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Task Force Lambasts Chicago Police Department’s Decades-Long Record Of Systemic Racism

The Chicago Police Accountability Task Force released a report, which shows the deep and systemic problem of racism within the Chicago Police Department. Moreover, policies institutionalizing racism are not limited to the present day. The Task Force report demonstrates the CPD has a century-long record of racism, and in fact, a similar task force in the 1970s published findings nearly identical to what this Task Force found.

The report could not be more timely. Pierre Loury, a black sixteen year-old was killed by a police officer days ago while he was scaling a fence as he ran from officers. The Guardian’s ongoing investigation into Homan Square recently revealed details on the violence that has occurred at the “off-the-books interrogation site.” The Chicago Sun-Times also reported on the CPD’s plans to infiltrate and spy upon Black Lives Matter groups.

The Task Force makes the following declarations in its 190-page report:

We arrived at this point in part because of racism.

We arrived at this point because of a mentality in CPD that the ends justify the means.

We arrived at this point because of a failure to make accountability a core value and imperative within CPD.

We arrived at this point because of a significant underinvestment in human capital.

Specifically, the Task Force “heard over and over again from a range of voices, particularly from African Americans, that some CPD officers are racist, have no respect for the lives and experiences of people of color, and approach every encounter with people of color as if the person, regardless of age, gender or circumstance, is a criminal.”

“Some people do not feel safe in any encounter with the police,” the Task Force report adds. “Some do not feel like they have the ability to walk in their neighborhoods or drive in their cars without being aggressively confronted by the police. The consistent theme of these deeply-held beliefs came from a significant cross-section of people: men and women, young, middle-aged and older, doctors, lawyers, teachers and other professionals, students, and everyday workers. Regardless of the demographic, people of color loudly expressed their outrage about how they are treated by the police.”

For example, at a youth forum at the Mikva Challenge, the Task Force heard from a student repeatedly stopped by CPD, who was placed in a squad car “six or seven times.” The student reported “officers tersely kicked him out of the car when they were finished without explanation or apology.” At another youth forum at Precious Blood Ministries, “a young Latino man reported being stopped by the police on his way home from work. He had just cashed his paycheck, and an officer suggested that he ‘had a lot of money for a Mexican.’”

“Widespread reports from people all over Chicago” confirmed how officers often approach routine situations with “an overaggressive and hostile demeanor, using racially charged and abusive language,” the Task Force found. “There have increasingly been situations in which police response to calls involving persons experiencing mental health crises ended with devastating results,” such as the deaths of Quintonio LeGrier and Betty Jones.

Of the 404 shootings, which occurred between 2008 and 2015, 74 percent of those shot or killed were black, while 14 percent were Hispanic. Eight percent were white. In this same period, 1,886 taser discharges occurred. Seventy-six percent of the taser discharges were against black residents, 13 percent were against Hispanics, and eight percent were against whites.

“Black and Hispanic drivers were searched approximately four times as often as white drivers, yet CPD’s own data shows that contraband was found on white drivers twice as often as black and Hispanic drivers,” the Task Force noted.

A black Chicagoan is twice as likely to be threatened by a weapon when stopped by a police officer than a white Chicagoan. Black residents were particularly targeted when they were in white neighborhoods.

“From 2008 through 2013, CPD set up 84 percent of DUI checkpoints in predominantly black or Hispanic police districts,” according to the Task Force.

During the summer of 2014, the CPD stopped over 250,000 people. That means for every 10,000 city residents about 93 people were stopped. It “dwarfs the number of stops by New York City police, which from 2011-2014, stopped anywhere between 1.6 and 22.9 people per 10,000.” And, of these people stopped, 72 percent were black, 17 percent were Hispanic, and nine percent were white.

The Task Force called the relationship with youth of color “antagonistic, to say the least.” Youth are often uninformed of their “basic constitutional rights.” Chicago Public Schools does not teach constitutional rights in its curriculum. CPD does not prioritize the rights of juveniles.

“We have heard that police frequently tell lawyers working on behalf of juveniles that their clients do not have a right to counsel or that the juvenile’s guardian must approve a visit by a lawyer,” the Task Force reported.

Nearly all arrestees have experienced problems with access to counsel. “In 2014, only 3 out of every 1,000 arrestees had an attorney at any point while in police custody. In 2015, that number ‘doubled’ to 6.”

The Independent Police Review Authority (IPRA) is supposed to provide oversight when police commit misconduct or brutality. However, in the last five years, 40 percent of complaints filed with IPRA were not investigated. “Arbitrators reduced or eliminated discipline” for officers in nearly three out of four cases.

When whites filed allegations of police misconduct with IPRA, they were “nine times more likely to be upheld than those by blacks and almost three times more likely than those by Hispanics.”

