Commentary: McCarthy’s Firing Doesn’t Even Begin To Fix Chicago’s Problems

The views expressed on this page are those of the author, not CBS Local Chicago or our affiliated television and radio stations.

Excuse my cynicism, but I don’t think ex-Supt. McCarthy’s replacement, no matter how fresh their eyes are, will be any better at fixing Chicago than their predecessor.

McCarthy — and Emanuel, Anita Alvarez and, heck, the entire City Council — aren’t the root causes of Chicago’s problems with violence. They’re accomplices, complicit in a system that was constructed long before they became public officials.

Sadly, cases like Laquan McDonald’s death and the perplexing lack of justice surrounding them aren’t conspiracies or cover-ups, per se… they’re business as usual for Chicago. The same goes for Chicago’s high number of homicides, where we’ve learned to normalize the deaths of teenagers by turning their bodies into numbers and statistics.

The truth is, change won’t come from the Chicago Police Department or the Mayor’s Office.

Not while they continue to play the same political games that got us here. Change will come from Chicago’s citizens, and the Mayor and future Police Superintendent will be lucky if they’re allowed to help.

The Independent Police Review Authority is proof of this. Take a look at the Chicago cops who’ve accrued the most complaints over the past few years and the ineffectiveness of the IPRA becomes abundantly clear.

Among high-complaint officers, you’ll find:

  • Ex-cops who now reside in prison
  • Currently-employed officers tied to civil lawsuits that have cost the city millions
  • An officer who was found to have beaten his wife in 2008, but wasn’t disciplined until 2015 (he received a 30-day suspension)
  • A commander going on trial for aggravated battery in a week

 
These officers had red flags blowing dangerously in the Chicago wind, signaling that something might be a bit off. Yet much of their behavior went mostly unpunished, ruining the reputation of CPD’s many good officers in the process.

Mayor Emanuel and ex-Supt. McCarthy are well aware that the IPRA is unable to effectively investigate complaints and that CPD is unable to effectively discipline officers. They don’t need a task force to prove it.

They just couldn’t do anything about it. Not while abiding by the well-established rules of Chicago politics.

McCarthy did what he could without crossing the union or angering the officers under him.

He’d criticize the Police Board for dishing out lackluster punishments, while praising them on the few occasions when they adequately disciplined officers. He instituted more Department training in the hopes he could curb police abuse, but a lack of resources doomed those efforts from their inception.

He had successes, to be sure. Numbers I could regurgitate here. But his legacy will always be the day he fell on Mayor Emanuel’s sword.

He was doomed from the moment he took the job. His successor is, too.

The Department can’t solve its own abuse problems.

The Superintendent, the Mayor and the IPRA truly do have their hands tied by decades of rules and regulations built to protect cops over Chicago’s citizens. The city’s deal with Chicago’s Fraternal Order of Police scratches the surface of CPD’s lack of accountability.

These rules aren’t necessarily representative of how “evil” the union is — their sole purpose is to represent the interests of cops, not citizens. These contracts are representative of the Mayors who’ve negotiated them and the city council aldermen who’ve approved them. It was their responsibility to protect the general public’s interests, and instead, they bargained away our rights.

By the time Mayor Emanuel came into office, the ink had long been dry. The rules protecting cops from proper misconduct investigations – within their contracts, the city’s laws and the Department’s unofficial code of silence – are now part of the city’s foundation. And unless the Mayor is willing to start tearing that system down brick by brick, nothing will change.

It’s activists who have made the most progress combating police abuse. The efforts of activist journalist Jamie Kalven and civil rights lawyer Craig Futterman, who fought to obtain police complaint data for a decade, has given us the clearest vision of police abuse we’ve ever had – displayed beautifully by the Invisible Institute. The efforts of protesters — many from organizations like Black Youth Project 100 and We Charge Genocide — causing downtown businesses to lose massive amounts of money on Black Friday are the reason McCarthy was finally fired. They’re the reason Emanuel and Alvarez are shaking in their boots. And don’t forget, these organizations aren’t new, some have been fighting police abuse for years.

Right now, the city and the union are fighting over more police complaint data dating back to 1967 in the appellate court. If the city wins and the data is released, it won’t be the Mayor’s Office who deserves the credit for bringing this information to light. The credit goes to the activists who’ve been fighting for it for years. The credit goes to the protesters who haven’t settled for voicing their complaints on Facebook, but took to the streets to demand justice.

The Police Department can’t solve the city’s crime problems.

The violence plaguing Chicago’s impoverished neighborhoods won’t be solved by the city’s most popular solution: more cops working overtime.

The city needs to divert resources to its other violence-reducing tactics. Yes, Chicago has other tactics. University of Chicago studies have proven their worth, yet we continue to only throw scraps at these programs.

When the city has provided jobs and social services to the neighborhoods facing the most violence, positive results have followed. One Summer Plus, which offers jobs and counseling to teens in neighborhoods where unemployment is double the national average, has helped reduce violent crime arrests in participating teens by 43 percent.

The Becoming A Man program, which offers therapy that teaches teens decision-making skills, has reduced violent crime arrests for participants by 44 percent.

Imagine investing heavily into programs like this, while also funneling more money for economic development into Chicago’s high-crime neighborhoods (seems like the ideal use of TIF funds to me). Imagine the city, instead of making economic decisions for neighborhoods, consulting the people in those neighborhoods on how to best build their economic infrastructure. Many organizations, like the Resident Association of Greater Englewood and Austin Coming Together, would jump at the chance to have a more substantial say in the economic development of their neighborhoods.

The city has often spouted support for the very ideas I’m mentioning here, but if the Mayor’s Office really wants to see significant change, city hall needs to put its money where its mouth is. If Mayor Emanuel wants to combat Chicago’s violence, he’ll devote substantially more money to the successful programs and organizations already doing good work in Chicago.

So no, change won’t come from Chicago’s politicians. If Mayor Emanuel truly wants progress, he’ll stop standing in the way of the citizens trying to fix the city they love.

Mason Johnson is a Web Content Producer for CBS Chicago. You can find him on Twitter.

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