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Chicago police: a history of encouraging violence

A video captured and released by WBEZ may present evidence of what’s long been considered a common practice by Chicago police – picking kids up, taking them to a dangerous neighborhood, and dropping them off to fend for themselves.

The incident captured in the video is not an isolated event.  On 848 today, WBEZ’s Samuel Vega and Robert Wildeboer said that in less than an hour of talking with Humboldt Park residents, they came up with two individuals with stories of being picked up by police – for no reason, because of how they look, presumably – and dropped off in dangerous territory.

The practice has a long pedigree, and at least once before it  came to widespread attention — more than 20 years ago.  Here’s part of an old article, written by Barbara Ferry and myself and published in the (U.S. weekly) Guardian on November 8, 1989 under the headline “Racism, police brutality escalate in Daley’s Chicago”:

Calvin McLin and Joseph Weaver, both 14 years old, both short and slight and wearing suits and ties, led a march of 1500 African Americans through Bridgeport, the neighborhood of Mayor Richard Daley, on October 21.  At one corner the marchers, who had been chanting and singing civil rights anthems, waited silently as a group of ministers knelt and prayed.

It was the corner where, two months earlier, two Chicago police officers had dropped the boys off into the hands of a white gang, which chased them down and beat McLin unconscious….

The abduction and abandonment of Weaver and McLin was one of a series of recent incidents that have brought the issue of police brutality to the fore here.  Following another such incident – the September 10 police killing of an unarmed black man [Leonard Bannister] – the City Council’s police and fire committee held four days of hearings.  The hearings brought to light numerous cases of racism and brutality by police and highlighted the police department’s failure to discipline officers accused of such abuse.

Appearing before the committee, Daley stated his opposition to police brutality but insisted it was a minor problem and not connected to race.

McLin and Weaver testified on the first day of hearings that they were picked up by two white police officers for curfew violations as they left a White Sox game.  They were struck by one of the officers as they were let out in Bridgeport, an area with a long history of racist attacks on blacks.  A gang of white youths chased them, and when McLin fell they beat him unconscious. The two officers and several young white residents have been indicted in the case.

Here, from an old file, is what Mary Powers of Citizens Alert testified to at the 1989 City Council hearing:

Although dumping suspected gang members in another gang’s turf has been a Chicago police tactic for many years, this recent incident has as its victim two innocent boys on their way home from a White Sox game.

In April 1991 two police officers, James Serio and Kathleen Moore, went on trial in the McLin-Weaver case.  They claimed they’d been at dinner and at the district station at the time of the incident; the prosecution said they were the only male-female team assigned to a cage car in the district that night.

The two victims identified Moore, who they said struck McLin before releasing the two in front a group of hostile white youths; she was also identified by two women who witnessed the incident.  None could identify the driver of the squad car.

McLin testified he heard the driver tell his partner, “We`ll take them over to 45th (Street) because it`s kind of rough over there.“

The two officers were acquitted in a bench trial; Judge Ralph Reyna rejected the identifications by the victims and witnesses as unconvincing.

The Task Force to Confront Police Violence noted the “spiritless prosecution” of Serio and Moore, saying the police department “once against evaded responsibility for the crimes of ethnic intimidation and police brutality” and adding, “There is little likelihood that the Chicago Police crimefighters in the 9th District will ever take the initiative to solve this crime.”

In 1992 the Police Board fired Serio and Moore.  The People’s Law Office filed a civil lawsuit on behalf of McLin and Weaver, charging a departmental failure to control abusive practices, which the city settled for a significant sum.

It does not seem like anything was done to end the practice, however.

It’s not clear from the video recovered by WBEZ whether any crimes have been committed by police in this instance, though what the cops are doing here is clearly inappropriate (the police department called it “unbecoming conduct” in a statement to WBEZ).  It should be easy to identify the officers and the victim in this case, and a full investigation seems unavoidable.

But is it possible that the longstanding, common practice by Chicago police of encouraging gang violence – which calls to mind the first Mayor Daley’s famous, arguably accurate statement that the department’s mission is not to create disorder but to preserve disorder – which, indeed, calls into question the department’s commitment to reducing the murder rate – is it possible that practice can be called to account?  Is it possible that it can be ended?

The city’s political and police department leadership may or may not have the will.  But sustained public attention and outrage would go a long way to checking this practice.

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