To anyone who has been paying attention to policing in Chicago, it came as no surprise when the U.S. Department of Justice announced on January 13 that it had found the Chicago Police Department engages in a “pattern or practice” of unconstitutional use of excessive force. The 161-page DOJ report contains much information that the public, especially Chicago’s black and Latino community, has long known. The Justice Department found that CPD’s accountability system is broken, that officers accused of misconduct are rarely disciplined, officer training is woefully inadequate, and the use of excessive force disproportionately affects people of color in the poorest, highest-crime neighborhoods.
The history of police violence in Chicago extends far beyond the fatal shooting of Laquan McDonald, which catalyzed the investigation. It includes the killing of Fred Hampton, the crackdown on protesters during the 1968 Democratic National Convention, the decades of torture by disgraced former police commander Jon Burge and his “Midnight Crew,” and abuse at the hands of the Special Operations Section. Civil rights groups, community organizations, attorneys and individuals have complained for decades about CPD’s policies and tactics. The DOJ found many of the same broken policies previously uncovered, by the mayor’s task force on police accountability and other groups, have continued unchecked.
Regarding the steps the city has taken in the past year to reform the department, the DOJ was skeptical at best and seemed to be taking a “wait and see” approach. The DOJ acknowledged that the success of most of the planned reforms will depend on resources and the dedication of the mayor, CPD command staff, and supervisors to follow through.
Whether or not the Trump administration follows through on the DOJ’s promise to pursue a consent decree, the report is certain to be a blueprint for reform efforts moving forward and a benchmark against which the city is evaluated by civil rights groups, the media, and the community.
Below, the Chicago Reporter has published an annotated copy of the full DOJ report. We have tried to highlight findings that are new and those which have long been known, to add useful context and information, and to link to previous reporting by the Reporter and others that is connected to the issues covered in the report. We hope this will be a useful resource for those who wish to hold the city accountable to the findings and recommendations of the Justice Department.
Do you have a question, comment, or observation that you would like us to add to our annotations? Have you had a personal experience with something mentioned in the DOJ report? Share your story with Jonah at firstname.lastname@example.org.