The Chicago way.
The term comes up a lot in mob movies, history books and common conversation.
The Windy City, after all, got that moniker because of the bloviated speech of politicians – not because of the actual wind. The Chicago way insinuates shady dealings, throwing beloved friends under the proverbial bus, killing witnesses before they can testify and throwing money at people so they stay quiet.
But right now the city is in the midst of a storm that could possibly shed light – and perhaps dismantle – the Chicago way. U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced Monday that the Justice Department has decided to swoop in and investigate the Chicago Police Department on two fronts – concerning both the murder of Laquan McDonald and concerning the strong possibility of systemic civil rights violations. At the same time, the city’s top cop and several other top officials have resigned just as the DOJ investigation was announced. And now the state’s Black legislative officials are joining youth activists in calling for the DOJ to take things a step further and investigate the Independent Police Review Authority, which investigates police shootings, and the office of State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez.
Activists are cautiously optimistic about the investigations but argue that citizens should temper their expectations.
“I wouldn’t say this is victory,” says Mariame Kaba, a Chicago-based activist with We Charge Genocide project and Project Nia, which works to eradicate youth incarceration. “I think this is another step in the direction of trying to transform police and policing in Chicago. It’s one more tool that people are going to use in an attempt to do that.”
Kaba cautions that this DOJ investigation could take an extremely long time. That’s because unlike Ferguson, Mo., Chicago is a big city with a big police department of at least 13,000 officers who likely generate millions of emails, phone calls, pieces of paper and other records that investigators will have to sort through. Then, there’s the issue of CPD seeking permission to destroy all police misconduct records that are at least four years old – a move that many in Chicago media have been fighting in court.
The other issue is that Lynch is an appointee of the current president and these investigations are being done on her watch. Once President Barack Obama leaves the White House, will the next president replace Lynch or keep her in place?
This is why activists are not going to stop their protests, said Kaba. In fact, a protest is planned for Wednesday, at the city’s Daley Plaza. Organizers are asking everyone to leave work and school and meet at noon to ask for the resignation of Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Alvarez. This renewed push comes on the back of two more Chicago police videos that have been released in recent days that show alleged abuse against Black men. (One of those tapes shows Philip Coleman in a cell being tased by a group of officers – many of whom are black – and then dragged out of his cell by his handcuffs. Coleman later died at a local hospital due to a rare drug interaction, according to the autopsy report. The 2012 tape was released with a statement from the mayor decrying the man’s treatment.)
“The organizers in Chicago on the ground have to guard very severely against having this process demobilize the fight on the ground,” she adds. “You know who will declare victory and leave? The people who were on the periphery anyway. They’ll say the government has it under control. Organizers who know better will say you shouldn’t trust the government to investigate itself.”
The DOJ investigation in Ferguson was relatively short and took a few months. It is unclear how long the Chicago investigation will take, but at some point the DOJ will release recommendations and if the right person is left in charge to monitor the situation, Kaba says, it could help to resolve the systemic issues. [A short recap here, for those that don’t know: Chicago routinely pays out millions of dollars to victims’ families and is still paying out cash to the Black men burned, electro-shocked and otherwise tortured in the 1980s and 1990s under the leadership of ex-Police Commander Jon Burge. Independent analysis by the Chicago Reporter has also found that complaints made by Whites against the CPD are more likely to be upheld than complaints made by people of color. ]
Race does matter in Chicago, says Craig Futterman, law professor and director of the University of Chicago's Civil Rights and Police Accountability Project. He points out that the city has weathered numerous police scandals but none have grown to the fever pitch the city is currently experiencing. The young activists have pushed the envelope and for that reason, Futterman is optimistic about the DOJ’s involvement.
“At the end of the day, after each crises, never in our history have Chicago’s leaders had the political courage to address the underlying issues why police officers here have been allowed to abuse Black folks with near impunity,” says Futterman. “I’m really proud of our young people, not just from Chicago but from around the nation who have organized, advocated and agitated so that none of us can deny the reality of the problem of unchecked police abuse in Black communities.”
Adrienne Samuels Gibbs is a Chicago-based writer.