MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
Racism is at the center of the ongoing police shootings, brutality, harassment and arrest of Blacks and other people of color in Chicago - and that includes a larger context of the city government's permissiveness toward the Chicago Police Department's plantation-style policing and lack of accountability in general.
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel is currently going through a period of "reassuring" the public that he will "reform" the CPD. However, little note has been made of an important jury finding in 2012 that held the City of Chicago, under Emanuel, accountable for condoning and tolerating a police "code of silence" when it comes to violence and misbehavior toward citizens.
The civil case alleged Emanuel's administration, in essence, allowed the Chicago Police Department (CPD) to act with impunity and rarely took steps to hold officers responsible for murders, violence and brutality. In a December 2012 Truthout article, we noted that the jury found on behalf of a plaintiff who was pummeled in 2007 by a drunken off-duty cop, only to have his fellow officers cover up for him. From the outset of his mayorality, Emanuel's corporation counsel and police commissioner did nothing to compel the CPD and its members to reveal how a "blue curtain" that encompassed "the code of silence" came immediately into play after then-officer Tony Abbate viciously beat Karolina Obrycka, injuring her severely.
A local television reporter for the Chicago ABC affiliate - during the 2012 federal trial against the city - observed that the case was about Emanuel's and the city's tolerance of
the blue curtain, an understanding between police officers that they should cover for each other unconditionally and that testimony against a fellow cop amounts to a betrayal of their fellow bond. It is the underbelly of a police subculture that is rarely exposed to this day.
The jury found for the plaintiff, awarding her $875,000. According to Locke Bowman, Professor of Law and Director of the Roderick MacArthur Justice Center at Northwestern University School of Law, Judge St. Eve had instructed the jury that there were two criteria to consider if they found for the plaintiff, either of which would be sufficient: Did the City of Chicago knowingly, even if tacitly, accept a "code of silence" in the CPD? Did the City of Chicago have a widespread policy of failing to discipline officers who violated the rights of citizens?
Since the city had tried to quash the civil case for years, Emanuel wanted to pay the plaintiff quickly after the verdict. Astonishingly, he also wanted to have the jury's finding of the city's culpability in the ongoing "code of silence" vacated, so that there would be no legal record of his administration being held responsible for tolerating a police department that shields its own from the law.
The Chicago Tribune noted at the time, "What Emanuel is really seeking, University of Chicago law professor Craig Futterman said, is a 'code of silence on the code of silence.'"
Fortunately, US District Judge Amy St. Eve dismissed Emanuel's cynical and dangerous legal maneuver, reproaching him and his corporation counsel. As the Chicago Tribune reported in 2012:
A federal judge Thursday turned down the request by Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration to erase a jury’s finding that the Chicago Police Department has a “code of silence” to protect rogue officers….
U.S District Judge Amy St. Eve said the city turned down reasonable settlement offers from plaintiff Karolina Obrycka for six years and decided to take the case to trial “knowing that an adverse judgment was a risk.”…
“The judgment in this case has ramifications for society at large, not just the city’s litigation strategies.”
Emanuel decided not to continue his effort to nullify the rationale of a federal jury verdict. He stated that he was going to clean up the CPD and was getting a new police commissioner. However, that police commissioner, Garry McCarthy, has come and gone in the wake of the revelations of ongoing CPD shootings, mistreatment and arbitrary arrests of civilians, particularly Black people.
According at a cover story in the Sun-Times from last Sunday, the "city [of Chicago] pays a price for police misconduct - $642 million since 2004":
The city of Chicago has spent nearly $642 million dealing with police-misconduct legal claims over a 12-year period, according to data obtained from City Hall.
That includes $106 million in just the past two years.
In 2015, the city spent more than $40 million - including $5 million paid to the family of Laquan McDonald, who was killed by Officer Jason Van Dyke in a shooting caught on police dash-cam video - to cover misconduct-related settlements, judgments, legal fees and other costs.
That included roughly $28 million spent on damages, $10 million on outside legal expenses and $3 million on other costs, according to the data from Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s law department.
The Sun-Times also notes, "The city currently is facing more than 450 police-misconduct lawsuits."
In 2014, a Chicago Reporter article revealed:
The last time a Chicago police officer was convicted of killing a civilian was in 1995, when off-duty officer Gregory Becker killed a homeless man in River North....
Of the 441 police misconduct cases that led to city payouts between January 2009 and November 2011, 75 percent were related to excessive force and wrongful arrest. But the city rarely admitted any wrongdoing despite dishing out millions of dollars in settlements, and the accusations did not yield a single indictment or conviction.
The facts of the 2012 civil suit, in which a jury found the City of Chicago under Rahm Emanuel guilty of condoning and permitting the Chicago Police Department "code of silence," provide a context for the mayor's current platitudinous overtures to communities of color.
Just remember law professor Craig Futterman's conclusion: "What Emanuel is really seeking ... is a 'code of silence on the code of silence.'"
Don't think for a moment that the mayor of Chicago has stopped seeking that deadly goal.
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