COLUMN: Chicago Paying the Price for Bad Cops

Chicago has had a history of police brutality, LZ Granderson says.

ByABC News
November 25, 2015, 4:51 PM

— -- In the fall, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel sent shockwaves through the city when he unveiled a budget proposal that included one of the biggest property tax hikes in history.

Facing huge deficits, Emanuel wanted a $588 million tax increase to be phased in over four years.

Needless to say that didn’t go over well with the locals, but the city has a lot of bills and not a lot of money to pay them.

I bring this up because in the spring, the City of Chicago did something else for the record books -— becoming the nation’s first to establish a reparations fund explicitly for the victims of police brutality.

That’s right, the city was so riddled with criminal police activity during the 1970s, 80s and 90s that in May, leaders found it necessary to set aside $5.5 million to pay for the harm done to its citizens during that span.

This despite its cash woes. This on top of the reported more than $100 million it has already paid in judgments and settlements because some officers were subjecting suspects to beatings, electric shock, suffocation and Russian roulette, according to NPR, which tallied up the settlements. Individual lawsuits have also been reported by the Chicago Tribune, Washington Post and USA Today.

Which brings me to Laquan McDonald.

Any city official -- from Mayor Emanuel to the City Council to the chief of police -— who stands in front of a television camera and tells the public they are shocked by what transpired the night of Oct. 20, 2014, is full of it.

How can any of them be that shocked when the city has such a long and well-documented history of police brutality? When, according to NPR, it has spent more than $100 million because of its police brutality?

In April, the McDonald family received a $5 million settlement from the cash-strapped city, months before Jason Van Dyke was charged with the first-degree murder of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald. Prior to that shooting, Van Dyke, on the force for 14 years, had received at least 18 complaints of misconduct, some including excessive force, according to a database of police employment records compiled by a journalistic production company, Invisible Institute. From the records available on this database, there is no finding of fault or disciplinary action against Van Dyke.

In 2012, Officer Dante Servin was off-duty when he fired his gun into a crowd in response to a verbal confrontation. One of his bullets struck an innocent bystander, 22-year-old Rekia Boyd, in the back of the head, killing her. Servin, whose defense was that he feared for his life because he thought a person was approaching him with a gun, was charged with involuntary manslaughter but he was found not guilty in April. The city did pay Boyd's family $4.5 million -- but kept Servin on the payroll. On Tuesday, Chicago Police Supt. Garry McCarthy recommended that Servin be fired.

Lorenzo Davis, the one voice within the city's Independent Police Review Authority who routinely questioned if police shootings were justified, was recently fired for -- get this -- having "a clear bias against police," according to internal documents obtained by WBEZ in Chicago. The documents from the Independent Police Review Authority go on to accuse Davis, who worked for Chicago police for 23 years, of being the only supervisor unwilling to change his reports despite management requests, according to WBEZ. In a statement to WBEZ, IPRA declined to discuss details of the case because it was a "personnel matter," but called the allegations baseless and said it is committed to "conducting fair [and] unbiased' investigations.

So, no, Mayor Emanuel, who grew up in Chicago, is not shocked.

He and his cohorts just lack the fortitude necessary to change their police department's culture.

While Van Dyke was the only officer to fire his weapon, he was not the only one on the scene. The union spokesperson said that McDonald lunged at the officers with a knife forcing one to shoot him in the chest. Needless to say that is not exactly what transpired.

Yes, the alleged triggerman is in custody, but what happens to all of the other officers who watched a teenager’s non-responsive body be riddled with bullets and appeared to have done nothing? Who told the Chicago Fraternal Order of Police spokesman that McDonald lunged at them and what happens to the officers who allegedly corroborated that bogus story?

There were also questions surrounding officers who entered a nearby Burger King and allegedly deleted 86 minutes of security footage that may have captured the entire events of that night.

But the Cook County State’s Attorney, Anita Alvarez, denied Tuesday that the Burger King tape had been tampered with, citing the results of a forensic investigation of the tape.

It should be noted that Alvarez was widely criticized for her handling of the case of the Boyd case in large part because the judge dismissed the involuntary manslaughter charges against Officer Servin, saying that "firing a gun at some person or persons on the street is an act that is so dangerous it is beyond reckless ... it is intentional and the crime, if any there be, is first-degree murder." Some accused Alvarez, who is up for re-election next year, purposefully undercharged Servin because of her relationship with the police union, which endorsed her in 2012 and donated to two of her campaigns. Alvarez has denied any wrongdoing in her handling of Servin's case.

And city officials have the nerve to ask for peace, as if millions in police brutality settlements suggest a peaceful place.

True peace does not come from payouts after the fact. Peace isn’t a sadistic officer behind bars. Peace is knowing covering for bad cops is no longer an acceptable practice in Chicago.

Until then, all there will ever be in the Windy City is an uneasy silence and distrust between those who are supposed to protect and serve and those who need their protection. With gang violence terrorizing residents on the city’s South and West sides, I doubt there are many residents who call those areas home who want to see fewer police officers patrolling the streets. They just want those who abuse their authority and commit crimes held accountable -- like everyone else. That, is how you work toward peace and justice.

But how can there be either when a cash-strapped city appears more willing to pay out millions to victims and suppress dash cam videos, than clean up a police department that has been protecting its rotten apples for decades.

Editor's note: The opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author.