Chicago’s Racial Justice Movement Can’t Stop at the Resignation of Police Chief Garry McCarthy

McCarthy’s resignation should be seen as the beginning, not the end.

Charles Brown

(niXerKG / Flickr)

Mayor Rahm Emanuel has shown us a few things about himself by asking for Garry McCarthy’s resignation.

We can’t forget Laquan. We can’t forget the lies. We are not stopping at McCarthy. Emanuel and Alvarez, too, must go.

First, that he is not invincible to public pressure. In the wake of peaceful protests led by Black youth and thousands of others calling for McCarthy’s termination, he clearly had to respond to our demands. Secondly, and more in line with the mayor’s history, he showed us that he will do anything to stay in office. He thinks we will fall silent by offering us a piecemeal attempt to quell the uprising against corruption and the perpetual injustices committed by those in City Hall and within the police department.

But McCarthy’s resignation does not put an endnote on this movement.

I retired from the Chicago Police Department after 23 years of service. I saw the best and worst of this city, but I took my oath to protect my neighbors seriously. I went into public service to protect people. When I was an officer, we were members of the community, and knew what it was like to live in the same conditions as the people we were serving. Much has changed since those days. We don’t know why Jason Van Dyke started his career, but he didn’t have peace or protection on his mind last October. He arrived on the scene, acted impulsively, and brought additional shame to the already tarnished Chicago Police Department.

Justice must be won for Laquan McDonald and those murdered before him. The whole system must be taken to task in order to prevent more murders of youth. Justice requires that the officers who helped Van Dyke’s cover-up be held accountable. Justice includes the resignations of Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez and Mayor Rahm Emanuel himself for their complicity in covering up the murder of a 17-year-old. We cannot have leaders hiding the truth for their own protection. Everyone who has obstructed justice through their inaction, lies or silence must go.

McCarthy’s tenure in Chicago failed because he didn’t know who makes up the heart of Chicago. He thought he only answered to the Mayor, not to the people he was charged to protect and serve. McCarthy had the opportunity to change the culture of the police department, but instead his focus was to uphold the code of silence” that has become standard practice for those in uniform. All officers swear an oath to be held to a high standard of integrity, but that oath is meaningless if there are no consequences for breaking the oath — especially as it relates to the complaints from the very people we as officers are supposed to protect.

Silence in the face of injustice only perpetuates further injustice. Last year, silence allowed officers free reign to delete 89 minutes of video footage from the Burger King that Laquan McDonald took some of his final steps. Silence condoned officers signing false statements to help a murderer avoid the consequences. Alvarez silenced justice when she allowed over a year to pass without pursuing charges against Van Dyke. The mayor and the city council never spoke up against the silence either, as they signed off on a $5 million dollar settlement to the family despite no lawsuit being filed. When the officials who are entrusted with the public’s safety use silence to cover up their misdeeds and the misdeeds of others, silence is a crime and an egregious breach of trust.

The mayor wants us to forget all that. Emanuel spent six days without a public event and without speaking to the press, hoping we wouldn’t notice. In those six days, he and his staff mustered a symbolic firing and the creation of a toothless task force to examine CPD’s current systems for accountability, again, hoping to placate the public.

But we see through the mayor’s smoke and mirrors. This task force is not comprised of a single member of the community most affected by police brutality — or any non-clouted community member at all. Sergio Acosta is a partner at a law firm which has contributed to the campaign coffers of the mayor. Joseph Ferguson serves as Inspector General of the city. Hiram Grau once served as a deputy for McCarthy and headed up the State Police. Lori Lightfoot is already President of the Chicago Police Board.

The mayor likes to appoint boards he can control — and we all know how good that is working out for Chicago Public Schools’ unelected school board and its relationship to students and parents. This taskforce is a farce, a tokenized attempt to keep power in the hands of the mayor instead of in the hands of the people.

The public needs real changes and there are multiple demands from community organizations that should be met. First, a fully independent civilian review board with proper powers to investigate and fire officers for misconduct, and make all complaints against officers public record. Second, reinvest in historically black neighborhoods that have systematically been targeted by outsourcing of jobs, closing of schools, and ignored by city departments. It’s a problem when nearly half of Chicago’s budget goes to the police who continue to harm our communities and are unaccountable for their actions, while schools, healthcare and social services and other desperately needed programs go underfunded. Third, fire Officer Dante Servin for the murder of Rekia Boyd.

A win for the public good would be a devastating defeat for a mayor like Rahm Emanuel who is determined to maintain the status quo. Emanuel, Alvarez, McCarthy (and, in the interim, John Escalante) do not want their stories on the 10:00 PM news. But it’s our job to keep up the pressure. If we can’t trust them, we don’t need them making decisions for our city. McCarthy’s departure is only the tip of the iceberg; as rumors of more videos and audio recordings begin to surface, it’s clear this isn’t over.

We can’t forget Laquan. We can’t forget the lies. We are not stopping at McCarthy. Emanuel and Alvarez, too, must go.

Charles Brown is a former Chicago Police Department officer and Treasurer of Action Now.
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