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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

“African America Has Promises To Keep”: Sometimes, You Simply Have A Duty To Bear Witness

We are gathered here today not to argue about some policy prescription, nor to excoriate some public figure. No, we are gathered because sometimes, you have no choice, sometimes, you simply have a duty to bear witness.

A child was killed last week in Chicago. He was shot to death.

It is a measure of America that the statement is, of itself, unremarkable. Children are shot all the time in this country. But what makes this shooting stand out is that 9-year-old Tyshawn Lee was targeted. Police say the child, who was black, was lured into an alley and shot multiple times.

According to them, the execution was part of an ongoing dispute between rival street gangs and was intended as retaliation against Tyshawn’s father, Pierre Stokes. They say Stokes, 25, is a gang member who has refused to cooperate with the investigation. Stokes, in turn, told the Chicago Tribune he doesn’t believe the killing had anything to do with him and that anybody who wanted to hurt him could do so easily enough without going after his son. “I’m not hard to find,” he said.

Twenty-one years ago, a 5-year-old black child named Eric Morse was dropped 14 stories to his death by a 10-year-old and an 11-year-old because he would not steal candy for them.

It is, however, the death of another black boy from Chicago that paints all this in shades of irony. In 1955, Mamie Till Mobley sent her 14-year-old only child, Emmett Till, down South to spend the summer. After he was lynched for supposedly flirting with a white woman, she recalled ruefully how she had warned him to be careful; told him Mississippi was dangerous for black children.

But six decades later, there are few places more dangerous for black children — for black people — than Chicago itself. In 2014, 411 people died there by murder or non-negligent manslaughter. New York City, with three times Chicago’s 2.7 million population, only recorded 333 such deaths. An overwhelming number of the victims were (as always) African-American.

Black lives matter, we say. Indeed, a lifetime ago, black people decided they mattered too much to sit helplessly by as they were poured out like water by hateful white men in places like Mississippi, Florida and Arkansas. So six million strong, they fled the South in a Great Migration, seeking “liberty and justice for all,” “all men are created equal,” “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” and all the other promises that comprise America.

Chicago was one of their major destinations. It was the pot of gold at the end of the railroad tracks. It was the exhalation of hope heard as the bus doors sighed open.

But black people soon found that in Chicago — as in other cities — America’s promise offered them only mop buckets, chauffeur’s caps and ghettos teeming with vermin, the constricted parameters of their lives patrolled by police with batons and bankers with maps crisscrossed by red lines. Eventually, the parameters would also enforce themselves: miseducation, teen pregnancy and crime.

Small wonder, in that sludge of human malfunction, that someone became cold enough to target a little boy for execution. Or that a 25-year-old father now mourns a 9-year-old son.

And bearing witness feels like impotence, but like duty, too, a reminder that there are promises America still owes African America, and that African America also owes itself, promises life owes to life and that the price of the ongoing refusal to keep those promises is too often paid in children’s blood.

Five days after Tyshawn’s murder, a boy named J’Quantae Riles was shot to death shortly after visiting a Chicago barbershop. He was 14.

 

By: Leonard Pitts, Jr., Columnist for The Miami Herald; The National Memo, November 11, 2015

November 12, 2015 Posted by | African Americans, Childhood Deaths, Children | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Growing Numb To Mass Violence”: We Need To End The Sound Of Silence In Congress

What if we had a mass shooting and nobody noticed?

That gloomy thought came to mind as I listened to the unsettling sound of silence that followed the September 16 Navy Yard shooting in the nation’s capital that killed 12 people, plus the shooter.

Three days later it came to mind again as a shooting spree in Chicago’s Back of the Yards neighborhood made national news. Thirteen were injured, including a 3-year-old boy who was shot in the face. Four people have been charged in the reportedly gang-related incident.

President Obama eloquently expressed the grief, outrage and frustration that every decent American should feel about “yet another mass shooting” at the Navy Yard.

But overall reaction to the workplace slaughter by a reportedly deranged gunman was sadly and noticeably subdued compared to the national outrage that reignited the national gun debate following the massacre of 20 children and six educators in Newtown, Connecticut.

