Toppling Chicago’s top cop

December 3, 2015

As Chicago activists look ahead after McCarthy's downfall, we need to remember that the power of protest pushed the city machine onto the defensive, writes Eric Kerl.

CHICAGO MAYOR Rahm Emanuel's iron grip on city politics feels more like a wet dishrag these days.

Mass protests over the police execution of Laquan McDonald--videotaped for all the world to see--forced Emanuel's handpicked police chief Garry McCarthy out of office on December 1. Now Emanuel is fending off attacks on his administration from all corners, while Chicagoans take bets on who will fall next.

McCarthy's resignation comes after thousands of people shut down Chicago's posh Magnificent Mile shopping district on the biggest shopping day of the year, Black Friday, costing retailers nearly half of their expected revenues. Protesters demanded the resignations of some of the city's most powerful people for covering up the racist police murder of another Black teenager.

Dash-cam video of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald's murder by Chicago cop Jason Van Dyke--who fired 16 shots at the teenager who was walking away from police, carrying just a knife--has sparked outrage and protests across the city.

Thousands of Chicagoans march through the main shopping district on Black Friday
Thousands of Chicagoans march through the main shopping district on Black Friday

While Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez kept the videos from the public for over a year, Van Dyke continued to get paid while on desk duty. Now, he is the first Chicago cop to be charged with first-degree murder in nearly 35 years. And many in the city want Alvarez, Emanuel and others out of a job for their roles in the cover-up.

THE BLACK Friday protest followed several nights of protest after a Freedom of Information Act ruling forced the city to release the video of Laquan's execution. As soon as the first video was released, the Black Youth Project 100 (BYP100) organized a protest march that was attacked by police.

Four leading organizers were targeted and arrested, including poet and educator Malcolm London, who was charged with felony assault of a police officer. A "Free Malcolm London" campaign erupted on social media, and within a dozen hours, a judge had dismissed the charges against him.

The following night, hundreds responded to a call from BYP100, Black Lives Matter and Assata's Daughters for a downtown Chicago protest march. This march was substantially larger than the previous night's and was able to shut down several important intersections.

While these early protests were an important immediate response to the murder of McDonald, they mobilized mainly a core of the city's activists. The Black Friday "Unity March and Rally in Memory of Laquan McDonald," however, brought out many hundreds more people.

Initiated by Father Michael Pfleger of St. Sabina church on Chicago's South Side, the action also got the support of Rev. Jesse Jackson's Rainbow PUSH coalition and other church leaders, in addition to Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) president Karen Lewis, who called on CTU members to join the demonstration and "express their outrage and dignity." Turnout far surpassed the city's recent protests in the movement for Black lives.

Although Pfleger ultimately didn't attend Friday's rally, his call undoubtedly mobilized hundreds of people to come to their first Black Lives Matter protest. Jesse Jackson, who has been absent from the struggles in the streets against police violence, was ultimately unable to control the speakers' stage and was cut off almost immediately.

Despite confusion at the front, the rally was a tremendous outpouring of anger and provided a real opportunity to broaden the struggle against police terror and the priorities of the Emanuel administration. Protests have continued daily as activists strategize about the next steps forward to widen the cracks in the crumbling façade of Rahm's administration and his police force.

MCCARTHY'S REMOVAL is only the latest development in the unraveling of Rahm's City Hall, as calls for federal investigations flood in from activists and even Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan. The "Chicago way" of political corruption and cover-ups are understood by people all over the city to include the cops as well.

The recent protests come on the heels of Garry McCarthy's call for the firing of Dante Servin--the off-duty cop who killed 22-year-old Rekia Boyd in 2012--after years of organizing and a recommendation from the city's discredited Independent Police Review Authority.

After a bungled prosecution led by Alvarez, Servin was acquitted of manslaughter charges in April. But activists refused to drop the case and continued to protest outside of police board hearings. Meanwhile, police Commander Glenn Evans, who McCarthy calls his "best guy," is facing charges of aggravated battery and official misconduct for shoving his gun down a young man's throat.

The Chicago Police Department's Homan Square "black site" torture facility continues to haunt Emanuel and his administration. Revelations of illegal spying on activists continue to make headlines. Independent Police Review Authority Supervisor Lorenzo Davis was fired from his position after he found that several civilian shootings by police were unjustified.

And when Charles "GI Joe" Gliniewicz, a cop in the Chicago suburb of Fox Lake, staged his own death to cover up years of embezzling from a youth program, the department unraveled in a series of internal investigations, resignations and scandal.

Chicago ranks at the top of the list for political corruption, according to a recent University of Illinois at Chicago report. In the last four decades, more than 30 aldermen have gone to jail. Former Alderwoman Sandi Jackson just started a one-year prison sentence for political corruption that forced her husband, former Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., out of his congressional seat. A federal grand jury investigation is still underway for several City Council members.

All this on top of the indictment of Emanuel's handpicked CEO for Chicago Public Schools, Barbara Byrd-Bennett, who got caught for her role in a $23 million no-bid contract scheme in return for kickbacks. And the list goes on.

As the city's political class scrambles to cover its collective ass and pass the blame, it increasingly looks like a circular firing squad.

WITH A strike vote by the Chicago Teachers Union looming for December 9, activists have a real opportunity to build a united front against corrupt politicians and the crooked police department that protects them.

The CTU's strike three years ago was a tremendously popular fightback against the city's upside-down priorities. It mobilized tens of thousands of teachers and their supporters in the streets for the "schools that our children deserve." This time around, the discredited Emanuel administration will have an even more difficult time legitimizing its attacks on teachers, students and communities.

While Father Pfleger and Jesse Jackson are certainly not radicals--Pfleger endorsed Emanuel in the last election--the Black Friday protests showed what is possible with a larger coalition of people in the streets. Activists need to mobilize many more thousands of people to keep the momentum going.

Building alliances will be key in the coming weeks and months. CTU President Karen Lewis' call for supporting the march was incredibly important, and activists need to capitalize on the mobilizing power and solidarity of CTU. The issue of racist cops can't be ignored, whether in our neighborhoods or in our schools.

Socialists and radicals have an important role to play. The disarray of Rahm's administration, combined with the decrepitude of the liberal establishment, means a competition for leadership and the direction of our movement. The involvement of organizations like BYP100 and the International Socialist Organization in the protests was key and gave them a more radical tone that reflected the mood of people in the streets.

We're glad McCarthy is out. But we also want Alvarez gone. And Rahm. And the FOP's sweetheart contracts with the city. And the war on public schools. And the resistance to paying workers a living wage throughout the city.

All these fights are connected. Our movement needs to be big enough, strong enough, and united enough to press forward.

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