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Edgewater Residents Talk About Racism and Chicago Police During Ald. Osterman’s Meeting Monday

McDonald-1

Video Still Of Laquan McDonald Shooting

A question-and-answer format session organized by 48th Ward Alderman Harry Osterman on Monday offered Edgewater residents an opportunity to voice their thoughts, feelings, frustrations and hopes about how to stem violence in the wake of Laquan McDonald’s shooting death at the hands of a Chicago Police officer last year.

A police dashcam video released to the media last week showed that McDonald, who was African-American, was shot 16 times by Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke, who is white, on Oct. 20, 2014.

A Nov. 25, 2015, story in the Chicago Tribune said two police officers had been trailing McDonald for nearly a half-mile from a trucking yard where he had been breaking into vehicles through a parking lot. The officers awaited backup armed with tasers while trying to keep McDonald away from others nearby. At one point, the Tribune said, McDonald used a knife to slash the front tire of a squad car trying to block his path.

The video showed how McDonald walked down the middle of Pulaski Road toward the flashing lights of police cruisers trying to stop the 17-year-old before he then veered away, the Tribune story said. Two police officers jumped from their vehicle, their guns drawn, while McDonald seemed to try to pass the officers who were several feet to his left.

“According to the video, Van Dyke and his partner arrived 10 minutes after the first call,” the Tribune story said. “Their weapons were drawn as they stepped from the Chevrolet Tahoe. Within six seconds of exiting the police car, Van Dyke opened fire. Fifteen seconds later, he had emptied his 16-round handgun, authorities said. His partner asked him to hold his fire as Van Dyke reloaded, authorities said.

Van Dyke’s partner then walked to McDonald’s body and kicked a knife with a 3-inch blade out of his hand.”

McDonald suffered multiple gunshot wounds to his chest, scalp, neck, back, arms, right hand and leg, the Tribune story said. He was alive when paramedics arrived at the location of the shooting, 4100 block of South Pulaski Road, but he died on the way to the hospital, authorities told the Tribune.

The video counters the police department’s and police union’s version of events, according to a Nov. 30, 2015, story in USA Today. Those organizations had claimed that McDonald, who prosecutors said had PCP in his system and was holding a knife with a 3-inch blade, lunged at Van Dyke before the 37-year-old opened fire.

Van Dyke has been charged with first-degree murder and was released on bail after a court appearance on Monday. He had been in jail since Nov. 24, the same day the city released the dashcam video that shows McDonald being shot 16 times. Thousands of people marched in protests held last week calling for accountability for McDonald’s death.

The Chicago Tribune Nov. 25 story said the newspaper reviewed department records that show that, over the years, Van Dyke has been accused by residents of a number of abuses, from hurling racial epithets to manhandling suspects. In one complaint, he pointed his gun at an arrestee without justification. The newspaper said he was never disciplined for any of the 15 complaints that have been resolved.

Monday evening’s spirited meeting in Edgewater was attended by roughly 60-65 people at Emanuel Congregation, 5959 N. Sheridan Road. It involved questions and statements from more than 30 community members as well as Osterman. Not everyone gave their names, and other names were hard to hear.

One of the top issues many addressed was what one woman called “white privilege” and racism that causes black males and black females, and black youths and black adults, as well as other minorities to be treated differently than Caucasians would be treated in the same or similar circumstances.

Another woman, Julie Biehl, is a clinical associate professor of law and is the director of the Children and Family Justice Center at Northwestern University’s Pritzker School of Law, according to that school’s website. She said black children on the west and south sides of Chicago are treated poorly by police on a regular basis. She said black residents who are charged with crimes are prosecuted swiftly but oftentimes police undergo a slower judicial process. She pointed to Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez’s decision not to prosecute until after the dashcam video was released, more than 13 months after McDonald was killed.

(In a Nov. 24, 2015, story in the Chicago Tribune, Alvarez said she decided weeks ago to charge Van Dyke but was waiting for federal authorities to complete their part of the joint investigation. She told the Tribune that she “moved up” her decision to charge Van Dyke after a Cook County judge ruled the week before the Nov. 24, 2015, Tribune story that the video should be released to the public.)

Biehl also recommended that audience members review what WBEZ.org described as a massive database of complaints against Chicago police. A story published on Nov. 9, 2015, said the database provides an unprecedented and historic look into how the City of Chicago polices its communities and its officers. The city, WBEZ said, fought long and hard to keep the information secret. Among its findings was that four years’ worth of data found 27,000 complaints. Yet only 80 of those complaints based on that four-year period led to cases resulting in “significant punishment.”

Others asked why McDonald was shot instead of Tasered and why he was shot so many times. Others said other police officers who witnessed McDonald’s shooting should be held accountable, as well. Some called for the resignations of Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy and State’s Attorney Alvarez.

