FROM THE MAGAZINE
Chicago on the Brink
A retreat from proactive policing has unleashed mayhem in the city.
Heather Mac Donald
Summer 2016 Public safetyNew York
Violence in Chicago is reaching epidemic proportions. In the first five months of 2016, someone was shot every two and a half hours and someone murdered every 14 hours, for a total of nearly 1,400 nonfatal shooting victims and 240 fatalities. Over Memorial Day weekend, 69 people were shot, nearly one per hour, dwarfing the previous year’s tally of 53 shootings over the same period. The violence is spilling over from the city’s gang-infested South and West Sides into the downtown business district; Lake Shore Drive has seen drive-by shootings and robberies.
The growing mayhem is the result of Chicago police officers’ withdrawal from proactive enforcement, making the city a dramatic example of what I have called the “Ferguson effect.” Since the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, in August 2014, the conceit that American policing is lethally racist has dominated the national airwaves and political discourse, from the White House on down. In response, cops in minority neighborhoods in Chicago and other cities around the country are backing off pedestrian stops and public-order policing; criminals are flourishing in the resulting vacuum. (An early and influential Ferguson-effect denier has now changed his mind: in a June 2016 study for the National Institute of Justice, Richard Rosenfeld of the University of Missouri–St. Louis concedes that the 2015 homicide increase in the nation’s large cities was “real and nearly unprecedented.” “The only explanation that gets the timing right is a version of the Ferguson effect,” he told the Guardian.)
Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel warned in October 2015 that officers were going “fetal,” as shootings in the city skyrocketed. But 2016 has brought an even sharper reduction in proactive enforcement. Devastating failures in Chicago’s leadership after a horrific police shooting and an ill-considered pact between the American Civil Liberties Union and the police are driving that reduction. Residents of Chicago’s high-crime areas are paying the price.
Felicia Moore, a wiry middle-aged woman with tattoos on her face and the ravaged frame of a former drug addict, is standing inside a Polish sausage joint on Chicago’s South Side at 10 PM. Asked about crime, she responds: “I’ve been in Chicago all my life. It’s never been this bad. Mothers and grandchildren are scared to come out on their porch; if you see more than five or six niggas walking together, you gotta run.” The violence claimed her only son last year, she says, just as he was being drafted by the Atlanta Hawks. Moore is engaging in some revisionist history: her son, Jeremiah Moore, was, in fact, killed with a shot to his head—but in 2013, a little over a year after he was released from prison for shooting a mother at a bus stop; the Atlantic Hawks don’t enter into it.
Felicia Moore’s assessment of the present crime situation in Chicago, however, is more reality-based. Through the end of May, shooting incidents in Chicago were up 53 percent over the same period in 2015, which had already seen a significant increase over 2014. Compared with the first five months of 2014, shooting incidents in 2016 were up 86 percent. Certain police districts saw larger spikes. The Harrison District on the West Side, encompassing West Humboldt Park, for example, had a 191 percent increase in homicides through the end of May. Shootings in May citywide averaged nearly 13 a day, a worrisome portent for summer.
A man who calls himself City Streets is standing in a ragtag group of drinkers and hustlers outside a liquor and convenience store on the South Side. They pass around beer, cigarettes, and cash and ask strangers for money. A young woman shoves her boy along, oblivious to the late hour. “It’s terrible out here. Someone gets shot every day,” City Streets tells me. “It ain’t no place to hang,” he adds, ignoring his own advice.
Social breakdown lies behind Chicago’s historically high levels of violence. Fatherlessness in the city’s black community is at a cataclysmic level—close to 80 percent of children are born to single mothers in high-crime areas. Illegitimacy is catching up fast among Hispanics, as well. Gangs have stepped in where fathers are absent. A 2012 gang audit documented 59 active street gangs with 625 factions, some controlling a single block. Schools in gang territories go on high alert at dismissal time to fend off violence. Endemic crime has prevented the commercial development and gentrification that are revitalizing so many parts of Chicago closer to downtown; block after block on the South Side features a wan liquor store or check-cashing outlet, surrounded by empty lots and the occasional skeleton of a once-magnificent beaux-arts apartment complex or bank. Nonfunctioning streetlights, their fuse boxes vandalized, signal the reign of a local gang faction.