That’s because after all the anguish, debate and proposed legislation that emerged from the Newtown tragedy, the legislation was voted down in the Senate and everyone returned to other matters — like House Republicans voting uselessly to repeal Obamacare more than 40 times. Opposition to even modest measures was too strong, especially from rural centers of pro-gun culture.

If even the massacre of children and the shooting of then-Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, an Arizona Democrat, could not move Congress to pass new gun safety measures, it’s no wonder that the energy for gun safety seems to have drained out of Capitol Hill.

But that doesn’t mean that we Americans can’t do anything but wring our hands over the continuing carnage. As even mass shootings lose their ability to shock us, both sides of the gun debate need to face a bracing reality: The gun violence problem is not only local and it’s not only about guns.

Those points were urgently expressed by New Orleans mayor Mitch Landrieu and Philadelphia mayor Michael Nutter in a joint speech in Washington last Thursday. They called for a new “surge” in attention and national action to the “virus” of gun-related violence.

Calls for national action are hardly new, but I was encouraged by the mayors’ refusal to be, as Landrieu put it, bogged down by the “seemingly mind-numbing debate about gun control.”

Instead they emphasized remedies everyone should be able to agree on. They included more cops on the street, as in a stronger COPS program — Community Oriented Policing Services — passed by Congress under President Bill Clinton; stronger cooperation with the federal government to target criminals with illegal guns and stronger measures against straw purchases and interstate gun traffickers.

Yet the two mayors also called for more personal responsibility and engagement by parents, pastors, coaches and neighbors. “Babies having babies just doesn’t work,” Landrieu said.

I’ve heard Chicago’s Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who reportedly left some scheduled meetings with members of Obama’s cabinet in Washington early after hearing of the mass shooting back home, express a similar agenda in his slogan: “Policing, prevention, penalties and parenting.”

Bottom line: A problem as complex as urban violence must be pushed back the same way it emerged: in every sector of community and political life.

But first we have to care. Citing the number of black men killed by homicide in his city in 2012, Nutter observed: “If the Ku Klux Klan came to Philadelphia and killed 236 black men, the city would be on lockdown.”

The same would be true if “international terrorists killed 236 Philadelphians of any race,” he said. “And, yet, 236 African-American men murdered in one city — not one word. No hearings on the Hill, no investigations … nothing but silence.”

We need to end the sound of silence. It was easier to take national political action in the ’90s. The economy was doing well and Congress was not as fiercely divided as it is today. But, as the two mayors said in Washington, we should not be more willing to pay for safe streets in Afghanistan than to make our streets safer at home.

 

By: Clarence Page, The National Memo, Featured Post, October 2, 2013

October 3, 2013 Posted by | Gun Control, Gun Violence | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Correlation Does Not Imply Causation”: The Myth Of Murderous Chicago, Neat, Simple And Wrong

A neatly typed letter arrived at the office the other day. It included a check made out to the National Rifle Association, on my behalf.

The reader, disgruntled by my call for reasonable gun control laws, thought it pertinent to take another lick at one of the right wing’s favorite whipping boys: Chicago. “If one thinks that gun control works,” he wrote, “I would ask them why Chicago, with some of the most restrictive gun laws in the nation, had over 500 homicides in 2012.”

For those who don’t watch Fox News or regularly peruse WorldNetDaily, this is a favorite theme on the right. Chicago is the murder capital of the nation, and also its gun control capital. I will disprove that first contention in a moment, but first let’s take the implied argument at face value: Gun control laws permit more murders to happen.

Correlation does not imply causation, but for a moment let’s enter the wingnut world where it does. In 2012, there were 507 homicides in Chicago. Ten years earlier, the statistic was 656. Ten years before that, it was 943. Holy cow! Chicago’s anti-gun laws must be working!

Not so fast. The murder rate has declined sharply across the country in the last 20 years. Chicago might still be at the top of the heap for murders. Indeed, 507 is a big number, the biggest of any city in the U.S. in 2012. But Chicago is a big place. The key is to take the number of murders, multiply by 100,000 and then divide by the population. That gives you the standard expression of the homicide rate: murders per 100,000.