Related story: Emanuel announced McCarthy’s dismissal on Tuesday, citing a lack of public trust in police leadership.

Meanwhile, some at Monday night’s meeting alleged a cover-up.

Others asked about a $5 million settlement the City Council approved for McDonald’s family and whether Osterman knew about the video before the settlement, whether he had seen the video before the settlement and why the settlement was agreed to in the first place. According to a Nov. 24, 2015, story in the Chicago Reporter, the settlement included a provision to keep the video confidential.

Osterman said he saw the tape when the rest of the city saw the tape. He said he and others within the city council have called for hearings to look into what happened.

“We didn’t go far enough to investigate on our end and to demand that the video come out,” Osterman told the group on Monday. “I think that all of us are going to try to make sure that that never happens again.”

According to an April 14, 2014, story in the Chicago Sun-Times, what the newspaper called “brutality-related lawsuits” have cost Chicago taxpayers $521 million over the last decade. Roughly 15 percent of those lawsuits stem from former Chicago Cmdr. Jon Burge’s “sadistic South Side homicide squad, which imposed extreme measures, including torture, to extract false confessions from dozens of suspects,” the Sun-Times said.

In 2013 alone, the newspaper added, the city paid out $84.6 million in settlements, judgments, legal fees and other expenses. That was more than triple that year’s budgeted amount.

Some of those in Monday’s audience said the high settlement figures are a sign that the system is and remains broken and that there needs to be more oversight over and training for the police. Others pointed to how money, or the lack of it, leads to a number of interconnected problems that only serve to exacerbate or at least extend the problems, such as not providing for enough police training; a reduced amount of affordable housing; a lack of better jobs and job training; and fewer and less effective social programs to help those who need assistance. The state legislature’s failure to pass a budget has caused many funding problems, for instance.

“We need to help all the citizens and not just the people of wealth and privilege,” one man, a former educator, said.

One man who said he is close to some police officers asked if any police officers were in the room. He said police officers often feel they can only rely on each other and that they feel they are separated from the rest of the community because of the circumstances of their jobs. He said he believes there was a miscarriage of justice and that there was a conspiracy to interfere with the McDonald investigation. But he said the community should include the police more and not make them feel like they are being excluded.

Osterman told the man that he had specifically not asked the police to attend Monday night’s meeting because he wanted to give community members a chance to state their views within a community member setting.

In a letter to his constituents on Nov. 25, 2015, Osterman said he was outraged and very disturbed as he watched the horrific images of McDonald’s shooting death.

“Laquan McDonald did not deserve to have his young life taken violently by an individual sworn to serve and protect him,” Osterman wrote. “His death, and the failure of our system to react promptly, impacts our entire city. It destroys trust between our residents and the police, and unfairly harms the reputation of many fine police officers who give so much to our community.”

At Monday’s meeting, Osterman also praised many police officers, saying the majority do their jobs well. He said it’s important to look at staffing within the police department. He also addressed funding and overtime concerns among police officers and said that not having enough police officers on the streets, yet requiring those who are officers to work longer hours in what are often difficult circumstances, can and does contribute to the problem.

One woman said Emanuel’s resignation will not solve the issue. Teenagers need support, and so do the police, she said. The police need more and better training. Kindness, compassion and love are the solutions, she added.

One woman addressed the need for restorative justice. According to restorativejustice.org, this approach to justice emphasizes repairing the harm caused by criminal behavior using a cooperative process that involves all stakeholders. It seeks to transform people, relationships and communities.

The question-and-answer session also mentioned individual and group counseling programs like BAM (Becoming A Man) that are offered at William C. Technology Academy and George B. Swift Specialty School in Edgewater.

Antonio Thomas, a BAM counselor who spoke briefly after Monday’s meeting, said the program includes six aspects: Accountability, integrity, self-determination, positive anger expression, a visionary goal system, and respect for womanhood.

“As a program, we think these are all good things” to help kids grow, Thomas said.

Osterman praised Thomas and the BAM program during the question-and-answer session, saying Thomas works with boys who have family members who are or have been incarcerated. 

“The work he is doing is saving that generation of kids from getting involved in gangs,” he said.

Osterman added that Chicago Public Schools is working to continue and to improve upon efforts to help students learn to manage conflict as well as to help them remain in school.

“The work Antonio is doing is real,” he added. “To say we aren’t doing anything is inaccurate and wrong.”

Osterman said he thinks the Chicago Police Department needs to be thoroughly reviewed and that other officers like Van Dyke who have a number of formal complaints against them need to be looked at, as well. The city needs to recruit more minority police officers, he said. There also needs to be a continued dialogue between the police and the community.

“That humanizes everyone, and that helps make everyone safe,” he said.


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