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Chicago's deadliest gang

December 14, 2007 | Page 7

BOB QUELLOS reports on the crimes of Chicago's boys in black and blue.

THE CITY of Chicago may have finally agreed to pay $20 million to four men who were tortured by police and wrongly sent to spend more than a decade each on death row. But that doesn't mean the Chicago Police Department is cleaning house.

Far from it. A series of news reports show that Chicago's boys in black and blue are as deadly--and as unaccountable--as ever.

This year alone, the CPD has documented 32 police-involved shootings, 29 of them fatal. "Chicago police shoot a civilian on average once every 10 days," reported the Chicago Tribune. "More than 100 people have been killed in the last decade; 250 others have been injured. But only a tiny fraction of shootings are ruled unjustified--less than 1 percent, police records and court testimony indicate."

In the last 10 years, only six officers have even been disciplined for using deadly force. Four of the six were connected to a single case--in which LaTanya Haggerty was shot to death as she reached for her cell phone during a traffic stop.

The growing list of shootings and other brutality involving the CPD has prompted an outcry from many residents. In August, hundreds of people from the North Lawndale neighborhood gathered in protest after the police shot 18-year-old Aaron Harrison in the back. Harrison died at the scene.

What else to read

The Mandel Clinic of the University of Chicago Law School released its report "The Chicago Police Department's Broken System," which documents the flaws in the CPD's investigation of civilian complaints.

The Chicago Tribune's recent investigation "Shielded from the Truth" is a devastating indictment of the CPD.

For more information on the Burge torture scandal and the plight of the Death Row 10, see the Campaign to End the Death Penalty Web site, including its fact sheet "Justice for the Death Row 10."

 

Rev. Al Sharpton, who recently opened up a Chicago office of his National Action Network, is vowing to take up the issue of police brutality in the city. He has told city officials that if they don't take action, he will organize a petition campaign to the International Olympic Committee to reject Chicago's bid for the 2016 Olympics.

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UNJUSTIFIED SHOOTINGS are only part of the picture when it comes to Chicago police brutality and corruption. Police Superintendent Phil Cline stepped down earlier this year in the wake of two separate videotaped incidents showing off-duty Chicago police beating unarmed civilians.

At the end of summer, six officers who were part of the now disbanded Special Operations Section (SOS) were charged with armed violence, home invasion and kidnapping after allegedly using their position on the force to run a theft ring. One SOS officer is being charged with planning the murder of a former unit member who was cooperating with authorities.

In October, two officers were found liable for the unreasonable search of 23-year-old Coprez Coffie. Coffie was pulled over in a West Side Chicago alley in 2004, where officers sodomized him with a screwdriver during a search for drugs. After a federal jury saw ample evidence--including screwdrivers with traces of feces on them, found in the glove compartment of the officers' car--Coffie was awarded $4 million.

However, the two detectives are still on the job--after the Office of Professional Standards, which handles complaints about police misconduct, declared it was unable to conclude if the incident occurred or not.

Then, at the beginning of November, a Chicago police officer Tasered an 82-year-old woman suffering from dementia, who was holding a hammer to defend herself after refusing to open her door to officials from the city's Department of the Aging. The Tasered woman spent five days in the hospital.

Meanwhile, the Jon Burge police torture scandal looms in the background. Burge was the Chicago police lieutenant under whose command more than 200 Black men on Chicago' s South Side were tortured. Many were forced to sign confessions for crimes they didn't commit, and a number of them spent time on Illinois' death row.

In January 2003, former Gov. George Ryan pardoned four of the Burge torture victim on death row and commuted the sentences of others, along with every death row prisoner. The $20 million that the city agreed to pay to the four Burge victims--Madison Hobley, Stanley Howard, Leroy Orange and Aaron Patterson--is in addition to the $27 million that the city has paid out this year alone for police misconduct judgments and settlements.

Blacks continue to bear the brunt of Chicago police violence and prosecution. A recent study by the Justice Policy Institute found that Cook County imprisons African Americans for drug offenses at a rate 58 times greater than for whites.

Racism has been central to the wider epidemic of police violence in Chicago. A federal judge this year ordered the release of a document from a civil rights lawsuit in which Chicago cops were accused of brutality. The document lists hundreds of officers with 10 or more civilian complaints against them; however, on its release, the names of the officers were blacked out.

Mayor Richard Daley has refused to release the names, citing concerns for their personal safety. He even accused the alderman calling for the release of names of doing so for political gain. "It's easy to criticize police," Daley ranted. "Kick 'em when they're down. Kick 'em and keep kicking 'em. Go home. See your name in the press. Sign a petition. I guess that's what you do in life."

Perhaps the poorest excuse for withholding the officers' names came from Interim Police Superintendent Dana Starks. According to Starks, nearly half of the complaints filed against officers this year haven't been pursued because those who filed them failed to cooperate with investigators--which led Starks to declare, "There are complaints generated by criminals, gang members and drug dealers who are determined to make false allegations against a police officer to discredit the arrest and further their own agenda in court."

Contrary to Starks' claim, a recent study by the University of Chicago of police complaints filed from 2001 to 2006 found:

-- A total of 662 Chicago police officers--a little less than 5 percent of the CPD's 13,500-member force--amassed 11 or more official misconduct complaints between 2001 and 2006.

-- Thirty-three Chicago police officers had 30 or more complaints between 2001 and 2006, yet only one of the thousand-plus charges of abuse against these officers ever led to meaningful discipline.

-- There are officers who have amassed more than 50 abuse complaints within five years who had not been flagged by any of the CPD's early-warning programs, much less disciplined in any fashion.

-- The overall rate of sustained complaints for all categories of civilian abuse charges was 1 percent (124 sustained cases out of 10,149 charges of abuse).

In conclusion, the report describes the CPD's "deep commitment to the machinery of denial, including denying incidents of brutality, turning a blind eye to patterns of abuse, refusing to look at data that is just a keystroke or two away and passively encouraging a culture of silence in the face of abuse perpetrated by fellow officers."

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CONFRONTED WITH a mounting crisis over the police, Daley has brought in the first outsider ever to run the CPD--appointing as superintendent J.P. "Jody" Weis, a former FBI official in charge of Philadelphia's field office. Weis is now the city's highest paid public official, with a $310,000-a-year salary.

He summarized his attitude toward his new command at the press conference announcing his appointment: "There have been some misdeeds by a few bad apples, but I'd like to emphasize, a very few."

Weis added, "The one thing I'm proud of with the FBI is that, although we're not perfect, we do have a pretty good reputation of policing ourselves." But Weis' past experiences with whistleblowers shows the opposite.

In 2003, Chicago FBI agent Robert G. Wright Jr. made public and television appearances calling into question the FBI's work in counterterrorism. In response, Weis and another top FBI official are documented as stating they would "take him [Wright] out." This comment landed Weis in congressional hearings three years ago in an investigation into whether the FBI did indeed try to retaliate against Wright.

At the same time, Daley, thanks to a vote on City Council, has now taken control of the Office of Professional Standards--in other words, giving his notoriously corrupt administration oversight of police.

Weis and Daley can be expected to carry out damage control, including perhaps tossing a few corrupt or violent cops overboard. But there's little reason to believe that the CPD will curb its violent and racist behavior--unless and until protest challenges it.

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