A young black man, Laquan McDonald, was killed by a white cop in Chicago. What follows is the system and so: Did the system work?
As a lawyer (wonderful expression, btw), a part of me must believe in “the system.” I’ll acknowledge faults and flaws, here and there, but my life is actually dedicated to believing that through “the system” of jurisprudence in place, justice can eventually be found.
I’m also a white male, so I’m sure that helps.
The current zeitgeist of the nation is one focused on police brutality vis a vis minorities, in particular black people. Ferguson seemed the beginning, then there were instances in New York and Baltimore. I’m sure there were more but I try to avoid the news as it sucks. As a rule, it’s good to bring attention to any action by the state where the state abuses its power. As the driver of “the system” the state has to be given extra scrutiny.
(By contrast, some corporation might discriminate against black people but it can’t actually arrest and legally kill them.)
This brings me to Chicago. Chicago is not like your city. Chicago is corrupt on a level that is staggering. Oh, sure, all government is corrupt and such and yada yada yada. Words spoken by people who haven’t experienced it.
For you, I give the following quote from the current Cook County Clerk, Dorothy Brown. Her job is pointless. In theory, she makes sure that courthouses run smoothly but … ha. She was up for reelection in 2015. The only opposition for an elected position in Chicago is in the Democratic primaries – a successful Chicago Republican politician is like seeing Bigfoot having sex in the UFO he stole from Area 51. So, Ms. Brown recently lost the Democratic Party’s nomination for a number of reasons (FBI investigations, things like that). This was her public response:
“I would say the endorsement of me is like a contract, because when I paid that $25,000 and the party actually cashed that check, that created a contract,” Brown said while speaking to committeemen. “Robert’s Rules says you cannot rescind a contract. That’s one motion you cannot rescind.”
Let that sink in for a second. She publicly told everyone that she paid $25,000.00 and therefore she gets the nomination. She’s so far in the corrupt bubble of Chicago that there isn’t the slightest realization that what she said is maybe sorta kinda not kosher.
(As an aside: Robert’s Rules govern the running of a meeting – they have nothing to do with contract law. Good to know that she runs courthouses…)
That’s the level of systemic corruption that exists in Chicago. That’s the system of Chicago (a deliberately created and cultivated system, mind you). So, did this system, somehow, work?
On a shocking number of levels, yes. There was infamous video of the shooting, 16 shots in all. Yes, the kid had a knife and there are reports he was on PCP, which I didn’t know still existed. But whatever degree of reasonable force an officer is permitted to use in that situation was allegedly violated as the police officer has been charged with murder.
Privately, the family received a settlement in the range of $5million dollars. That’s a damn good settlement figure for the wrongful death of someone who had yet to demonstrate earning potential, had no dependents, was wielding a weapon, was high on PCP, and who wasn’t likely to be a sympathetic figure during trial. It also shows just how clearly wrong the city believed the cop’s actions as they tend not to settle for amounts that big unless it’s a clear loser of a case.
(Another aside, and one that had me frothing mad, but which illustrates Chicago at its finest. After the settlement was announced, members of the local chapter of the NAACP said that the family should have consulted with their local alderman before reaching a settlement: because of course the alderman need to have their hands involved in any decision.)
So far, the system isn’t half bad. A kid was killed, which is horrible, but the world is horrible and you’ll never completely eliminate incidents like this. The white cop was arrested and charged with murder. The kid’s family received a huge monetary award. And just recently, the head of the police was fired. If it was a black cop shooting a white kid in the suburbs, this is pretty much the exact best case result that would be had.
But this is Chicago, so of course there’s still weird shit. The full investigation took a year+. That’s longer than most normal murder charges but given that it was an officer involved killing, it’s going to typically take longer, so maybe give them the benefit of the doubt. Further, the city was in settlement talks with the family, so there’s a legitimate reason to hold off on formal murder charges until that was decided.