But disorder, bad before, seems to be worsening. The night after my conversations with Felicia Moore and City Streets, dozens of teens burst into the intersection of Cicero and Madison on the West Side, stopping traffic and ignoring the loud approach of a fire truck. They hold their cell phones high, the new sign of urban empowerment. Earlier that day, a fight involving at least 60 teens took over a nearby intersection, provoking a retaliatory shooting two days later at a local fried-chicken restaurant. On May 14, a 13-year-old girl stabbed a 15-year-old girl to death in a South Side housing complex; the murderer’s mother had given her the knife. In the summer of 2015, wolf packs of teens marauded down Michigan Avenue’s Magnificent Mile, robbing stores and pedestrians. The phenomenon started even earlier this year. A couple strolling on Lake Shore Drive downtown on Memorial Day weekend were chased by more than a half-dozen young men, at least one armed with a gun. The two tried to escape across the highway, the teens in hot pursuit. A pickup truck hit the couple, killing the female. A police officer flashed his emergency lights at the teens, and they fled. “If it wasn’t for the police being there at the time, I don’t know where I might be now,” the surviving man told the Chicago Sun-Times. “Six feet under?”
Public-order infractions, otherwise known as “Broken Windows” offenses, abound. Stand just a few minutes on a South or West Side thoroughfare, and someone will stride by hawking bootleg CDs or videos and loose cigarettes. Oliver, a 34-year-old with a Bloods tattoo and alcohol on his breath, has just been frisked by the police in a West Side White Castle parking lot around 9:30 PM. “The police are assholes,” he says. “I know my rights; I’m selling CDs, so I know I’m doing something wrong, but they weren’t visible in my bag.” Oliver then sells two loosies to a passerby, laboriously counting out change from a five-dollar bill.
Oliver, a 34-year-old with a Bloods tattoo, has just been frisked by cops in a West Side White Castle parking lot.
Some law-abiding Chicagoans blame the rising violence on just such street disorder. After a woman and four men were shot at a bus stop on the South Side in May, a local resident complained about the illegal vending. “This sort of congregation of people who meet at this space dealing drugs and selling loose cigarettes . . . is despicable,” he told the Chicago Tribune. The drug trade is less overt but more ubiquitous than the trafficking in CDs and loosies. As I approach a Jamaican jerk restaurant on the West Side, the young men in front melt away. “You saw what happened when you pulled up here—everyone disappeared,” a middle-aged man tells me. “They sell drugs everywhere.”
The majority of victims in the current crime wave are already known to the police. Four-fifths of the Memorial Day shooting victims, for example, were on the Chicago Police Department’s list of gang members deemed most prone to violence. But innocents, like the Lake Shore Drive robbery victims, are being attacked as well: a 59-year-old Pakistani cabdriver, fatally shot in the head in February by a 19-year-old passenger; a DePaul student brutally beaten in April on the subway while other passengers passively looked on; a 49-year-old female dispatcher with the city’s 311 call center, killed in May while standing outside a Starbucks a few blocks from police headquarters; a worker driving home at night from her job at FedEx, shot four times in the head while waiting at an intersection and saved from death by the cell phone at her ear; a trucker shot in the face in May on the Dan Ryan Expressway; three eighth-graders robbed at gunpoint outside their school in May; a six-year-old girl playing outside her grandmother’s house in June, shot in the back and lung; a man stabbed in the stomach by a felon, who said: “I hate white people. Give me your money.”
The murder that shook the city to its core was the assassination of nine-year-old Tyshawn Lee. He was playing in a park on November 2, 2015, when a 22-year-old gangster, Dwight Boone-Doty, lured him into an alley with the promise of chips and candy. Boone-Doty fatally shot the boy, then fled with two accomplices, bleaching the getaway car and dumping it in Dalton, Illinois. Boone-Doty’s original plan, according to a police source, was to kidnap Tyshawn and send his ears and fingers to his mother. Tyshawn’s father was a member of the gang believed responsible for shooting the brother and mother of one of Boone-Doty’s accomplices a few weeks earlier. After the shooting, local schools went on lockdown, terrified that the children of gang members were now fair game for execution.