How does Chicago stack up? Turns out it’s a dangerous place, but not even in the top 20 most deadly cities. Chicago Tribune columnist Eric Zorn unraveled the myth of his city in a July piece that crunched preliminary FBI data on homicides, noting Chicago was safer than, among others places, Detroit, Philadelphia, Atlanta, New Orleans, Baton Rouge, Little Rock, Kansas City, Montgomery, Memphis and Richmond.

And in 2013, Chicago’s homicide numbers are down. Zorn pointed out that in the first six months of 2013, there were 26 percent fewer murders than the prior year, the lowest raw number since 1965.
Explaining changes in the murder rate on the basis of a single factor, such as stricter gun control laws, is at best quack social science. Peruse the list of the top 20 cities by homicide rate and you will see metropolises in Northern blue states and Southern red ones, on the East Coast and the West Coast and smack in the heartland – all with gun restrictions that vary with regional preference.

So why do conservatives love to portray Chicago as a wasteland of bloodshed? Simple. Chicago is President Obama’s hometown, long a political stronghold for Democratic politics. For many, that’s reason enough to demonize the city, to degrade it by twisting something as dire as murder to fit an ideological narrative.

This is not an argument that everything in Chicago is hunky-dory. What about August reports that with the opening of Chicago’s public schools, hundreds of city employees were necessary to escort students through dangerous parts of town? And what about all of those headlines from the summer, like 4th of July weekend, during which 72 people were shot and 12 killed?

All true.

However, what citywide statistics don’t show is that over the last 20 years a great divide has opened up between Chicago neighborhoods in terms of safety, even as murders have dropped by half. As Daniel Hertz, a masters student at the Harris School of Public Policy at the University of Chicago, put it in his blog, City Notes, “at the same time as overall crime has declined, the inequality of violence in Chicago has skyrocketed.”

Hertz points out that crime and violence were never evenly distributed in Chicago, but that if you compare the present to the “bad old days” of the early 1990s – as he did, using Chicago Police data – you see that the relatively safe areas advanced to Toronto levels of security, while some marginal neighborhoods (including those near the city center and those in or near gentrifying areas) made stunning progress. Sadly, some neighborhoods, particularly on the South and West Sides, are more violent than they were in the 1990s, which is staggering to imagine.

Another way to put it is that violent crime, like income and wealth, is unevenly distributed in Chicago – and that this maldistribution is getting more extreme. I don’t have the data to say for sure, but I would guess that the same story is repeated in most of the other contenders for America’s murder capital.
Do you really want to solve the violent crime problem? Start by recognizing that guns travel. They go unimpeded from jurisdictions where they are easily gotten to places where they are not. Violence stays put.

Easy access to guns is just the icing. It’s the explosive fuse atop a long stack of community woes. There’s a 20th-century problem we haven’t solved: the inequality between races, between city and suburb, between ghetto and the leafier urban districts that Americans are falling in love with again. Every shooting in Chicago should remind us that we have failed.

 

By: Mary Sanchez, The Kansas City Star, Published in McClatchy,  August 30, 2013

September 2, 2013 Posted by | Gun Control, Gun Violence | , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

“Even If He Wins, He Loses”: For Rush Limbaugh, The Damage Is Already Done

One week after it was first reported that talk radio giant Cumulus Media might cut ties with Rush Limbaugh and pull his show from 40 of its stations nationwide, the end result of the contractual showdown remains unclear. But we do know this: The damage has been done to Limbaugh and his reputation inside the world of AM radio as an untouchable star.

By opting to publicly negotiate its contract and making it clear the broadcast company is willing to walk away from his program, Cumulus has delivered a once unthinkable blow to Limbaugh’s industry prestige. (Cumulus is also threatening to drop Sean Hannity’s syndicated radio show.)

Even if Limbaugh wins in the end, he loses. Even if Limbaugh manages to stay on Cumulus’ enviable rosters of major market talk stations, Limbaugh comes out of the tussle tarnished and somewhat diminished.

Recall that one year after Limbaugh ignited the most severe crisis of his career by insulting law student Sandra Fluke for three days on the air, attacking her as a “slut,” the talker’s team announced the host was unhappy with Cumulus. Angry that its CEO had been noting in the press how many advertisers Limbaugh had lost over the Fluke firestorm (losses that continue to accumulate), an anonymous Limbaugh source told Politico the host was so angry he might walk away from Cumulus when his contract expired at the end of the year.

