There are too many essays being written about this week, its court decisions, and their meaning, and I do not want to be another pontificator. I do want to talk about what the shocking decisions of this week mean for the neighborhoods of our ward, a community that collectively struggles with questions surrounding justice and our city’s abuse of its own.
Throughout our neighborhoods, I have heard people expressing everything from shock to rage to resolve to act in the face of these two devastating court decisions: Judge Domenica Stephenson acquitting former Detective David March, former Officer Joseph Walsh, and Officer Thomas Gaffney of abetting Jason Van Dyke in his slaughter of Laquan McDonald; and Cook County Judge Vincent Gaughan’s paltry sentencing of Van Dyke to six years and nine months in prison for the murder of Laquan. They both repudiate the ray of hope Chicago felt when Van Dyke was found guilty of murdering Laquan. It is a message that the minimum will be done by our courts in the face of police brutality and lethal police abuse.
In the Fifth Ward, we have many important players in this tragedy who can speak to the largest questions as they played out in the particulars of this case. I will not attempt to do what they can do much better. I want to simply affirm the potential for justice in our city based on what I know my community is capable of. I want to affirm our ability to make change and to redeem our hope that our justice system might be made better.
The people demanded and got a guilty verdict for Van Dyke, just as the people pushed out Anita Alvarez and Garry McCarthy and eventually forced Rahm Emanuel to not seek another term. It was not politicians, it was not any one group or leader, but instead it was the people made these things happen. And the people will lead us forward. That is my view, and I think we need to take whatever steps we can to give the people the power to act, because that is where we will find justice and that is the only way our city will be redeemed.
We won’t get there with the existing leadership in place. When Harith Augustus was shot and killed by a Chicago police officer on 71st Street on July 14 this past summer, our neighbors spilled out onto that street to demand justice. The police responded with violence. We had a police riot on 71st Street that night, and the media hid it and Alderman Leslie Hairston was nowhere to be found, not that night or in the days that followed. At the next South Shore Chamber of Commerce meeting, Hairston praised the police for their restraint. I watched police officers club people who had fallen to the ground that night. Video was posted online for anyone to see. For Hairston, that was restrained.
There is legislation that would provide civilian control of the police already in committee in City Council. I will not go into detail about the Civilian Police Accountability Council ordinance here. Instead, I will refer you to the website of the lead group that convened community meetings where it was written and where support has been cultivated until fully 50,000 Chicagoans have signed on to this remaking of the Chicago Police Department.
But we need more. We need hearings, convened by the City Council, in which the voices crying out for justice can be heard. These need to be held in the neighborhoods and on the Council floor. We need to hear and see the truth together and we need to grieve and seek forgiveness and redemption for the cruelty of our city together. And we need political leadership with the courage to be this vulnerable, to not worry about liability and political fallout but instead to worry for a change about about the people all over our city who are hurting because we have a system of policing that is a system of abuse. And the voices of the survivors must be at the center of our efforts, and we must make this change.
This is the only way Chicago will find justice again. Because today, there is no justice in Chicago.