Only protest will hold the police accountable

September 15, 2014

Chicago police Commander Glenn Evans has dozens of complaints against him for brutality--so why is he finally facing criminal charges now? Eric Kerl explains.

ONE OF Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy's most trusted commanders is facing felony charges and could soon be sitting in a jail cell.

At the end of August, Chicago police Commander Glenn Evans was charged with official misconduct and aggravated battery on a young African American man. According to the allegations, Evans chased Rickey Williams, who he suspected of possessing a handgun, into a building, where he shoved the barrel of his gun "deep down" Rickey Williams' throat, while holding a Taser to his groin and threatening to kill him, unless Williams told him where the handgun was. No weapon was ever recovered, and the charges against Williams were eventually dropped.

The day after the incident, Williams filed a complaint with the city's Independent Police Review Authority (IPRA). After months of delays in its investigation, the IPRA finally recommended in April that Evans be stripped of his police powers after DNA on Evans' weapon conclusively matched Williams.

Instead, McCarthy ignored the IPRA's recommendation, praised Evans' policing style and promoted the then-lieutenant to commander of the West Side's 11th District, where the city's homicide rate is the highest. Although Evans had a long history of misconduct and excessive force complaints, Mayor Rahm Emanuel defended the move, saying, "Commander Evans at that point was a commander who did a good job in the 3rd District [and] was moved to the 11th."

Chicago police commander Glenn Evans
Chicago police commander Glenn Evans

Rickey Williams has now followed up with a lawsuit against Glenn Evans and--importantly--the city of Chicago. "What happened to my son should never happen to any human being," said Jamie Eskridge, Williams' mother. "This is something that the Chicago Police Department should never get away with, or any police department across America."

The question is: Why has Evans--so staunchly defended by higher-ups from the start--suddenly been charged with misconduct and relieved of duty? The answer has everything to do with growing awareness of and disgust at police brutality in communities across the country.

ACCORDING TO public records, Evan had 14 official complaints filed against him since 2001 and was named as a defendant in as many as 10 lawsuits--three of which resulted in monetary settlements over excessive force or other misconduct. As the Chicago public radio station WBEZ reported, Evans amassed at least 45 excessive-force complaints between 1988 and 2008--the highest number of any cop in the city.

In a 2009 incident, Evans allegedly attacked a city water department worker who delivered a cutoff notice to Evans' home because of unpaid bills. After brutalizing him, Evans reportedly summoned three other cops and had the worker arrested. After he was acquitted of a battery charge, the worker won $99,000 in damages from the city.

In another incident, the city paid out $71,000 in a 2013 settlement for a case in which Evans injured a baby seated at in a car seat at a restaurant--and then proceeded to knock the child's father to the ground and arrest him. All charges against the child's father were later dismissed.

But in no case has Evans or the city ever admitted any wrongdoing. This recent charge marks the first disciplinary action ever taken against him.

Evans has now been stripped of his police powers. Prosecutors demanded that Evans surrender his gun, but Judge Laura Sullivan declined the request. Sullivan allowed Evans to be released on his own recognizance, without posting any bail.

After his court hearing, Cook County sheriff's deputies, with nearly a dozen other cops in the courtroom, ushered Evans out a back door to avoid the media. Evans has been reassigned to desk duty at police headquarters while an investigation continues, but he faces up to five years in prison if he is convicted. He is due back in court on September 18.

Contrast the treatment Evans in court with that of Natasha Haul. After her son Desean Pittman was murdered by Chicago police, she was arrested for "mob action" during a protest and is still being held for the outrageous bail of $75,000.

CHICAGO HAS a long history of police brutality that escapes punishment.

Notorious former Commander Jon Burge and the cops under his command tortured as many as 200 suspects--mostly Black men--with beatings and electroshock during the 1970s and '80s. The police department's Office of Professional Services dragged its feet on the investigation until the statute of limitations ran out, so Burge and his men were never even arrested on charges of torturing scores of people who ended up in prison because of coerced confessions. Ultimately, Burge went to prison for four and a half years for perjury in connection with the torture scandal, but he has kept his police pension.

Following a number of high-profile police corruption scandals and video recordings of police brutality--including horrifying footage of a woman bartender brutally assaulted in 2007 by a drunk off-duty cop who was refused more alcohol--the City Council replaced the OPS with the new Independent Police Review Authority.

Police critics argued that the OPS put the police department in charge of investigating itself. But the IPRA is little different. The IPRA's chief administrator is handpicked by the mayor, who relies on his ties with the Chicago Police Department for political support and votes. Rahm Emanuel's newest IPRA chief administrator is Scott Ando, a former cop, with a long history in the Drug Enforcement Agency, where he worked for nearly 30 years.

In practice, the IPRA's record of going after brutal cops isn't much better than the OPS. According to the People's Law Office, only 1 percent of the thousands of complaints filed with the IPRA are substantiated and result in "any modicum of discipline."

And so the injustices and abuse continue. The IPRA is still "investigating" the police murder of Roshad McIntosh on the city's West Side in late August. Meanwhile, the killer cop's name has still not been released to the public, and residents report that the police have subjected witnesses to the shooting to harassment and intimidation.

Evans, however, was actually charged with a crime. If the city's top cop praised Evans as one of the Chicago's best officers, and other cops are getting away with murder--literally--then why is State's Attorney Anita Alvarez pursuing the case against Evans?

The answer has everything to do with the rebellion against police terror in Ferguson, Mo. Glenn Evans assaulted Rickey Williams over a year ago. The IPRA made its recommendations nearly six months ago. But it wasn't until the uprising in Ferguson that the State's Attorney office moved on the prosecution.

The people of Ferguson have shown that the only way to hold killer cops accountable is by taking to the streets--and that's something that Alvarez and other Chicago officials want to avoid.

Police brutality isn't an issue of racist ideas in the heads of a few individual "bad apples." In a system that criminalizes African Americans, even Black cops are serving an entrenched system of savage inequality and the racist criminal justice system--and the only way to hold them accountable is through pressure on the streets.

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