On Monday, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel fired Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy after citywide protests in response to the release of footage of the shooting of Laquan McDonald by former police officer Jason Van Dyke. Mayor Emanuel provided this reasoning: “at this point and this juncture for the city, given what we’re working on, he has become — an issue rather than dealing with the issue — and a distraction.”
But is McCarthy just a “distraction?” Does the police superintendent have no culpability when it comes to coddling a murderer?
Here’s what we know: Laquan McDonald was shot sixteen times more than a year ago by Van Dyke, and the incident was captured on dash cam video. We know that the Chicago Police Department held onto this footage for more than a year and released it only after a judge’s order last week.
We know that Mayor Emanuel, who was in a contentious bid for reelection at the time of the shooting, knew the nature of the crime and about the existence of the footage all along and yet still waited until the judge’s order before offering criticism of the police department’s handling of this case.
We also know that Van Dyke has been charged with first-degree murder and was released after bail was set at $1.5 million, only 10 percent of which had to be posted. The Chicago Fraternal Order of Police is encouraging members to help foot the bill, and its President Dean Angelo, Sr. even insinuated that Officer Van Dyke may have been provoked when he saw McDonald slightly “square his shoulders.”
Nearly every month for the past several years, cases just like this one continue to come into the national spotlight.
Law enforcement officials are unable to police themselves and are simply not being held to the same standards of accountability when they break the very laws they are charged with enforcing. We cannot rely on police forces to keep our communities safe when, time and time again, we have seen that they are not only responsible for the deaths of unarmed men and women of color but also go unpunished.
Yet, as more and more of these videos come to light, law enforcement officials continue to deny the existence of systemic problems with regard to their work with communities of color. For example, in October, FBI director James Comey sought to put an end to the use of cell phone video footage in cases of alleged police brutality, stating that these videos contributed to the spike in violent crimes in cities across the country. He later admitted that there is no evidence to back up this claim.
Indeed, police officers and police unions seem more concerned with suppressing evidence of wrongdoing by their peers and attacking anyone who seeks accountability in response to incidences of police brutality.
We need to take back some of the police power by reducing the number of police officers on the street and decriminalizing the harmless, minor infractions that can be used by police as an entry point to harass, intimidate, brutalize or even murder.
We need policies in place to check this power with community control over police. They won't police themselves.