There are also illegitimate reasons, chief: Mayor Rahm Emanuel. He’s a piece of shit. Pure garbage. He was facing a tougher than anticipated primary in 2015, and the release of the video prior to his election win would’ve harmed his chances. No proof, of course, that this was the reason for the delay, but … yes, it is. Never give anyone in this city the benefit of any doubt, ever.
Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez could’ve charged the officer earlier, but waited. Was it due diligence? Was it at the request of Emanuel? Was she feeling pressure from the police union? Was she simply not going to charge the officer until she realized she had no choice? If it’s the last, then that’s scary as shit. One of the things that bothered me about the Baltimore Affair was the implication that a mob of people had caused so much “civil unrest” in the streets that it seemed like a criminal complaint was lodged in response. The day we start letting large angry mobs of people – even those who may be justified in their anger – influence that decisions of the state to bring criminal charges is the day we’re all fucked. Good bye to democracy, hello to, “LOUDEST GUY WINS!”
Back to Rahm Emanuel. Again, he’s garbage. And he illustrates that, no matter what you ever hear, this isn’t a partisan issue. The man was the former Chief of Staff to President Obama. If there was a mayor you’d expect to be a governing liberal, it’s Emanuel. But he’s more than that, he’s a political creature. He is famous for saying to never let a crisis go to waste. Nothing he does is anything but a political calculation designed to get him cast in the best light.
There is one area of the national narrative that I do have an issue with: the broad strokes painting all cops as monolithic. St. Louis, Chicago, New York, Baltimore – not exactly drawing from the same backgrounds. A little southern, a little Midwest, a little Northeast, a little half-weirdo-southern-whatever-the-fuck-Maryland is. It’s possible that all cops everywhere are racists who shoot first and cover-up second, but my rational mind says that’s just not the case. And I don’t even like cops. Like doctors, I think they’re all far too quick to cover each other’s asses at the expense of the truth. But I can’t view the actions of a cop in Missouri and a cop in New York and pretend they’re part of the same “culture” anymore than I could believe the same about the black men killed in each circumstance.
Return to Chicago. $5million, a murder charge, and the firing of the head of the cops. If this were South Dakota I wouldn’t bat an eye – that’s the at the system working and the right thing having been done. But Chicago? Fuck no. Emanuel is still there. Dorothy Brown is still running around telling people she bought her place on the ticket and that’s only fair. Aldermen are still randomly expected to be involved in a settlement for which they’d have ZERO experience as they’re not attorneys and if they are lawyers aren’t intimately involved in the case like the family’s attorneys. (No matter what, you can always trust that a lawyer will try to get as much money as possible for a client in a situation like this, if for no other reason than they themselves then make more money.)
As for a solution, because any asshole can bitch? I have no idea. Every time cries go up for reform, I scratch my head. It’s already illegal to shoot people without justification. It’s already illegal to discriminate based on race. The laws are on the books. The system itself is ready to work: it’s the actors inside that are failing.
Change will result from elections. But what’s the point, at least here? Brown is the head clerk – a job that really just means she hands out jobs to incompetents (you find me a lawyer who likes the Cook County clerk set up and I’ll show you a liar). The aldermen, who had nothing to do with anything, are upset they weren’t consulted. To the extent they gave a shit what happened to this poor kid, their public anger is that no one gave them a chance for a headline.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel has said he won’t seek reelection – four years later – but we all know he’ll run for something else. But, so what? The next guy just slides in, especially in Chicago. It’ll be Brown. Or some alderman. For justice to exist, the system must work. It won’t work every time because anything run by people will fail here and there. But more than just working, for justice to exists, the people must expect the system to work. When that occurs, society can move forward, people can live free.
So, did it work this time? In the micro, yes. Again: money, murder charges, head of the cops fired. In the macro? It never even had a chance. And barring a monumental overhaul of those in power here, it never will.
Welcome to Chicago: where everything can go by the books and yet the end result is we all still feel dirty. And we should.