While in my home trying faithfully to obey the stay-at-home order due to the COVID-19 pandemic, I listened recently to the president twisting, bending and breaking every law the legislative branch creates. I see some police officers operating with the impunity that plagues our country and poisons the efforts of good police officers who want to build bridges of trust in our communities. The bad cops are emulating the president.
As an African American who has viewed this pattern of abuse over most of my life, I know these abuses are not isolated events but are events captured in isolation that shock the conscience of those who are in deep denial, but not those who have suffered in silence.
These recent incidents of blacks treated with indifference because of the color of their skin — from Laquan McDonald to George Floyd to countless others whose deaths have been captured on video — are just simple facts baked into the daily lives of African Americans.
I remember when I returned to Chicago from the military and bought a brand new 1985 Z28. I took my girlfriend to the beauty supply store at Austin and Lake. She hopped out of the car and ran into the store. The Oak Park police pulled behind me, startling me with the shrill of their PA system. “Move the car,” they shouted.
I signaled and moved into the left lane to turn on to the Chicago side of Lake Street. The officer followed and put on his lights, I stopped and turned my car off. He then asked me for my license and registration, which I immediately surrendered. After checking that, he did not inform me of any violation for stopping me but asked if he could search the car. I got out of the car, locked the doors and asked if there was any probable cause for the search. If not, I said, the officer had better get a warrant.
I was immediately placed under arrest and taken to the Oak Park Police Station. After an hour or so, I guess they couldn’t come up with any justification for detaining me. While cuffed, I was taken out of the cell facing the arresting officer. I do not remember exactly why, but I could see something in his eyes and he proceeded to throw a left and right open-hand cross.
My instincts kicked in and I bobbed and weaved, leaving him punching air. “What the f— are you doing?” another officer shouted to his offending colleague before asking me if I would like to file a complaint. I could see in the eyes of the officer who had tried attacking me that he knew he’d screwed up.
“No, just get me back to my car, please,” I said calmly.
In this instance, there was a culture that would not allow this officer to attack me with impunity, which is much different from the culture that allows a group of police officers to descend upon a vehicle containing African-American women, as in the case of the recent Brickyard Mall incident that I saw on the news the other night.
Those officers approached the women swinging sticks and acting like a gang of thugs. The culture of impunity that allows an officer to kneel on a citizen’s neck for more than 8 minutes is the same culture of impunity that allows an officer to unleash deadly force on an individual not posing an immediate threat.
In order to begin the process of real reform, radical action must be taken to root out this culture of impunity and allow the officers who are really trying to serve and protect to thrive.
I have witnessed the faces of the timid officers, as the more aggressive officer assert themselves. Those more timid officers know that if they could, they would step up and say, “What the f — are you doing?” The culture, however, will not permit this immediate corrective act.
Given this reality, what fresh ideas and solutions need to be enacted to ensure that the “What the f— are you doing” officers can come forward? How can we change the culture of impunity in the Chicago Police Department?
New police officers should have an accredited college degree in criminal justice with a minor in social justice. This might prevent new officers from being influenced by the impunity culture that permeates the department.
They must be able to pass a psych test that has been validated by three different scientific studies and that weeds out racial bias, or at the very least identifies the possibility of racial bias in a prospective officer, so that other officers can be aware themselves and receive additional training and scrutiny.
Officers should not be allowed to serve more than 20 years unless they are promoted into other areas of law enforcement, such as narcotics, a gang unit, an organized crime unit, internal affairs, administrative support, or homicide for an additional 10 years. And once promoted, they must have a high rate of effectiveness. At the very minimum, they must maintain a 50 percent clearance rate. Those who are retired after 20 years can then go on to other agencies, such as the state police or the FBI. In addition, their performance record, Civilian Office of Police Accountability filings, and internal affairs records should be part of the vetting process.
When new contracts are reached with the city, an intensive review should be performed, as part of the new contract. This will identify individuals who have poor performance records and multiple complaints lodged against them. These officers should be dismissed as part of that collective bargaining agreement.
Body cam video and other digital documentation that the city issues at its discretion should be turned over to interested parties within 10 days of being requested. This information belongs to the citizens of the city, so why are we allowing the city to tell us that we cannot have what belongs to us?
A database of individuals with mental health conditions should be developed to alert officers of individuals that might pose a challenge during emergency situations. In addition, family members of mentally challenged individuals, or the individuals themselves, should be able to register for this database. This will help ensure that these individuals are given the consideration their conditions deserve.
There needs to be a massive overhaul of the process for apprehending suspects. Police training should really be more focused on neutralizing targets in such a way that guarantees little to no harm. Officers have become too reliant on their firearms and stun guns.
is a resident of the Austin neighborhood of Chicago.