Accountability does not only mean that the public must see the perpetrator of misdeeds disciplined for his or her behavior but also any accomplices before or after the fact must also feel the consequences of their actions. The discipline of the accomplices must also be public so that community members can have faith that the system is responding appropriately to their actions. Unfortunately, to this day citizens are still denied access to information that would allow us all to inspect the quality of investigations into police misconduct and trace any accountability handed down months and years after the original incident.
It seems we have learned nothing from the Burge years. Police accountability must put citizens before officers. It must put the interests of communities of color before the great blue wall of silence. The recent city council approved police union contract mandates that certain aspects of citizens complaints, like the actual complaints and any paperwork created from any subsequent investigation, must be kept secret. Clearly here the city council, authorities within the Chicago Police Department, and within the Fraternal Order of Police (the union representing the majority of patrol officers), prioritize the blue wall of silence over citizen access.
Code of Silence
City leaders’ complaints about a community-based code of silence are hypocritical. “Do what we say and not what we do” is really what they are saying. Can anyone say, “Who hired Angelo Torres?” City officials need to lead by example. Burge is on trial and still his fellow officers risk perjury charges and breaking immunity deals to hold the wall up.
In his recent testimony in the Burge federal criminal trial, former Area 2 detective Michael McDermott tried his hardest to walk back testimony he gave during his grand jury testimony in the case. The interesting part here is that McDermott is testifying under a grant of immunity. All these years later and McDermott is still holding to his post holding up the great blue wall of silence at great personal risk. If Burge is convicted, the prosecution has a clear case of perjury because McDermott’s testimony to the grand jury and the criminal court seem to contradict themselves significantly. Why would he do this given the fact that a grand jury investigation continues into what remains of Burge’s crew? The answer is simple, holding up the wall means more to McDermott than facing several years in federal prison. That about says it all doesn’t it?
Parents and community leaders are going to have to understand that they are part of the problem when it comes to abuse stemming from police activities. When parents and community leaders relentlessly turn up the pressure on police to be the answer for social ills one of the direct results will be over-policing and abusive practices. There simply is no way to remove the responsibility of the community in some of the abuse that comes from the hands of police officers. Now, this does stem from the fact that communities really have no other social institutions to turn to because our political leaders continue to defund them and instead turns their funding to expanding police department.
In Sunday’s Sun-Times a mother named Peggy Zabicki from the West Lawn community pens a letter to the editor criticizing a recent stop of her teenage child by police. They saw a young kid with a backpack and decided they wanted to search it. They used the excuse that they thought he might be a “tagger”. Zabicki criticizes the police because she believes their actions are prejudice against teenagers. The simple fact is that when communities demand that police stop crime their actions are obviously going to be repressive. When law enforcement is tasked with using police tactics to stop crime that equals a warrant to interrupt and intervene in the lives of young adults whenever and wherever they choose. Is this right? No, but neither are the community and city leader’s demands that the police are the answer to all the social ills that are the cause of crime and violence in our communities.
Community members must take action against incompetent local political figures that fail to resist efforts to broaden police responsibilities regarding their response to social problems. The police are not the answer to chronic unemployment, the horrible state of our education system, or the thievery that goes on in the form of institutional corruption. Calling the police to get the youth off the corner only perpetuates a system that assures they will have no options but the corner to sustain a living. Political leaders of our city set up the system because they have decided to make Cook County Jail the new ghetto. Citizens must resist into falling into the trap of perpetuating a system that was not set up in their interests. The criminal justice system should be the system of last resort; however, unfortunately our political leaders have created circumstances where it must be the system of first response to almost any social problem. Citizens must resist the urge to involve the criminal justice system in all but the most urgent of situations. This simply is a sad but necessary point of resistance.