Officers who try to intervene in this disorder face a virulent street situation, thanks to the current anti-cop ideology. “People are a hundred times more likely to resist arrest,” an officer who has worked a decade and a half on the South Side informs me. “People want to fight you; they swear at you. ‘Fuck the police, we don’t have to listen,’ they say. I haven’t seen this kind of hatred toward the police in my career.”
Antipolice animus is nothing new in Chicago, of course. An Illinois state representative, Monique Davis, told a Detroit radio station in 2013 that people in her South Side community believed that the reason so few homicide cases were solved is that it was the police who were killing young black males. Davis later refused to repudiate her statement: “We can’t say that it is not happening.” The “no-snitch” ethic of refusing to cooperate with the cops is the biggest impediment to solving crime, according to Chicago commanders. But the Black Lives Matter narrative about endemically racist cops has made the street dynamic much worse. A detective says: “From patrol to investigation, it’s almost an undoable job now. If I get out of my car, the guys get hostile right away and several people are taping [with cell phones].” Bystanders and suspects try to tamper with crime scenes and aggressively interfere with investigations. Additional officers may be needed during an arrest to keep angry onlookers away. “It’s very dangerous out there now,” a detective tells me. In March 2016, then-chief of patrol (now superintendent) Eddie Johnson decried what he called the “string of violent attacks against the police” after an off-duty officer was shot by a felon who had ordered him on the ground after robbing him. The previous week, three officers were shot during a drug investigation.
A protest against recent police shootings, including that of laquan mcdonald, on michigan avenue (JOSHUA LOTT/THE WASHINGTON POST/GETTY IMAGES)
A protest against recent police shootings, including that of laquan mcdonald, on michigan avenue (JOSHUA LOTT/THE WASHINGTON POST/GETTY IMAGES)
This volatile policing environment now exists in urban areas across the country. But Chicago officers face two additional challenges: a new oversight regime for pedestrian stops; and the fallout from an officer’s killing of Laquan McDonald in October 2014.
In March 2015, the ACLU of Illinois accused the Chicago Police Department of engaging in racially biased stops, locally called “investigatory stops,” because its stop rate did not match population ratios. Blacks were 72 percent of all stop subjects during a four-month period in 2014, reported the ACLU, whereas whites were 9 percent of all stop subjects. But blacks and whites each make up roughly 32 percent of the city’s populace. Ergo, the police are racially profiling. This by-now drearily familiar and ludicrously inadequate benchmarking methodology ignores the incidence of crime. In 2014, blacks in Chicago made up 79 percent of all known nonfatal shooting suspects, 85 percent of all known robbery suspects, and 77 percent of all known murder suspects, according to police department data. Whites were 1 percent of known nonfatal shootings suspects in 2014, 2.5 percent of known robbery suspects, and 5 percent of known murder suspects, the latter number composed disproportionately of domestic homicides. Whites are nearly absent, in other words, among violent street criminals—precisely whom proactive policing aims to deter. Whites are actually over-stopped compared with their involvement in street crime. Nearly 40 percent of young white males surveyed by Northwestern University criminologist Wes Skogan in 2015 reported getting stopped in the previous year, compared with nearly 70 percent of young black males. “Statistically, age is the strongest correlate of being stopped,” says Skogan—not race.
Despite the groundlessness of the ACLU’s racial-bias charges, then–police superintendent Garry McCarthy and the city’s corporation counsel signed an agreement in August 2015 allowing the ACLU to review all future stops made by the department. The agreement also created an independent monitor for police stops. “Why McCarthy agreed to put the ACLU in charge is beyond us,” says a homicide detective. McCarthy’s signing of the stop agreement was indeed ironic, since he had encouraged a dramatic increase in stops. They rose 50 percent in his first two years, ultimately reaching about 700,000 a year, more than the NYPD performed at the height of its own stop activity, even though the CPD is about a third the size of the NYPD.
