Thursday, November 26, 2015

Laquan McDonald and the CPD's Responsibility for Chicago's Gang Problem

      An appropriate uniform design for the CPD

nternal Chicago Police Department documents claimed recently that gangs were attempting to use the protests of the murder of Laquan McDonald to commit crimes and attack police!  Huh?  

What Laquan's murder actually shows is the culpability of the Chicago Police for the severity of Chicago's gang problem.

Police culture in Chicago has always been ugly, racist, and corrupt. It's history, Richard Lindberg summarizes in his book on the CPD is "to serve and collect."  The problem isn't really accountability. The CPD has always been supremely and supinely accountable..... but to the machine not the people. 

My conclusion from more than a decade of research on Chicago gangs is this: corruption and brutality by the CPD  are principle reasons why Chicago has had such an entrenched gang problem. 

Lets look back.  A major reason why the Outfit, Chicago's mafia, has been around now for more than a century is their cozy relationship to the top echelons of the machine and the CPD. Al Capone was best buds with Mayor Big Bill Thompson in the 1920s.  For decades the Outfit got away with murder.....  literally.  Here is what the reform commissioner OW Wilson said in the early 1960s about his CPD's record clearing Outfit murders: 

           Since 1919 there have been 876 gangland-style slayings in the Chicagoland area. [Of these] only two                                have been cleared by arrest and conviction of the killers.

The CPD did more than allow Outfit hitmen to operate with impunity.  In 1997, Chicago Police Superintendent and champion of "community policing" resigned when it was disclosed he vacationed with Outfit figures. In my book, The In$ane Chicago Way, I report Rodriguez's protection of an Outfit hit man, Pierre Zonis, who was also a Chicago police officer. And then there was Deputy Superintendent and Chief of Detectives William Hanhardt who was convicted in 2001 on running jewel theft ring for the Outfit. And don't forget influential Alderman Fred Roti who was indicted in 1990 for fixing a murder trial, racketeering, and extortion.  The FBI publicly named him as mafia "made man'" while Alderman.  The Outfit has persisted for a century in no small part to active support by the CPD and the machine.

The CPD's policy toward African American street gangs, on the other hand, was brutal repression and lawless violence.  Corruption didn't stop, but as I conclude in In$ane, changed its nature and vastly expanded during the war on drugs. When the gangs took over retail drug sales, the Outfit did not also order their loyal servants in the CPD to protect the new vice lords and gangsters. As the "Don," a blue blood Outfit leader told me in an interview for In$ane, "Without the cops none of this could happen." The gangs had to do it from the bottom up while the Outfit did it from the top down as our study of police corruption showed.

However, the main way the CPD has fueled Chicago's gang problem has been by its brutal and lawless behavior. The outright assassination  of Black Panther Chairman Fred Hampton by Chicago Police was only a sign of horrors to come. We can never forget how Jon Burge tortured more than a hundred African American gang members.  No officer reported him, though the screams could be heard throughout the station house. Burge represented the attitude by Chicago Police and their machine masters that extreme brutality on black people was acceptable.  To the CPD and machine, black lives have never mattered. Oh, buy off their votes when necessary, but treat them as less-than-human on the streets. If you were repeatedly beaten and locked in cages like a dog,  how would you respond? The history of  racist hostility by the CPD  explains the strength of gang culture in Chicago. And that brings us back to Laquan.

There are three important points about the murder of Laquan McDonald. First is the assumption by officer Jason Van Dyke that gunning down a black man would be acceptable. "I feared for my life" is now the standard response of police killers. Before they were caught on camera, they got away with it — and often still do.

Second, there were good reasons for him to think he could get away with it.  Just as fellow officers heard the screams of Burge's torture victims,  look at all the officers in the video allowing Van Dyke to kill. When gang members are present at a murder, prosecutors charge them all as party to a crime and they are deemed by law to be as guilty of the murder as the shooter.  The CPD may be upset that the community has a no-snitching culture, but the only effective no-snitching culture in Chicago is the blue code of silence.

Finally, States Attorney Anita Alvarez, McCarthy and Emanuel were aware of the murder and kept it under wraps.  John Kass points out that if the video was made public before the mayoral election, Emanuel likely would have lost to Chuy Garcia. If there wasn't a storm of protest and a "smoking gun" video do you think they would have ever fired Van Dyke or indicted him? Even Burge was never indicted for his tortures.   Laquan's murder was not an aberration but business as usual by the CPD.

Protestors are filling the streets. The CPD's ploy to "look out for gangs using the protests to attack officers" fools no one.  It has been the long standing violence by police against African Americans that has fueled Chicago gang hostility and fanned violence in the black community.  To understand why black youth are so hostile just watch the video.  The BlackLivesMatters movement has the capacity to focus the anger on the streets toward police reform and the machine.

A measure of justice for Laquan should include the indictment of all those police present at the shooting who did not immediately arrest Van Dyke. And it should include the resignation of Alvarez, McCarthy, and Emanuel for trying to cover up a murder.