Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel seems confused about who is actually breaking the law in his city.
The mayor’s administration and the Chicago Police Department (CPD) are trying to heal from the distrust of the people they serve since flubbing up nearly every aspect of the Laquan McDonald killing. So it’s probably best not to spy on the community they aim to serve. But that didn’t stop Mr. Emanuel from making the call, giving him inside access to work done by several community activist groups, including the growing #BlackLivesMatter movement.
Quick history lesson on why it is massively unethical for the mayor of Chicago to spy on peaceful protesters.
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.” (emphasis mine)
Of course, we can squabble over the semantics of “congress” and “law,” but the implication is quite clear: if you’re a publicly-elected official, do not screw with our right to publicly call you out.
According to the Chicago Sun-Times, it was fairly understood that police were monitoring social media and other platforms after the shooting in Ferguson, Missouri. But it wasn’t until after McDonald’s shooting that police actually started going undercover to attend meetings for several groups, including #BlackLivesMatter, as well as meetings at churches and other philanthropic organizations.
What crime was being committed that led Mr. Emanuel to think this spying was justified?
Apparently, it was nothing more than the crime of dissension, as the protesters having been not only calling for justice for Laquan McDonald, but also calling for the mayor’s resignation.
While Mr. Emanuel did offer an apology and a promise for reform in the CPD, this appeared to be a mostly reactionary “Oops, I got caught” response.
A Freedom of Information Act request was finally fulfilled for Jamie Kalven, journalist and founder of the Invisible Institute, which showed years of police misconduct with virtually no discipline.
Besides showing how little was done about police misconduct in the years leading up to this shooting, the information obtained by Kalven also had a much larger implication, as laid out by Rob Arthur of fivethirtyeight blog. The data seemed to suggest exactly what most people already believe, called the “bad apple theory,” which is that police misconduct is typically carried out multiple times by a small handful of crooked police.
The Invisible Institute refers to this small handful as “repeaters” who tend to make it look as though misconduct is rampant in the department, when the department is actually very likely full of good cops. Arthur points out,
“Repeaters only make up a small fraction of the more than 12,000 officers on Chicago’s force — perhaps one percent to 10 percent of the officers in the database, depending on where you draw the line — but are responsible for a huge fraction of the complaints… The 10 individual repeaters with the most complaints in the past five years averaged 23.4 complaints against them in that span.”
If Mayor Emanuel is confused, it is this group that will always be the barrier to real reform. Not #BlackLivesMatter or any other peaceful movement protesting for reform. Perhaps when Mr. Emanuel directly address the repeaters in the CPD that skirt the very laws they vowed to uphold, sometimes to the point of unprovoked death, we can finally get through the clouds and see the great things so many police officers do in our communities around the country.
But this will never happen if the repeaters are allowed to repeat.
Featured image via Getty/Scott Olson