On January 1, 2016, the police department rolled out a new form for documenting investigatory stops, developed to meet ACLU demands. The new form, traditionally called a contact card, was two pages long and contained a whopping 70 fields of information to be filled out, including three narrative sections. (Those narrative sections were subsequently combined to try to quiet criticism.) The new contact card dwarfs even arrest reports and takes at least 30 minutes to complete. Every contact card is forwarded to the ACLU. Stops dropped nearly 90 percent in the first quarter of 2016. Detectives had long relied on the information contained in contact cards to solve crimes. When 15-year-old Hadiya Pendleton was killed in January 2013, days after performing with her high school band in President Barack Obama’s second inaugural, investigators identified the occupants of the getaway car through descriptions of the vehicle in previous contact cards. Now, however, crime sleuths have almost nothing to go on. Earlier this year, a detective working armed robbery had a pattern of two male Hispanics with tattoos on their faces sticking up people in front of their homes. But virtually no contact cards had been written in the area for three months. So he made car stops in the neighborhood himself, coming across the stolen car used in the robberies and the parolees responsible for the crimes. This is not a maximally efficient division of labor.
Criminals have become emboldened by the police disengagement. “Gangbangers now realize that no one will stop them,” says a former high-ranking police official. And people who wouldn’t have carried a gun before are now armed, a South Side officer says. The solution, according to officers, is straightforward: “If tomorrow, we still had to fill out the new forms, but they no longer went to the ACLU, stops would increase,” a detective claims.
But a more profound pall hangs over the department because of a shockingly unjustified police homicide and the missteps of top brass and the mayor in handling it. On the night of October 20, 2014, a report went out over the police radio that someone was breaking into cars in a trucking yard in the southwest neighborhood of Archer Heights; the vandal had threatened the 911 caller with a knife. Two officers found 17-year-old Laquan McDonald a block away; he punctured a tire on their squad car and struck its windshield with his three-inch blade. The cops trailed McDonald, who was high on PCP, for nearly half a mile while waiting for backup units with a Taser. Two additional patrol cars pulled up as McDonald strode along the middle of Pulaski Road, energetically swinging his right arm, knife in hand. One car parked behind him; its dashboard camera recorded the subsequent events. The other car stopped about 30 yards ahead. The officers in that forward vehicle jumped out, guns pointed at McDonald, commanding him to drop the knife. Less than ten seconds after exiting, Officer Jason Van Dyke began shooting. McDonald spun 360 degrees under the impact of the first bullets and dropped to the ground. Van Dyke continued shooting, emptying his cartridge into McDonald’s crumpled and gently writhing body.
The new contact card takes at least 30 minutes to complete. Every contact card is forwarded to the ACLU.
The shooting, pitiable to watch, represented a catastrophic failure of tactics and judgment. Some police use-of-force experts claim that a suspect armed with a knife can rush and slash an unprepared officer if the assailant is within 21 feet. Even if that so-called 21-foot rule applied here, Van Dyke and his partner had no need to exit the car and put themselves within possible reach of McDonald. If they were in any imminent risk of lethal harm, they created that risk themselves. But even then, McDonald did not appear poised to attack, despite his failure to drop the knife. He was on a slight rightward trajectory away from Van Dyke, who was on his left, before the shooting began.
What followed the homicide was almost as shocking. Five officers at the scene all told variants of the same tale in their written reports: that McDonald had been advancing toward Van Dyke, aggressively raising his knife as if to attack. Once on the ground, McDonald tried to get up, they said, continuing to point his knife at Van Dyke. None of those claims is borne out by the video. McDonald displayed no aggressive behavior toward Van Dyke. It is true that for two strides immediately before the first bullets hit him, McDonald’s trajectory had minimally shifted to the left so as to be perpendicular to Van Dyke rather than veering diagonally away. But that modest and likely unconscious alteration of trajectory does not rise to the level of lethal threat. And having made the mistake of opening fire in the first place, Van Dyke should at least have stopped shooting once McDonald fell. Had McDonald had a gun, capable of striking from a distance, rather than a knife, the analysis might have been different.
