Department of Justice Investigating Racial Practices by Chicago police
[subtitle]Announcement wins applause from Congressional Black Caucus[/subtitle]
By Hazel Trice Edney
Trice Edney News Wire
Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced this week that she will launch a “pattern or practice” investigation into whether the Chicago Police Department has engaged in racially discriminatory conduct in arrests, use of force, and other police procedures.
“Today, I am here to announce that the Department of Justice has opened an investigation into whether the Chicago Police Department has engaged in a pattern or practice of violations of the constitution or federal law,” Lynch announced at a press conference Monday.
“Specifically, we will examine a number of issues related to the Chicago Police Department’s use of force, including its use of deadly force, racial/ethnic disparities in its use of force, and its accountability mechanisms such as its disciplinary actions and its allegations of misconduct. This investigation has been requested by a number of state and local officials and community leaders, but has been opened only after preliminary review and careful consideration of how the Justice Department can best use our tools and our resources to meet Chicago’s needs.”
The announcement received widespread applause in the national civil rights community, seeing the move as a signal for justice in long suffering Black communities across the country.
“The Congressional Black Caucus has asserted for years that African Americans are treated unfairly and disproportionally in the criminal justice system,” Congressional Black Caucus Chairman G. K. Butterfield said, in a statement. “The multiple shooting incidents involving police in Chicago and across the country serve as further proof that bias and excessive use of force by law enforcement are real in the African-American community.”
Butterfield said Chicago Rep. Bobby L. Rush, just last week, sent a letter to Attorney General Lynch, requesting the investigation. “These incidents are not isolated and reflect a pervasive pattern of racial bias in policing,” Butterfield said.
The announcement from Lynch comes amidst the latest national outrage and protests pertaining to a police shooting.
Chicago teen, 17-year-old Laquan McDonald was shot 16 times by Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke more than a year ago. Yet, Van Dyke was just arrested and charged with murder last month – after a video tape of the killing was released to the public by court order.
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced last week that Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy had been fired after calls from protestors and civil rights leaders, including the Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr. But citizens say that others, including Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez and the mayor, should also go.
Protestors insist that a cover-up took place in the killing. It has also been revealed that police reports of the incident, claiming that McDonald tried to kill Van Dyke, were simply not true, based on the tape. McDonald was clearly walking away from the officers when he was shot 16 times.
Lynch says the Department of Justice’s investigation will look into years of practices in Chicago. She also signaled that investigations in other cities could ensue with a goal of improved police-community relations.
“The Department of Justice is committed to upholding the highest standards of law enforcement throughout the United States. Every American expects and deserves the protection of law enforcement that is affective, that is responsive, that is respectful and most importantly – constitutional. And each day, thanks to the tireless dedication of men and women who wear the badge, citizens from coast to coast receive just that,” Lynch said. “But when community members feel that they are not receiving that kind of policing. When they feel ignored, let down or mistreated by public safety officials, there are profound consequences for the well-being of their communities. There are profound consequences for the rule of law, and for the countless law enforcement officers who strive to fulfill their duties with professionalism and integrity.”
The investigation will be similar to that which revealed years of gross racial discrimination after the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. Like Ferguson, Lynch said the investigation will be thorough and open to citizens who have long awaited opportunities to be heard. A report of the DOJ findings will be publically released at the conclusion of the investigation.
“The team will meet with a broad cross section of community members, city officials, and law enforcement command staff and officers to both explain our process and to hear from anyone who wishes to share information relevant to this investigation,” said Lynch, who is America’s first Black woman attorney general. “Our goal in this investigation – as in all of our pattern or practice investigations – is not to focus on individuals, but to improve systems – to ensure that officers are being provided with the tools that they need – including training, policy guidance and equipment to be more effective, to partner with civilians, and to strengthen public safety.”
She concluded, “When suspicion and hostility are allowed to fester, it can erupt into unrest. Building trust between law enforcement officers and the communities that we serve is one of my highest priorities as attorney general. The Department of Justice intends to do everything that we can to foster those bonds and to create safer and fairer communities across the country.”