As summarized by the Task Force, racism in the Chicago police department’s patrol of communities is no recent development. Communities of color have complained consistently for decades. The Task Force highlighted “significant flashpoints” in its report, including the assassination of Black Panther, Fred Hampton, in the 1960s; torture by Commander Jon Burge and his “midnight crew” from the 1970s to the 1990s; targeting hundreds of thousands with unconstitutional “disorderly conduct” arrests in the 1980s; the enforcement of an unconstitutional “gang loitering” ordinance in the 1990s, and stop and frisks in the 2000s.

“False arrests, coerced confessions, and wrongful convictions are also a part of this history. Lives lost and countless more damaged. These events and others mark a long, sad history of death, false imprisonment, physical and verbal abuse and general discontent about police actions in neighborhoods of color,” the Task Force acknowledged.

The following section from the Task Force’s full report stands out. It shows the city of Chicago has made very, very little progress in addressing systemic racism within the Chicago Police Department. Or, if the city has made progress, the CPD has thwarted every effort to change the corrupt culture within the institution.

In the early 1970s, CPD faced increasing allegations of police brutality, particularly in African-American communities. In response, Congressman Ralph Metcalfe convened a “Blue Ribbon Panel” to report on “The Misuse of Police Authority in Chicago.” The panel heard testimony concerning “many instances of grossly abusive conduct on the part of Chicago policemen,” which “poison[] police-community relations.” The panel found that CPD used fatal force more frequently than in other big cities, and that 75% of those killed were black. It also noted “the false arrests, the illegal searches or the more common kind of psychological violence that occurs daily, especially in exchanges between police and minorities and young people. Very few young Blacks and Browns have been spared the experience of having to swallow their pride and take a bullying insult from a police officer.”

And yet, the Metcalfe panel found, “complaints from citizens of abusive conduct by police are almost universally rejected by [CPD’s] self-investigation system.” Excessive force complaints were sustained in only 1.4% of cases. This led the panel to recommend that “an entirely new independent investigating agency, reporting its factual findings to the Police Board for imposition of discipline … should be created.” The panel’s recommendation led to the establishment of the Office of Professional Standards (“OPS”) in 1974.

All of the statistics, along with the history of the Chicago Police Department, affirms the department has a “deeply entrenched code of silence supported not just by individual officers, but by the very institution itself.” Plus, police unions and the city of Chicago have collective bargaining agreements, which specifically discourage accountability for officers and even enable lying by officers after shootings occur.


To address systemic racism and corruption within the CPD, the Task Force recommended Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the president of the Cook County Board “develop and implement programs that address socioeconomic justice and equality, housing segregation, systemic racism, poverty, education, health, and safety.”

It recommended adopting a protocol allowing arrestees phone calls to an attorney or family within one hour of their arrest.

Similar to the outcome of the Metcalfe hearing, the Task Force suggested that IPRA be replaced with a new body, the Civilian Police Investigative Agency.

More significantly, it concluded “the community has long been shut out of Chicago’s police oversight system. Meaningful engagement with the community—and giving the community power in the oversight system—is critical to ensuring that officers are held accountable for misconduct.” And, with that in mind, it called for the creation of a Community Safety Oversight Board to allow community members to have a role in police oversight.

It urged the CPD to make all disciplinary records for officers public so citizens can track complaints.

The city recently adopted a new policy for releasing videos of shootings by police. Previously, the policy was to withhold the video from citizens, including the families of those killed.

Particular attention was paid to the lack of proper treatment for residents with mental illness. In 2012, Emanuel shut down six mental health clinics in low-income neighborhoods plagued with high levels of crime.

“Police officers are too often the first responders to those living with mental illness and experiencing a crisis,” the Task Force stated. “Most people living with mental illness do not receive treatment, in large part due to the shrinking mental healthcare safety net. The mental health system focuses on chronic care management for people who are living with severe, disabling mental illnesses. It does not address early intervention that might encourage recovery and avoid long-term disability.

“Without these less intensive, recovery-promoting services, persons living with mental illness fail to get timely treatment until their symptoms are so severe as to require costly crisis management,” the Task Force added.

The Task Force called for the city and police to start the process of implementing recommendations in the next 90 days.

“The City and in particular CPD would do well to embrace the necessary changes to address the systemic problems in CPD and not simply hope that this storm will pass,” the Task Force urged.

Without protest from citizens in Chicago against the police department after the McDonald video was released, and without the national movement against state-sanctioned violence by police, the report would not have been as strong. The Task Force highlighted Chicagoans’ demand for “accountability and real and lasting change.” It was not confined to one neighborhood or demographic, even though “communities of color and those ravaged by crime added some of the most poignant commentary.” All of Chicago recognizes something radical must be done to deal with the corruption within the Chicago Police Department.

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."