A police-union spokesman at the scene of the killing told reporters that McDonald had been threatening Van Dyke. The police department press release a few hours later essentially echoed that account, stating that McDonald continued to approach the officers after being warned. Superintendent McCarthy viewed the video the next day, without retracting the department’s press release, explaining later that he was too busy trying to learn what had happened. From then on out, officials made no effort to countermand the McDonald attack narrative. (A rumor that cops destroyed a video of the incident taken at a nearby Burger King, however, proved not to be true.)
McCarthy immediately stripped Van Dyke of his police powers and forwarded the case to the civilian board that reviews police shootings, the Independent Police Review Authority (IPRA). The case also went to the Cook County state attorney’s office, the U.S. attorney’s office, and the FBI. In April, the mayor’s corporation counsel, Stephen Patton, attained city council approval for a $5 million settlement with the McDonald family, conditioned on the continued non-release of the video. Later that month, the detectives’ bureau cleared and closed the case, astoundingly concluding that the “recovered in-car camera video was . . . consistent with the accounts of the witnesses” and that “Van Dyke’s use of deadly force was within bounds of CPD guidelines.”
By then, the Chicago press was clamoring for the video’s release, but it was not until November 24, 2015, that the video came out, under a judge’s order. The reaction was understandably explosive; weeks of angry protests denouncing alleged police racism and brutality followed.
The Cook County state attorney announced first-degree murder charges against Officer Van Dyke on the day that the McDonald video was released. Mayor Emanuel fired McCarthy a week later and appointed the Police Accountability Task Force, dominated by critics of the police. That task force issued a report in April 2016, claiming that the Chicago Police Department is shot through with “racism.” Emanuel is now genuflecting to the city’s activists. He has adopted many of the report’s most sweeping recommendations, including the appointment of a costly and unnecessary inspector general for the department (that will come on top of the independent monitor for investigatory stops), the replacement of the IPRA with a new entity, the Civilian Police Investigative Agency, and the creation of the “Community Safety Oversight Board.” All these additional layers of oversight will only complicate chains of command and further discourage proactive policing.
McCarthy defends his decision not to release the video or to correct the record early on the ground that he didn’t want to compromise the integrity of the investigation. He did not have the legal authority to comment once the case went to federal agencies, he says. Those protocols may be appropriate in the case of an ordinary police shooting, but this was no ordinary police shooting. Allowing a fabrication about a very bad shooting to stand, especially during the current era of fevered antipolice sentiment, is guaranteed to amplify the demagoguery against the police. McCarthy, an able and accomplished police executive, should have at least called in the investigating bodies in emergency session and worked out with them a way to counter the false narrative without jeopardizing their work. The Emanuel administration also bears enormous responsibility for the crisis in legitimacy that now afflicts the department. Emanuel has praised himself for being the first Chicago mayor to acknowledge an alleged police code of silence, but he knew about the shooting, and his aides had seen the video early on. City hall was already in damage-control mode by February 2015, as Emanuel faced a tight runoff election. It is irresponsible for Emanuel to scapegoat McCarthy when his own administration also failed to set the record straight.
The damage to the Chicago police and to policing nationally from the mishandling of the McDonald homicide is incalculable. The episode can now be invoked to confirm every false generalization about the police peddled by the Black Lives Matter movement. Yet the shooting was a tragic aberration, not the norm. A New York Times Magazine article in April 2016 tried to establish the department’s racially driven malfeasance by citing the absolute number of fatal police shootings in Chicago: from 2010 to 2014, Chicago police killed 70 people, more than any other police agency. The Times article neglected to reveal that Phoenix, Philadelphia, and Dallas all lead Chicago in the per-capita rate of such fatal shootings. Chicago’s rate of police shootings is nearly 50 percent lower than Phoenix’s—even though its murder rate is twice as high—and 35 percent lower than Philadelphia’s.
