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Chicago Police Must Confront Racist History, 'Code of Silence': Task Force

By Kelly Bauer | April 13, 2016 10:55am | Updated on April 13, 2016 2:22pm
 Police will have to confront a racist history and the problems with the
Police will have to confront a racist history and the problems with the "code of silence" to regain the trust of the Chicago community, according to a Chicago Police Accountability Task Force. The task force was convened after protests over the death of Laquan McDonald, a black teenager who was shot and killed.
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DNAinfo/Kelly Bauer

CHICAGO — The Chicago Police Department will have to confront a history of racism and a "code of silence" if it wants to "create a partnership between the police and the community," according to a task force.

Lori Lightfoot, who chaired the Police Accountability Task Force, spoke about the recommendations Wednesday. The group will push police to acknowledge racism and fight the "code of silence" that keeps officers from being held accountable.

The task force pointed to the department's history of racism — citing the actions of disgraced former cop Jon Burge, the killing of Black Panther leader Fred Hampton and the use of stop and frisks — in saying that in communities of color lives had been lost "and countless more damaged" at the hands of police.


"Regardless of the demographic, people of color loudly expressed their outrage about how they are treated by the police," according to the report. "These encounters leave an indelible mark."

Among the highest-profile request the task force made include dismantling and replacing the Independent Police Review Authority and focusing more heavily on community-police relations, including a revamping of CAPS.

"Long after the officer moves on to chase the next call or make the new stop, the citizen involved remains affected and if the encounter involved physical or verbal aggression, even if there was no arrest, there is a lasting, negative effect."

Collective bargaining agreements have also proven problematic, "essentially [turning] the code of silence into official policy," the task force said in the report. The system that holds police accountable is "broken," according to the report.

"Once a complaint is in the system, the [agreements] make it easy for officers to lie if they are so inclined — they can wait 24 hours before providing a statement after a shooting, allowing them to confer with other officers, and they can amend statements after viewing video or audio evidence," according to the report. "In many cases, the [agreements] also require the city to ignore or even destroy evidence of misconduct after a certain number of years."

Engaging with the community and giving them power in the "oversight system" could help fix accountability issues, according to the report.

The Police Accountability Task Force was launched in December after activists filled the streets and took to social media to speak out against police violence after the city released a video of an officer shooting 17-year-old Laquan McDonald 16 times. It took more than a year for the video to be released, and it wasn't until the day of the video's release that Officer Jason Van Dyke was charged with murder in McDonald's death.

Some have already criticized the task force and the changes it's pushing for. In late February, journalist Brandon Smith, who fought to have the McDonald video released, said he was consulted by the task force — but it seemed like they had already decided on what they'd do before talking to him. The task force recommended police shooting videos be released in 60-90 days.

"We want the #LaquanMcDonald legacy to be one of public accountability," Smith tweeted during a conversation with Mark Konkol, a DNAinfo Chicago reporter. "60-90 days isn't that."

Activists have also spoken out at the task force's meetings. On Feb. 25, a group of protesters took control of a meeting, chanting and saying the task force was a "PR stunt."

"Racism will never, ever go away unless there's a new generation [of police officers]," one woman told the task force at the meeting. "We don't trust you,  and we don't trust the mayor. You will only restore trust when you let the people lead the way."

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