CHICAGO >> A day after city officials released graphic video of a white police officer shooting a black teenager 16 times, some of the city’s most prominent black leaders called Wednesday for investigations into the Chicago Police Department and its handling of the shooting. They expressed anger and dismay toward the department’s leadership, and some demanded the resignation of the police superintendent.
Black leaders in Chicago push for investigation of police department
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The calls from the leaders — civic, political and religious — came despite the filing of murder charges against the officer, Jason Van Dyke, in the death of the teenager, Laquan McDonald. The calls took different forms and came during separate announcements, but all voiced frustration and demanded sweeping changes in the department, which many black residents had viewed with suspicion well before the release Tuesday of the video showing the 2014 shooting of McDonald.
The Chicago Urban League called on the Justice Department to conduct a broad investigation into the police department, similar to the agency’s investigation of the police department in Ferguson, Missouri, after the fatal shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, last year. Several local branches of the NAACP called for changes to a police review board that they said was too cozy with the department itself and urged a federal investigation into that board.
Community activists and members of the black caucus of the Chicago City Council called on Garry F. McCarthy, the police superintendent, to resign, saying they had lost confidence in his ability to repair frayed relations in black neighborhoods.
And the Rev. Jesse Jackson, two members of Congress and several religious and community leaders called for widespread protests and sweeping change to the police department. Many of them also said McCarthy should be replaced.
The demands for change reflect longstanding tensions here, some of the leaders said. By some estimates, the city has paid more than $500 million in settlements and other costs over the last decade tied to police misconduct. This year, it agreed to reparations for black residents who said a group of officers had abused and tortured them in the 1970s and ’80s. And a recent finding by the Invisible Institute, a nonprofit journalism organization, suggested that a vast majority of citizen complaints against police officers did not lead to disciplinary action.
"This situation is not isolated," Jedidiah Brown, founder of the Chicago-based Young Leaders Alliance, said of the killing of McDonald, who prosecutors say was shot repeatedly even after he had fallen to the ground and appeared to be incapacitated. "This is our reality."
In an interview, McCarthy said Wednesday that his department was wrestling with many of the challenges faced by the police around the nation, especially regarding racial issues. Yet he said the police had improved in his more than four-year tenure here, noting that police shootings had declined, that community relations had become an emphasis of training in the department, and that the city’s murder total last year was the lowest in decades.
Of the calls for his removal McCarthy said he intended to stay on the job.
"Show me a police department in the country that the community stands up and says, ‘We have a great, trusting relationship with them,’" McCarthy said. "Does it predate me? It predates all of us. This goes back more than 300 years in the experience of the African Americans in this country, and you have to know that to realize where we are."
Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who was forced into a runoff election this year and has been under pressure to account for the behavior of police, issued a statement last week condemning Van Dyke’s actions. On Wednesday, he expressed support for McCarthy.
"This incident is a tragedy and it’s absolutely unacceptable, but Jason Van Dyke’s actions are not representative of Superintendent McCarthy’s values or of the hard-working men and women of the Chicago Police Department," Kelley Quinn, a spokeswoman for Emanuel, said.
President Barack Obama posted a statement Wednesday saying he was "deeply disturbed" by the video and "personally grateful to the people of my hometown for keeping protests peaceful."
On Tuesday, hours before the city released the video on the orders of a judge, county prosecutors charged Van Dyke with murder, and some officials held that up as evidence that, as painful and gruesome as the events and video images were, the system had worked.
"This officer is being held accountable," Anita Alvarez, the Cook County state’s attorney, said as she announced the charges.
But as demonstrators gathered downtown Wednesday for a second evening of protests, some were skeptical, saying they saw the charges as last-minute efforts to lower the chances of unrest once the video came out. The mood on the streets was more tense than it had been Tuesday. One group moved quickly and rushed through streets just north of downtown, yanked lights from a Christmas tree in Millennium Park and at one point rushed toward Trump Tower but was turned away
Even with the officer’s arrest, some demonstrators raised pointed questions about the details of the investigation into the shooting. Many said they suspected that footage was missing from a surveillance camera at a Burger King restaurant near the shooting.
"Where’s the gap in the tape?" state Rep. Mary E. Flowers, D-Chicago, asked. "Who murdered this state’s child?"
Michael D. Robbins, a lawyer for McDonald’s family, said the period when the shooting occurred was missing from the records of the restaurant’s surveillance cameras. Investigators, he said, had gone to the restaurant right after the shooting.
"That is a curious coincidence," Robbins said. "Remember that there is a history to this. The unwillingness of the Chicago Police Department to investigate evidence of police misconduct has been stunning."
Local officials have played down the missing surveillance video, saying they could find no evidence that the camera had been tampered with. They also assert that the camera would not have shown the shooting anyway. Some have suggested that the missing video may simply have been a technical glitch.
Even before the video was released, the handling of other police shootings had raised questions in Chicago. Protesters have been especially critical of Alvarez since the acquittal in April of Dante Servin, a Chicago police detective charged with involuntary manslaughter in the fatal shooting in 2012 of Rekia Boyd, an unarmed black woman. He was off duty at the time.
On Monday, the night before the McDonald tapes were released, McCarthy said he would recommend that Servin be fired. The Chicago Police Board will ultimately decide whether Servin keeps his job.
Though demonstrators said the criminal charge against Van Dyke was appropriate, many criticized Alvarez for allowing more than a year to elapse before bringing a case.
"I don’t place my hope for what can happen in the criminal justice system," said Charlene A. Carruthers, national director of the Black Youth Project 100, a Chicago-based group that had some of its members arrested at protests Tuesday night. "The criminal justice system is not predictable when it comes to police officers and police officers who kill young black people."