The news of Jussie Smollett's orchestrated racist and homophobic attack has brought renewed national attention to the Chicago Police Department. After nearly a month of intense investigation, a slow leak of information and two confirmed suspects, Smollett's attack was condemned by the department.
CPD superintendent Eddie Johnson claimed Smollett wasted police resources and took attention away from actual victims of gun violence. The seemingly smug comments from Johnson and the department's quickness in finding evidence to disprove the details of what was initially alleged as a hate crime have some questioning the police's true intentions. Was this a public relations stunt to improve their image?
Although the Empire actor has now been indicted on 16 felony counts for allegedly fabricating the attack, the Chicago Police also have a history of corruption — mostly targeting Black residents. Here are a few examples of Chicago PD's erroneous past.
1. Ronald Watts' Corruption Ring
Former Police Sgt. Ronald Watts was accused of being at the center of a corruption ring that was allegedly responsible for planting evidence and framing innocent Black Chicagoans in the early 2000s. Officers working under Watts were instrumental in destroying the lives of citizens. According to WGN-TV, Watts and subordinates also took bribes and stole drugs from dealers, in addition to planting evidence. Many of the people they targeted were residents of the Ida B. Wells housing project, as well as other low-income neighborhoods. Some of those who were arrested and convicted for falsifying evidence have been exonerated in sporadic bursts. There have been four mass exonerations related to Watts in less than a year, according to NBC Chicago 5 reports.
Watts' influence is still being felt throughout the department. A 2017 report from CBS Chicago indicated Watts may have tainted up to 500 convictions, due to his misconduct. Attorney Josh Tepfer, who represented 15 of the men who were exonerated in 2017, filed a 78-page petition detailing allegations, which go as far back as the early 2000s. Additionally, in 2017, seven officers connected to Watts were removed from the streets. Cook County State's Attorney Kim Foxx and lawyers for the Exoneration Project freed approximately 63 people affected by Watts' crimes, as of this report.
2. Homan Square
One of the most glaring stains on the Chicago PD are allegations about what happened at the now-shuttered Homan Square. Reports from 2015 detailed damning acts committed by members of the police force. According to The Guardian, suspects were taken to this nondescript warehouse based on the city's West Side for interrogation purposes. Some arrestees were allegedly kept out of booking database and became victims of police brutality, reportedly shackled for long periods of time and essentially tortured. Individuals as young as 15 years old were said to have been held here between 12 and 24 hours without access to legal counsel. One person reportedly died at the site. However, these claims were met with intense pushback from the Chicago Police.
"Most individuals interviewed at Homan Square are lower-level arrests from the narcotics unit. There are always records of anyone who is arrested by CPD, and this is no different at Homan Square," police said, according to CNN. "The allegation that physical violence is a part of interviews with suspects is unequivocally false, it is offensive, and it is not supported by any facts whatsoever."
The allegations seem to be confirmed through a slew of testimonies from those detained and interrogated at the site. Identified as Marc Freeman, one of the victims who was allegedly held at the site in 2014, was brought to Homan Square and handcuffed to a rail, as police attempted to pressure him into becoming an informant. According to CNN, after Freeman was arrested for trafficking narcotics, he was not allowed to speak to a lawyer nor use the restroom. Well into hour eight of his arrest, he was transported to the 11th District station.
3. The Shooting of Laquan McDonald
The shooting of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald remains a pivotal example of a police cover-up and corruption within the system. On Oct. 20, 2014, then-Officer Jason Van Dyke shot the teen 16 times while responding to a call about someone breaking into vehicles.
Van Dyke and other officers claimed Laquan lunged at him with a knife, but dashcam footage of the incident negated these claims. The teen was actually walking away from Van Dyke, and there was no clear threat to anyone. As a result, in 2015, Mayor Rahm Emanuel fired then-Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy. Van Dyke was indicted on six counts of first-degree murder and one count of misconduct by year's end. Then in 2018, the former officer was found guilty of second-degree murder. There were at least seven other officers connected to Van Dyke's cover-up. Three officers tied to the case appeared in court in November 2018, however, they were found not guilty in early 2019.
Despite the inconsistencies, I can’t blindly believe Chicago PD. The department that covered up shooting Laquan McDonald over a dozen times? That operated an off-site torture facility? That one? I’ll wait. Whatever the outcome, this won’t stop me from believing others. It can’t.— Ava DuVernay (@ava) February 17, 2019
No idea what actually happened w/ Jussie Smollett. But do know that 4 years ago, Chicago PD spent 13 months justifying Laquan McDonald’s murder before releasing dashcam video showing he was walking away before being shot at 16x by an officer. Why are we just accepting their word?— Scott Hechinger (@ScottHech) February 17, 2019
Changes were made in haste to repair the department's relationship with the city's residents. For example, the Independent Police Review Authority (IPRA) was replaced with a new program. Under the IPRA, a cop who was accused of misconduct could not be investigated without a signed affidavit from the victim, many of which often led to charges getting dropped. IPRA also reportedly disregarded their own data and findings to avoid reporting repeat offenders. It was replaced with the Civilian Office of Police Accountability (COPA), an agency that investigates claims of police misconduct made against members of the department.
Chicago PD also increased its use of bodycam footage in the years following the shooting. There was also an attempt to change the use of force policies, in order to prevent similar incidents from occurring in the future.
4. The Shooting of Rekia Boyd
On March 21, 2012, Dante Servin, an off-duty officer, shot and killed 22-year-old Rekia Boyd under mysterious circumstances. He reportedly went to Douglas Park on the West Side after calling the police to make a noise complaint. Servin then encountered a group of people, including Boyd and another victim Antonio Cross. After words were exchanged, the now ex-cop pulled out his gun and discharged the weapon. Boyd was struck in the head by a stray bullet and Cross was struck in his hand.
According to reports from The Chicago Tribune, Cross said Servin approached them looking to score drugs, however, this has neither been confirmed nor refuted. He was charged with involuntary manslaughter and was eventually acquitted — even before the defense was able to present their evidence.
"It is intentional and the crime, if any there be, is first-degree murder," said Judge Dennis J. Porter, during his 2015 ruling.
No gun was discovered at the scene, and Servin served on the force until his resignation in 2016.
5. A Long-Standing Culture of Corruption
In 2017, a damning report from the FBI revealed details of the Chicago Police Department's culture of corruption and aggression against Black people. The 161-page document covered cases from the past two decades. One noted incident involved an officer who pointed a gun at teenagers on bicycles while accusing them of trespassing. Another involved officer who used a taser on an unarmed, naked, mentally ill, 65-year-old woman. There were also accounts of officers who intentionally would bring young gang members into rival territory, and multiple incidents involving police-planted evidence. Police stood by their so-called "blue wall of silence" and ignored calls to hold corrupt officers accountable for their gross misdeeds. Supervisors were also supposedly well aware of excessive use of force but did not reprimand officers who exercised this. Overall, their negligence showcases a total disregard for residents' safety.
Following the FBI report, The Intercept published a report to illustrate how corruption spreads, which essentially underscored it as a staple of the department's culture. According to their data, roughly 1,300 officers can be associated with acts of police misconduct.
While a cloud of mystery still surrounds the Smollett assault, Chicago Police Department's extensive history of negligence, impropriety, dishonesty and corruption tremendously hurts their credibility. Until the facts are made clear, those lingering concerns will never go away.
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