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A ‘Kill-And-Cover-Up’ Police Culture?: Systemic And Institutional Problems That Extend Far Beyond One Allegedly Trigger-Happy Cop

When public officials refuse to release a video that shows alleged misconduct by a police officer, you should only expect the worst.

That’s particularly true in Chicago, where one “bad apple” too often has signaled a bushel of cover-ups and other problems underneath.

Such are the suspicions that haunt the city’s stalling for more than a year the release of a dashcam video that shows white police officer Jason Van Dyke firing 16 shots into the body of black 17-year-old Laquan McDonald.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel denounced the behavior as a case of one allegedly bad apple. Yet the video and various actions taken before and after the shooting point to systemic and institutional problems that extend far beyond one allegedly trigger-happy cop.

Why, for example, did the city sit on the dash-cam video for more than a year before a judge ordered its release on open-records grounds?

Emanuel and Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez have said the time was needed to conduct proper investigations. But compare that to the Cincinnati case last summer in which black driver Samuel DuBose was fatally shot on camera by University of Cincinnati police officer Ray Tensing during a routine traffic stop.

The video, which contradicted Tensing’s account of being dragged by DuBose’s vehicle, was released and Tensing was charged with murder and fired from the department in less than two weeks.

The Chicago video similarly refutes a police union spokesman’s allegation of McDonald lunging at police with a knife on the night of Oct. 20, 2014.

Instead it shows the teen, reportedly with PCP in his system, holding a small knife but moving away from police when Van Dyke opens fire — and inexplicably keeps firing at McDonald’s flinching body on the ground. Only Van Dyke fires his weapon and none of the estimated seven police officers on the scene moves to help McDonald. Van Dyke has been charged with first degree murder.

Then there’s the question of what happened to video from a security camera at a nearby Burger King. A district manager for the restaurant chain has said police visited shortly after the shooting and were given access to the surveillance equipment. The next day, he has said, a portion of the video was missing.

Witnesses to the shooting told Jamie Kalven, an independent journalist and human rights activist whose nonprofit called the Invisible Institute filed a FOIA request to have the dashcam video released, that police tried to shoo witnesses away from the scene after the shooting instead of collecting names and other information.

And why, many wonder, did the mayor persuade the City Council to authorize a $5 million settlement for McDonald’s family, which had not filed a lawsuit. Emanuel claimed a desire to avoid jeopardizing the case. But Chicagoans with long memories — like me — wonder whether the cash is reparations or a form of hush money.

The city fought to conceal the video, even after the Wall Street Journal, the Chicago Tribune, and a freelance journalist all filed FOIA requests for its release.

To Kalven, the most important issue here is not just the shooting but how governmental institutions — from the police to the mayor’s office — responded to it, he says.

“And at every level,” he told me in a telephone interview, “we can see they responded by circling the wagons and creating a narrative that they knew was completely false.”

Kalven’s institute worked seven years to open up police files and establish an online database of misconduct complaints against police officers — 97 percent of which resulted in absolutely no disciplinary action.

Among other issues, Chicago and other cities will have to determine, like the rest of us, how to adjust to the new video age, an age that exposes so much to public view that used to be swept under various rugs.

The McDonald video reveals the flipside of the so-called “Ferguson effect,” a widely alleged tendency by some police to hesitate before responding to crime scenes for fear of getting caught in a career-ending cellphone video. If fear of video can prevent atrocities like that revealed in the McDonald case, that’s not a bad thing.

 

By: Clarence Page, Tribune Content Agency; The National Memo, November 30, 3015

December 1, 2015 Posted by | Police Abuse, Police Unions, Public Officials | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Same Old Stink Of Insinuation”: Hillary Clinton’s Emails; Is This A Scandal? Or A ‘Scandal’?

To someone who has watched many “scandals” that were expected to ruin Hillary Rodham Clinton evaporate into the Washington mist — even after a Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times columnist predicted she would end up in prison! – the current furor over her email habits hardly seems earth shaking.

Now it isn’t unreasonable to ask public officials to conduct public business on government email accounts, but there was no such ironclad rule when Clinton became Secretary of State. In hindsight, it might have been better for her and the public if she had done so. Yet many prominent people, both in and out of government, have preferred private email, in the belief that those accounts provide stronger encryption and safeguards against hacking.

So far, the former Secretary of State doesn’t appear to have breached security or violated any federal recordkeeping statutes, although those laws were tightened both before and after she left office. She didn’t use her personal email for classified materials, according to the State Department. The Government Executive magazine website nextgov.com offers an admirably concise review of the legal and security issues here.

Certainly Clinton wasn’t the first federal official or cabinet officer to use a personal email account for both personal and official business, as most news outlets have acknowledged by now – indeed, every Secretary of State who sent emails had used a personal account until John Kerry succeeded Clinton in 2013.

As for the issue of archiving Clinton’s emails, which is required by federal regulations and law, the Washington Post suggests that she violated an Obama administration edict by using her own account. But that was still “permissible,” according to the Post, “if all emails relating to government business were turned over and archived by the State Department.”

Did Clinton – or more to the point, someone with line responsibility for such bureaucratic housekeeping – observe that rule? Last year, the State Department requested that all of the living former Secretaries of State turn over relevant emails for its archives. To date, only one of them has complied: Hillary Clinton. Her aides provided more than 50,000 emails to the government – and sent about 300 to the House Select Committee that is still investigating Benghazi.

Angry Republicans on that committee, plainly frustrated by years of failure to find any evidence that incriminates Clinton or President Obama in the loony conspiracy theories cherished by Tea Party Republicans, are behind the email stories first published by the Times. In fact, Clinton’s use of a private account has been publicly known for nearly two years — but that fact didn’t seem to trouble the Republicans until now, as she prepares to run for president. And today the House Government Operations Committee, chaired by Rep. Jason Chaffetz — a right-wing extremist whose own business card lists his Gmail address – is poised to take up the “investigation.”

This unappetizing scenario is most reminiscent of the bad old days, when a House committee chair “investigated” the tragic suicide of White House aide Vince Foster by pumping several pistol rounds into a watermelon in his back yard. Back then, various Senate and House committees chaired by Republicans endlessly “investigated” Whitewater, the FBI files, and other putatively scandalous matters, at a cost of tens of millions of dollars, with no purpose beyond selective, salacious leaks to reporters at the top newspapers and networks. Then everybody would feign outrage for a day or a week or a month, until the latest whatever passed into oblivion.

Someone might ask the congressional Republicans (and their media enablers) what they expect to find now. Is there any evidence of actual wrongdoing by Clinton and her staff – or merely the same old stink of insinuation? Will they seek testimony from former Secretary Powell, former White House aide Karl Rove — whose RNC.com emails mysteriously disappeared before a prosecutor could obtain them – or any of the thousands of other ex-officials who have used private email addresses to conduct government business? Or will they simply continue a political hunting expedition with taxpayer millions, which is what they seem to believe they were elected to do instead of governing?

 

By: Joe Conason, Editor in Chief, Editor’s Blog, The National Memo, March 4, 2015

March 5, 2015 Posted by | Hillary Clinton, Public Officials, State Department | , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

   

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