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Chicago Tue Nov 24 2015

Alvarez Needs to Go, and She's Not Alone

Laquan McDonald was shot and killed on Oct. 20, 2014 by Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke. Exactly 400 days later, Van Dyke was formally charged with murder in McDonald's death. The charges were filed one day before the court-ordered public release of the dashcam footage showing the killing.

If the footage was so blatant that no less than Rahm Emanuel called it "hideous" (albeit without actually seeing it), then how on earth did it take 400 days for charges to be filed?

I asked that question online. Within an hour, I saw three other variations on that question asked by other people.

Unbelievably, Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez gave the answer that she "moved up" filing the charges, saying her original intention was to wait until the concurrent federal investigation had concluded. You can read that article for more of Alvarez's explanation. I'm not going to rehash it here, because there are limits to how much bullshit I can quote.

anita alvarezI've already said it elsewhere and I'll repeat it here: Alvarez should resign over this. But the more I think about it, the more I realize how minor that resignation would be overall.

Months ago, NBC5 reported that surveillance video from a nearby Burger King had allegedly been deleted. Then they reported that the dashcam video somehow has no audio.

But the point remains that the facts were clear enough to the City that a settlement has long since been reached with McDonald's family.

We can only hope that the federal investigation which is underway is not merely an investigation into McDonald's death. If justice delayed is justice denied, then the excessive delays smack of Obstruction of Justice. The issues with the videos similarly call into question what has happened in the last 400 days.

The Sun-Times writes about "the process" and how Van Dyke couldn't be summarily fired. While it is understandable that there be some kind of due process in a situation like this, 400 days is not due process. Charges could very well have been filed before the completion of the investigation.

Yes, Alvarez needs to be resign. But that's not all.

If Alvarez doesn't resign, then her remaining supporters among elected officials should publicly withdraw that support. If they don't, then they themselves should be held accountable at the polls.

The Fraternal Order of Police needs to come out and say that they will not, as a matter of course, support an officer in a situation like this. At an absolute minimum, Van Dyke should have been suspended shortly after the shooting, and the evidence should have been substantially overwhelming within the first couple of months for that suspension to be without pay. The FOP has an obligation to the general public and their own officers to accede to a more intelligent process.

Rahm Emanuel needs to not only speak out on McDonald's killing, but publicly say that the police need to accede to greater accountability. And he should give teeth to a true Citizens Review Board, not the existing Independent Police Review Authority. Now, I don't expect the Mayor to do anything like that, of course. But the City Council has a voice here as well, and they should be exercising it.

Eventually, when the feds are done, there better be additional charges against somebody. There must be some accountability for the excessive delay in filing charges and for the circumstances thereof. The feds should closely scrutinize all of the internal communications from the CPD and the office of the State's Attorney and any other governmental entity which inserted itself.

Also in the Sun-Times article is a reference to Van Dyke having been subject to 18 complaints over 14 years, eight involving excessive force, and two involving the use of a firearm. Whatever "process" has allowed someone with such a lengthy record of complaints to stay on the streets is not a process that respects the notion of serving and protecting.

To that end, Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy needs to be fired. The man has clearly not made the police force accountable, and the relationship between the police department and general public is far too poor because of the perception that officers can usually get away with anything. It is not enough to blame the union contract for this. The fundamental relationship between police and the general public needs to change, and McCarthy is clearly incapable of being part of such a change.

I don't usually write about things like this. It's not that I haven't been moved before by other examples of police violence. What strikes the chord here is that I don't see Van Dyke as some random out-of-control cop. I see him as a manifestation of a thorough systemic problem within Chicago, where major law enforcement decisions appear to be routinely made based not on what's best for the general public, but rather on what's best for managing the immediate news cycles.

Speaking out on an issue like this is very difficult. It's kind of like trying to condemn Israel for actions vis-a-vis the Palestinians, while still taking pains to emphasize the condemnation is directed toward the Israeli government. There's an easy knee-jerk reaction when calling out Israeli behavior to simply blow someone off as an anti-Semite, and then the conversation is over. Similarly, there's an easy knee-jerk reaction when law enforcement is called out to blow someone off as a cop-hater, and then the conversation is over. In neither case are most people willing to speak out, because they often feel like they can't relay any kind of nuance, since battle lines are too fixed. (I guarantee that some people will read this and think, oh, that's such a poor analogy to use. But that would just prove the point I'm making.)

The fact is that we need that nuance. We need a more serious conversation about the relationship between police, the State's Attorney's office, and the general public. We need to be able to be critical of CPD without it translating as hating on cops. We need elected officials who will help signal that such a conversation can take place. We need CPD and the FOP to send similar signals.

Most immediately, though, beyond the charges against Van Dyke, what Chicago needs right now is a new State's Attorney. If Alvarez won't go of her own accord, her patrons need to show her the door.

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Gregory / November 24, 2015 5:42 PM

I thought that Alvarez needed to go after the disaterous 60 Minute interview.

GP / November 24, 2015 7:41 PM

Rahm Emanuel needs to go. Chicago isn't Wilmette and he doesn't understand that nor can he relate to Chicagoans. His motivation for being Mayor was 100% financial. Insuring Uber had a foot hold in Chicago was his reason for being. Incompetent, aloof, arrogant liar. City Council is spineless and Rahm rules supreme.

Andy / November 26, 2015 11:37 AM

Anita Alvarez....the same prosecutor that said that Daley's nephew acted in self defense.....remember that one ??
She sees as her main job to defend her bosses whether they are right or wrong.
Even a moron can see from the video that this was an uncalled for shooting and she sits on it for a whole year, probably to protect Emanuel's re election.

Philip Wik / November 26, 2015 1:19 PM

So far his year, more than four hundred people have been murdered in Chicago. One of the many reasons for this carnage may be that people don't trust the police to protect them and they don't trust the courts to uphold due process. So in this atmosphere of distrust, they arm themselves thus adding to the violence.

Nor is the problem just one or two bad apples in the barrel. The entire barrel is corrupt from top to bottom, and it doesn't line up with reality to think otherwise. It's like been made in the Mafia. It’s the license to steal and kill with impunity. It's little things like flashing their badge or putting their cap on the dashboard to park where every they like to big things graft from organized crime and the suppression of evidence or torture. While individual policeman may be honest and courageous, the pressure to conform with the prevailing culture is too great and undermines that honesty and courage. It's much easier to go along to get along, to do their twenty years, and retire with a nice pension.

Cook County's head prosecutor Anita Alveraz's attempted cover up of this case is a symptom of this bias. What seems to the police as professional courtesy seems to most people as a finger on the scales of justice to deliver a miscarriage of justice.

It might be that Chicago could be approaching a tipping point. It seems more likely that nothing will change. Van Dyke will be found not guilty, Alveraz will win re-election, and Chicago will continue to pay millions of dollars to compensate for police misconduct, while the carnage-- which will effect policemen and their families-- becomes even bloodier.

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