Well, last week Cumulus called Limbaugh’s bluff, plain and simple. And now the talker’s side appears to be scrambling to make sure his show remains with Cumulus. But again, the damage is done. If Limbaugh really were an all-powerful source in AM radio, he would walk away from Cumulus. But he’s not, and he can’t.

Cumulus is reportedly driving a hard bargain and wants to reduce the costs associated with carrying Limbaugh’s show, especially since he’s unable to attract the same advertisers he used to. If in the end a deal is struck and Limbaugh stays with Cumulus for a reduced rate, what happens when the talker’s contract expires with another large AM station group? Of course they’re going to demand the same deal Cumulus got in exchange for keeping Limbaugh’s show, or they’ll threaten to drop the talker, too. And then on and on the process will repeat itself as broadcasters realize that maybe they can get Limbaugh on the cheap.

By the way, this is the exact opposite of how Limbaugh renewals used to be handled. Years ago, owners and general managers at Limbaugh’s host stations lived in fear of getting a phone call from Limbaugh’s syndicator, Clear Channel-owned Premier Networks, informing them the host was moving across town to a competitor when his contract was up. But today, Cumulus negotiates its Limbaugh contract via the press, apparently without the slightest concern about ending its association with him.

Of course, Limbaugh and Clear Channel could hold their ground, refuse to budge on Cumulus’ demands and walk away from the radio giant with AM stations from coast to coast. That is an option, but it’s also an unpleasant one in terms of what it would mean to Limbaugh’s once-unvarnished reputation as the AM talk gold standard.

Just look at what would likely happen to Limbaugh in New York City, the largest radio market in America. He’s currently heard on WABC-AM, which has broadcast Limbaugh for decades and has served as his unofficial flagship station in America. But Cumulus owns the station and it’s one that Limbaugh would get yanked off if the two sides can’t come to an agreement. Where would Limbaugh likely end up in New York? On WOR-AM, a talk station that Clear Channel purchased last year, many observers believed, as a way to make sure Limbaugh would have a New York home if his deal ended at WABC-AM.

So what’s wrong with Limbaugh moving to WOR-AM? Only the fact that the station is currently a ratings doormat, ranked 25th in that market with less than half the audience of WABC-AM. Yes, it’s likely Limbaugh would improve that station’s ratings if he moved over there. But at this stage in his career for Limbaugh to have to start over in the most important radio market in the country and do it on such a low-rated station? If you don’t think that kind of demotion would sting, you don’t understand the oversized egos that fuel talk radio in America.

The move to lowly WOR-AM would also call into question why debt-ridden Clear Channel opted to boost Limbaugh’s salary by an astounding 40 percent in 2009, assuring him a $400 million payday over a ten-year contract.

Then again, Limbaugh is no stranger to sagging ratings, especially in New York City. Back in his prime a decade ago, Limbaugh helped power WABC-AM to become the number five-rated station in all of New York. Today, with Limbaugh still its marquee draw, the station has fallen to number 15 in the ratings, which may explain why Cumulus is willing to negotiate his departure.

Other cities would also pose a post-Cumulus problem. In Chicago for instance, Limbaugh would get dropped from WLS (which has also seen declining ratings in recent months), and without a Clear Channel-owned talk station in the market to pick him up, Limbaugh would have to find a new AM home. But based on the current radio landscape in Chicago, there would appear to be very few logical takers. (The city’s top-rated AM information stations lean heavy on news and local talk; less on right-wing syndicated hosts like Limbaugh.)

Appearing on CNN’s Reliable Sources on Sunday, Talkers editor Michael Harrison insisted, “Rush is going to be around as long as he wants.” He added, “He’ll be 90 years old and still have a show.” Harrison may be right. But last week’s public shaming by Cumulus will likely be remembered for years as a turning point in Limbaugh’s broadcast trajectory.

 

By: Eric Boehlert, Media Matters for America, August 5, 2013

August 7, 2013 Posted by | Media | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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