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Rahm AWOL on Chicago Police Reform

Chicago is a city on edge. Last weekend, 20 people were shot over 13 hours. According to the Chicago Tribune, 1,051 have been shot this year alone, through April 25. One hundred seventy-eight have been killed, more than one each day. And while shootings take place across the city, they are concentrated in neighborhoods scarred by deep poverty.

At the same time, relations between these most endangered communities and the Chicago Police Department have been fractured. As Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s own Police Accountability Task Force reported, “CPD’s own data gives validity to the widely held belief the police have no regard for the sanctity of life when it comes to people of color.” It concluded, “The community’s lack of trust in the CPD is justified.” The task force detailed over 100 recommendations for fundamental reform.

These realities cannot be ignored. Without fundamental reform, the CPD will continue to brutalize too many of the people it is pledged to defend. And without a serious initiative to deal with impoverished communities, the CPD will remain in an impossible position, that of an occupying force trying to keep the peace in communities of deepening misery.

The mayor just released what he calls his “down payment” on the reforms in a five-page memo. It claims to adopt one-third of the task force recommendations. But this is more spin than substance. The mayor’s office takes credit for reforms that it claims to be “in process of designing and developing” or that it has begun to review. It offers tiny steps when giant strides are needed.

Among other measures, the task force called for basic structural reforms. First, it recommended the creation of a “dedicated inspector general for public safety,” located in the city inspector general’s office, which would “independently audit and monitor CPD and the police oversight system, including for patterns of racial bias.”

It further called for abolishing the Independent Police Review Authority, which it deemed neither independent nor effective. It called instead for a “fully transparent and accountable Civilian Police Investigative Agency” whose head would be selected by a community board, not the mayor.

Finally, it advocated rewriting the city’s contracts with police unions. Collective bargaining agreements, the task force concluded, “create unnecessary barriers to identifying and addressing police misconduct” and “have essentially turned the code of silence into official policy.”

Emanuel has addressed none of these reforms. Nor has he provided any hint of a bold effort to address Chicago’s distress. He’s suggested he may wait for the conclusion of the Department of Justice review that may take a year or more. This appears to be a strategy of delay, waiting for attention to wane. But Chicago’s distress will get worse, not better.

Perhaps the City Council will step up to provide the leadership needed. Two ordinances have been introduced, with dozens of cosponsors, that would create an independent police auditor with civilian oversight along the lines suggested by the task force.

Emanuel’s response to the report doesn’t approach what is needed. He should not only be championing the task force recommendations; he also should be leading an effort at the national, state and local level for a major initiative on deeply impoverished neighborhoods in Chicago and other major cities.

Youth unemployment is at destructive levels. Schools are underfunded and undersupplied. Good jobs are scarce; guns and drugs are readily available. The police need reform. But even a reformed department will have trouble keeping the peace and providing security in neighborhoods deprived of hope. It is time for bold leadership, not foot-dragging and delay. The mayor has used his national profile to lure investment in Chicago’s business districts. Now he should use that energy and visibility to address Chicago’s neglected neighborhoods. That begins with real reform of the police, but it does not end there.

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Jesse Jackson is the founder of Rainbow/PUSH.

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