In the first five months of 2016, someone in chicago was shot every two and a half hours and someone murdered every 14 hours. (M. SPENCER GREEN/AP PHOTO)
In the first five months of 2016, someone in chicago was shot every two and a half hours and someone murdered every 14 hours. (M. SPENCER GREEN/AP PHOTO)
The number of armed felons that the city’s cops confront dwarfs the number of officer-involved shootings. No other police department takes more guns off the street. In the first nine months of 2015, the CPD recovered 20 illegal weapons a day. From January 2007 to November 30, 2015, the police made 37,408 arrests of an armed felon, or roughly 4,670 a year. Each of those arrests could have turned into an officer shooting. But in 2015, even as crime was increasing under the Ferguson effect, the Chicago police shot 30 people, eight fatally. Those fatal shootings represent 1.6 percent of the 492 homicides that year. Nationally, police shootings make up 12 percent of all white and Hispanic homicide deaths and 4 percent of all black homicide deaths. Chicago’s ratio of fatal police shootings to criminal homicide deaths is less than the national average.
The Emanuel-appointed Police Accountability Task Force claimed that police shooting data give “validity to the widely held belief that the police have no regard for the sanctity of life when it comes to people of color.” The task force pointed to the fact that of the 404 individuals shot by the police between 2008 and 2015, both fatally and nonfatally, 74 percent (or 299) were black, and 8 percent (or 33) were white. Predictably, the task force said not one word about black and white crime rates, which were even more disproportionate in 2015 than in 2014. In 2015, blacks were 80 percent of all known murder suspects and 80 percent of all known nonfatal shooting suspects. Whites made up 0.9 percent of known murder suspects in 2015 and 1.4 percent of all known nonfatal shooting suspects. And blacks were overwhelmingly the victims of criminal shootings as well. In 2015, 2,460 blacks were shot lethally and nonlethally, or nearly seven blacks a day. By contrast, roughly 30 blacks were shot lethally and nonlethally by the police in all of 2015. Those 2,460 black victims of criminal shootings constituted nearly 81 percent of all known shooting victims. Seventy-eight whites were shot in 2015, or one white every 4.6 days, constituting 2.5 percent of all known shooting victims. If 74 percent of police shootings have black subjects, that is because officer use of force is going to occur most frequently where the police are trying to protect the law-abiding from armed and dangerous suspects—and that is in predominantly minority neighborhoods.
Emanuel is disbanding the IPRA because it found that of the 404 police shootings between 2008 and 2015, only two were unjustified. The mandate of its replacement body will be clear: penalize more cops. But absent an examination of each of those cases, no conclusion can be reached about whether the low number of findings of misconduct represents a miscarriage of justice. The IPRA has been understaffed over the years, but its fundamental design is strong. The fact that it has not found many bad shootings most likely means that they are rare. The IPRA released more than 100 files of police misconduct cases in early June, as part of a new policy of increased transparency. Prediction: the press will find few cases of clear wrongdoing.
The CPD’s critics are right about one thing, however: the cumbersome disciplinary process makes it too hard to fire officers found guilty of wrongdoing. And Chicago has had some truly bad cops over the years—most infamously, Jon Burge, a detective who tortured suspects from 1972 to 1991 to obtain false confessions. But the vast majority of officers today observe the law and are dedicated to serving the community; what they need is more tactical training, adequate staffing and equipment, and better leadership from an ingrown, highly political management cadre. As for the alleged blue wall, or code, of silence, it is hard in any department to crack the defensive solidarity among officers, who feel that they are facing an uncomprehending and often hostile world. Even now, a few of the officers I spoke with will not pass judgment on the McDonald homicide, on the ground that they were not there. Such solidarity is understandable, but commanders need to stress that when it results in distorting the truth, not only will the officer be severely punished; he is also making today’s anti-cop environment all the worse.
