The fallout from the release of Chicago Police Department’s dashcam video of LaQuan McDonald being murdered in the street by Officer Jason Van Dyke has triggered backlash against some of Chicago’s most high-profile elected officials and leaders. Police Superintendent Gary McCarthy was the first casualty of the fallout, but even his firing has not stopped Chicagoans for calling for the heads of every elected official who was involved in what now looks like a cover up.
Chicagoans continue to call for the resignations of States Attorney Anita Alvarez as well as Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s. There are also calls for the officers who were on the scene to be prosecuted as well. Even the Chicago City aldermen who unanimously agreed to the $5 million dollar settlement are facing the wrath of voters, for their perceived participation in the cover up. But with Chicagoans facing a $588 million dollars tax increase, some have implied that the aldermen did the best thing they could for the taxpayers, who would have been on the hook for paying a monstrous settlement had the case gone to court.
The fact of the matter is that Chicagoans have paid out over $521 million dollars in police brutality settlements over the past 10 years with almost 500 cases still pending. That is just under the $588 million tax increase that the city council passed earlier this year, ironically to fund police and fire pensions. Council critics and supporters alike agree that had the case gone to a jury trial, the potential jury award could have been upwards of $50-$100 million, a cost that would have been passed on to taxpayers who were already facing the largest tax increase in the city’s history. For many alderman, the situation was a no brainer, pay $5 million now or pay $100 million later. When presented with those options, it was only logical that aldermen approve the $5 million settlement.
But the because of the horrific nature of the video, most Black Chicagoans have ignored the direct financial implications of a jury verdict against the city would have been, which has been the source of backlash against the aldermen.
“Initially, the family’s attorney wanted $16 million, but after some negotiation and research of similar incidents, all parties agreed on the sum of $5 million dollars. While that is not the largest settlement we have made, it was nowhere near the bottom,” Brookins maintains.
When questioned if they had seen the video prior to its release 28th Ward Alderman Jason Ervin is clear. “There was an active criminal investigation, both at the state and federal levels. After seeing a draft of the lawsuit, we asked the Corporation Counsel were the allegations true, he said yes. We authorized the settlement with the estate of the family. No one in the legislative branch had any idea how long the investigation would take, but we wanted to make sure the family was treated fairly,” said 28th Ward Alderman Jason Ervin.
Other Black aldermen maintain that they did not see the tape until moments before it was released to the public. Outraged activists and community leaders balk at the aldermen who maintain that they had not seen the tape, but in a city that approves approximately $52 million dollars annually and $4.3 million monthly in police brutality settlements, it is easy to understand why a $5 million dollar settlement would not raise many eyebrows. According to current Chicago Aldermanic Black Caucus Chairman, 6th Ward Alderman Roderick Sawyer, “While I am new to the Finance Committee, I do know that we approve a variety of settlements of all types every month. This was one of them”
Consider the statements of Finance Committee Chairman Ed Burke, whose committee has been responsible for recommending over $521 million in settlements to the entire City Council, when asked about the LaQuan McDonald shooting, Burke said “There is no institutional problem in the Chicago Police Department. I personally think it’s the best-trained, most effective, most honest big-city police department in the nation.”
Burke’s opinion is in stark contrast to members of the Chicago Aldermanic Black Caucus who have demanded a federal investigation into CPD and it’s practices after seeing the video. “We have know that there are racist cops on the police force who have been shooting Black men. Now, with the advent of technology, we are finally able to prove it,” said Sawyer.
“But we have to keep our eyes on the prize, which is focusing on getting these racist officers, disciplined, out of service, and eventually indicted,” Sawyer continues. “Then we must begin to fix the relationship between the Black community and the police department.”
When questioned on the possibility of a cover up, Chicago aldermen maintaine that the city’s Coporation Council Steve Patton did not attempt to hide or cover up the facts surrounding the shooting of LaQuan McDonald, when discussing it with them. In fact, they say the settlement was an acknowledgement of the fact that Officer Van Dyke’s version of the story was false.
But some aldermen who choose to remain anonymous have grumbled that as Corporation Counsel, Patton’s job is to protect the corporation (City) not the individual (Emanuel) as it is the issue in the allegations of a City Hall cover up. Still, most aldermen feel they did the right thing by settling the McDonald case out of court.
“The city of Chicago only has one way to acknowledge when we have wronged someone, and that is to pay them,” says 21st Ward Alderman Howard Brookins, who was Chairman of the Chicago Aldermanic Black Caucus at the time of the settlement. “But we also have a responsibility to the taxpayers we represent who would have been forced to pay the jury settlement. It would not have been us as aldermen paying, but the taxpayers.”
When questioned about whether he would support a call for Emanuel’s resignation, Sawyer is clear. “We don’t have a process to recall the Mayor, so I don’t want him nor Alvarez to step down. I think it is time for our community to mobilize and be ready to take Alvarez’ office next year, and get ready to vote in 2019.”
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