Listen to the episode of “#ChiMayor19” with journalist Aaron Cynic by clicking the below player:
In conjunction with reporting from journalist Aaron Cynic on the Chicago mayoral election, Shadowproof is producing a limited podcast series, “#ChiMayor19,” featuring Aaron.
A new episode will be posted after each of Aaron’s reports on issues, which grassroots groups believe candidates for mayor must address if they are elected.
The third episode in the series is on the efforts of grassroots activists to force candidates for mayor to take police accountability seriously. It ties in to Aaron’s report published on February 12.
Here is a link to the file for the third episode. It can be directly downloaded to your computer or phone for listening by right-clicking the player.
If you appreciate Aaron’s journalism, please donate to help us fund his reporting on the Chicago mayoral election.
Below is a transcript of part of the conversation in the episode.
KEVIN GOSZTOLA: Let’s talk about the issue that the establishment press does not want to dwell on, which is police accountability issues. You talked to some of the activist groups that have led campaigns in the city of Chicago particularly. One of the things that has been a focus of activists has been something called CPAC, which is basically a police accountability council or a civilian board that could review police. How did this become such a focus for activists?
CYNIC: CPAC stands for Chicago Police Accountability Council. This goes back quite a long time. These are folks who are part of an organization called the Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression. They had proposed this ordinance. It is the most radical police accountability ordinance that certainly I have ever seen, possibly on a national level. It would give this board, which would be elected, the power to hire and fire superintendents. It would give them the power to investigate and prosecute cops who were accused of misconduct. It puts money behind that kind of thing, and there’s a lot more detail and all that kind of thing in here.
It’s one of those things, where you look at it and say this is the real deal. It’s about involving the people in it because Chicago has a very, very long history going back decades or more of oversight organizations that really have had no teeth or have had all sorts of allegations of failing to either investigate or properly investigate or prosecute folks accused of misconduct or brutality, or that kind of thing. Just in the past decade or so, we’ve gone through three different boards. For many years we had the Office of Professional Standards, which then became the Civilian of Police Accountability—not to be confused with this acronym, which is the Chicago Police Accountability Council. Because all of these previous iterations were appointed bodies, which is one of the first issues that people have. These are bodies appointed by the mayor. That is not something that has worked out very well for Chicagoans, since I’ve been alive.
For a long time, folks really ignored it. The city council ignored it. They finally got enough petition signatures and aldermen to put it in the city council, and then it got tied up in a committee for a long time. This is something folks really ignored, both in the city council and the mayor’s office, up until the movement grew after the shooting of Laquan McDonald, which I talk about in the story. McDonald’s death, an African American teenager, shot by a white cop sixteen times—That happened not too far from when Michael Brown was shot in St. Louis, which helped spark a larger national movement. Though it took longer than a year for video to be release, once it was, that video was extremely damning.
It implicated all sorts of people in an alleged coverup, and it cost some high-ranking city officials their jobs. It was also arguably influential in [Mayor Rahm] Emanuel’s decision to not seek another term. So, this particular ordinance, as this movement grew and as this all progressed, CPAC has expanded with it. The folks fighting for this for a long time—we went from a handful of aldermen last election cycle to something like 70 candidates for city council in a group 200 or so who are running. That’s an exponential increase of people who say yes, I support this. I’m into this. It’s been the thing that’s been asked of mayoral candidates in a handful of debates. There are some that express their support, and then there are a handful who maybe don’t support that but still say we do no need reform. We do need to make accountability more of an issue.
All of these things over the past four years have put this issue front and center in an extremely consequential election in the third largest city in the United States.
GOSZTOLA: I notice also in the conversation about police accountability—insofar as it becomes a topic of discussion—there’s a lot of focus on this consent decree that is largely being adopted because the Justice Department did an investigation. A lot of that was inspired by the uproar after Laquan McDonald was killed. It brought attention to a lot of systemic issues with the Chicago Police Department.
I want to add a couple notes for you to comment on—You didn’t really cover this in your piece, but it goes along with what you were raising and helps us do a deeper dive into these issues. The ACLU of Illinois actually has the questionnaire from some of the candidates that are running for mayor. Just a note that the front runner, Bill Daley, did not fill out the questionnaire or answer any of the questions that the ACLU of Illinois had about these critical issues.
Two candidates because they seem to be where people who are more progressive-minded have gravitated toward—you’ve got Amara Enyia, who says the consent decree is not as robust as she would want but that she would work with “community activists, civil rights attorneys, and CPD leadership to implement a radically different code of conduct for the CPD.” That’s a rather radical idea in and of itself for the city. “The contract with the police union would be renegotiated to allow for an easier dismissal of officers with too many complaints on their records.” That’s rather radical when you consider the FOP.
Then, you’ve got what Toni Preckwinkle has to say. She supports the consent decree. Almost all the candidates do, but then she goes a step farther and says she would want “a new reform-minded Superintendent committed to constitutional policing.” And she would fully staff “the Office of Violence Prevention and Criminal Justice to oversee reforms from the Mayor’s Office and [introduce] legislation on Civilian Oversight within City Council.”
CYNIC: Couple things—Amara is one of those candidates, who does support CPAC and openly supports CPAC. When we talk about the consent decree, it’s something that there are a lot of reforms in there, and yes, there are many good ones in there. But in a lot of cases, it’s one of those things where it definitely does not go far enough. We do run the risk of people saying, well, we’ve done this so we’ve done everything we can. Even Bill Daley has said he supports the consent decree, but with a few buts. He said he supports it but it’s going to be expensive to implement and improving organizational culture is difficult and it takes time. This could take a very long time so we need “buy-in” from a superintendent and commanders and rank-and-file. He says he’ll follow the consent decree, and he’s called for requiring more training than the decree.
The decree requires 16 hours of additional annual training, which emphasizes professional development, where he wants 40 hours. The question is whether it is 16 or 40 hours over a year, is that enough? The answer is really no.
You mention the FOP, and I think that’s something that needs to be discussed. The FOP has a lot of influence. Because of the heavy amount of influence that they have, and that they are a body that has existed for so long and shaped how misconduct is mistreated but even how policing is reported—There was a story reported by Yana Kunichoff for the Chicago Reader that highlighted how for the longest time, when it was a police officer shooting a civilian, reporters would be sent to the FOP press guy. The FOP press guy would give a statement. People would report that, and that would be the last that anyone heard of it.
They do hold a lot of sway and influence, and that influences candidates heavily. The FOP opposes CPAC and also put up a lot of resistance toward the consent decree in general. Candidates do not want to be seen as anti-police. They do not want to be seen as trying to make it “harder” for them to do their jobs. So when folks from the community come and say we want oversight and we want changes and those changes are much more radical, you’re going to get that watered down or people saying, well, we’ll do this and then they back pedal.
Just to get the consent decree itself, State Attorney General Lisa Madigan had to sue Rahm Emanuel to get him moving on it. That says how resistant culturally, from a city government perspective all around, folks are to moving toward more accountability. That doesn’t even touch the [lack of] investment in neighborhoods versus the investment in militarized policing. Because of course these things don’t exist in a vacuum and are inherently connected.
For the rest of the interview, click on the player at the top of the post.