very democratic one,” he said.

But Pearson blasted Emanuel’s appointment of Sharon Fairley as the new IPRA chief after Scott Ando resigned, a day before the Justice Department  announced its investigation into the Chicago Police Department.

“They are rearranging the chairs on the deck of the Titanic,” Pearson said. “The ship is in trouble and they are trying to save it just by rearranging things. It’s not going to result in any changes until we have real community control of the police.”

This report was published in collaboration with The Chicago Defender. Additional reporting by Eleanore Catolico.

In Chicago, Mental Health Workers are Armed and Dangerous

In Chicago, Mental Health Workers are Armed and Dangerous

BY DARRYL HOLLIDAY

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.

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?

BY YANA KUNICHOFF and DARRYL HOLLIDAY

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.