CITY HALL — Debate over a City Council resolution addressing the Laquan McDonald case prompted aldermen to simmer with rage and long-held resentments Wednesday.
The resolution was clear enough: expanding a previously planned joint committee hearing on police accountability, in the wake of the McDonald controversy, to also address the mayor's newly announced Task Force on Police Accountability.
"Work must be done to restore the public trust," said Ald. Ariel Reboyras (30th), chairman of the Public Safety Committee, which will hold the meeting set for Tuesday along with the Human Relations Committee.
"Resignations are not enough," Reboyras added. "We need actual policy changes."
"We need to make these wrongs right," said Ald. Emma Mitts (37th).
Yet after that, the debate turned to the larger issues of race and prejudice, while also taking on whether police are oppressors or oppressed.
"It's not just reform of the Police Department," said Ald. Anthony Napolitano (41st), a former Chicago officer. "We have to start a reform of our communities."
Ald. Edward Burke (14th), likewise a former officer, expressed sympathy for all that is expected of police, saying, "We just demand so much of them."
Speaking as the son of a 25-year police officer, Ald. Will Burns (4th) nonetheless decried "bad officers and the system that protects them."
"This isn't Mayberry," Napolitano said. "This is a tough city."
"You're damn right. This is not Mayberry," lashed back Ald. Jason Ervin (28th). Calling on the Council to impose necessary reforms on the police department, he said, "Unless you're committed to making changes, go home."
"Thank God for that video," said Ald. Anthony Beale (9th). Citing it as a catalyst for much-needed change, he added, "Until you see it, you don't believe it."
Yet the debate quickly took on the larger issue of what Ald. Willie Cochran (20th) called "institutional racism" and what Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd) labeled "the real elephant in the room, which is race and poverty."
Cochran, in fact, pointed to the success thus far of Donald Trump as a presidential candidate, in stirring up and thriving on prejudice, to show how deeply it's ingrained.
Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th) expanded the argument by saying that, as an African-American woman, she deals with racism every day. "We are mad. We are tired. And something has to be done," she said.
"As a city council, we need to be mad," echoed Ald. Susan Sadlowski Garza (10th). "This is a time we can make a difference."
Citing what he called a pattern of "unequal justice," Ald. Howard Brookins Jr. (21st) mentioned "driving while black," adding, "We never seem to get the benefit. We only seem to get the doubt."
Later in the day the council's Black Caucus issued a list of seven demands, including that police "must stop shooting people in the back" and calling for "full and serious consideration of the possibility of an African-American police superintendent to replace Supt. Garry McCarthy."
Yet Ald. George Cardenas (12th) insisted during the council debate that it wasn't a black-or-white issue. "It also happens when you're driving Mexican," he said.
He described the larger issue as "we've lost our humanity. We've lost our empathy."
"It's an emotional time in our city, and I think we're gonna start the healing," said Ald. Deb Mell (33rd).
"We're all the same. We're one Chicago. And we have to make it so," Dowell added.
"It wasn't done right. None of this was done right," said Cochran, another former cop. He added that making the changes — to the police and the overall culture — wouldn't happen overnight.
"This is not going to be a short-term process," Cochran said. "This is going to take decades to change."
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