Once again this week, the issue of allegations of police abuse — and how those allegations are handled — continues to dominate our reading. That’s been true, of course, ever since Thanksgiving week, when the video of Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke shooting Laquan McDonald 16 times was made public.
As the Sun-Times succinctly put it in an editorial published Sunday: “Something fundamental is out of whack at the CPD.”
Last Tuesday the City Council held a marathon hearing at which the head of the union representing the city’s police blamed officials and the media for having “kicked our kids while they’re down.”
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Several aldermen voiced outrage at the hearing over the video and related disclosures of questionable conduct. Last year, the aldermen had voted to pay McDonald’s family $5 million over the incident without ever digging into the facts, causing the spokeswoman for State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez to issue a statement accusing the aldermen of too little, too late: “City Council members sat on their hands and approved a $5 million settlement without viewing the video or demanding its release. Shame on them for virtually ignoring this case when they were in a position to do something about it and then trying to politicize it after they were caught napping.”
Of course, Sally Daly’s statement came after Alvarez — who is under intense criticism for having waited to charge Van Dyke with murder until the eve of the video being released — chose to skip the council hearing. That absence prompted The Chicago Tribune on Sunday to opine that maybe Alvarez did the right thing in moving slowly and maybe not; but she ought to go answer the Council’s questions.
The Tribune editorial noted the difficulty in winning convictions against police, contrasting the plodding nature of the investigation into McDonald’s case with the speedy charges brought against Baltimore policemen. The first trial of an officer into the death of Freddie Gray, who struggled for life in the back of a police van, ended last week in a hung jury.
No need, in fact, to look beyond Chicago’s city limits to know how difficult winning convictions can be: Last week started with the acquittal of Inspector Glenn Evans, who was accused of having shoved the barrel of his gun down a suspect.
For the moment, the Tribune’s contention that we need to know more about Alvarez’ conduct seems the best Alvarez can hope for in the months leading up to a March re-election primary, as calls for her to be resign flourish. While avoiding the Council, for now, Alvarez has offered her defense elsewhere, including a televised interview.
Evans’ acquittal at a non-jury trial, meanwhile, prompted Rob Warden, our co-director, to consider why people perceive that they cannot expect justice in Cook County’s courts. The commentary is a sobering look beyond the individual cases.
Finally, not EVERYTHING we read involved police abuse. We tip our hat to Ken Armstrong and T. Christian Miller, as the Marshall Project and Pro Publica combined forces for this sobering look at how rape allegations are investigated.