Despite the activists’ charge that the Chicago police are intent on killing black males, it’s easy to find support for the cops in crime-ridden areas. Mr. Fisher, a 55-year-old sanitation worker at a West Side bakery, is waiting for his wife outside Wiley’s Soul Food and Bar-B-Que on the West Side. Fisher was pulled over earlier in 2016 for a missing light on his license plate. The officer was courteous, he says. “I ain’t trying to buck them, I ain’t trying to disrespect them, I ain’t trying to give them a hard time, because I love my job. It’s not them, it’s the younger generation that’s got us messed up.” Civilians provoke confrontations with cops, not vice versa, Fisher says: “I seen a lot of people disrespect them, cussin’ and fussin’. If a cop was to get out of his car here, someone would run. To me, if you’re not doing anything, why would you run?” (Such commonsensical hypotheses have been ruled illegal by many courts—if a cop makes them.) Melissa, a 24-year-old outside D & J’s Hair Club on Pulaski Road, says that she has no problem with the police. “They doing they job. I don’t give them no reason to talk to me.” The problem is crime, she says: “I feel unsafe here. It just gets worse and worse.”
Sometimes support for the cops comes from unexpected places. In May 2016, a 38-year-old drug trafficker named Toby Jones received a 40-year federal prison sentence for repeatedly trying to gun down a federal informant, in the process shooting three people. He told the judge: “Even with all the latest police shootings on minorities in Chicago, I don’t blame these cops one bit for most of their decisions in the field. And the black community has to first come to grips with why these cops are so afraid,” the Chicago Sun-Times reported. Stories of heroic cops go untold, Jones said, “but as soon as a black kid gets shot, everyone is in an uproar.”
Activists and politicians are proposing the usual “root causes” solution to the current crime wave—more government programs—as well as less usual ones, such as abolishing the police department. The mayor’s Police Accountability Task Force wants the mayor and Cook County to “implement programs that address socioeconomic justice and equality, housing segregation, systemic racism, poverty, education, health and safety.” Such top-down spending ignores the normative breakdown that renders government social services largely futile. The bakery where Fisher works has been hiring for the last five years; he tells the “young brothers” about the jobs. “Half of them don’t show up; the others have drugs in their system. Half want to hang out and make the fast money that can get you in jail,” Fisher observes.
But the Chicago violence is also undermining the politically correct consensus about crime and policing. The Chicago Tribune has called for the police to make more traffic stops to quell the highway shootings; it points out that the Illinois vehicle code offers plenty of reasons to stop drivers, whether for a broken taillight or an expired registration sticker. Traffic stops are, of course, a prime target in the specious campaign against racial profiling; the mayor’s Police Accountability Task Force blasted the CPD for its allegedly biased stop rates, ignoring differential rates of vehicle and moving violations.
Police superintendent Eddie Johnson wants three-strikes-and-you’re-out-type sentencing laws for repeat felons. Chicago’s criminal-justice system “fails to hold these individuals accountable and allows them to bring . . . violent acts into our neighborhoods,” he said in March 2016. Stricter sentencing for repeat offenders is also a prime target for Black Lives Matter protesters. A few days after Johnson’s plea, anti-law-enforcement activists assailed former president Bill Clinton for having signed the 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, which lengthened federal sentences for repeat felony offenders. Such sentences, protesters charged, resulted in “mass incarceration” for blacks. And an Illinois bill mandating stricter sentencing for illegal gun possession was blocked by the black caucus in Springfield in 2013, on the ground that it would have a disparate impact on blacks.
Some people in the community, however, are demanding even stronger measures than Johnson calls for. After a 15-year-old car passenger was killed in a drive-by shooting on June 1 on the South Side, a friend of his family told the Chicago Tribune, “We need martial law. Period. If it’s to protect our children, then so be it.”
Such calls will undoubtedly multiply this summer, since the violence shows no signs of abating. It may not be time to call out the National Guard yet. But it is time to reinvigorate the Chicago Police Department. With the Police Accountability Task Force charge of endemic racism and the ACLU straitjacket depressing morale, and with resistance of lawful authority growing, that will be no small task. City leaders will need to show that they understand and will support officers like the cold-case homicide detective who told me, in reaction to the task-force report: “Never once has anyone complained to me that I’m racist. I’m in it to do what’s right.”
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