The Chicago Police Department’s history of corrupt policing and bureaucracy is being revived in national headlines after the recent murder charge in the police shooting of an innocent black teenager. Officer Jason Van Dyke was charged with first-degree murder in the fatal shooting of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald, an incident reminiscent of not only Chicago’s unjust police system, but all of America’s nationwide ignorance of institutional police corruption.
Like many other infamous unarmed civilian murders that occurred within the past few years throughout the country, the McDonald case was hindered by police misconduct and cover-ups. Van Dyke was finally charged after dashboard camera footage of the shooting was released, which showed clear evidence of the officer’s actions—yet the police hid this footage for almost a year. Additionally, security camera footage from a nearby Burger King allegedly caught the entire incident on tape and evidence suggests police erased the security footage.
The Chicago Police Department’s police brutality goes beyond racial profiling and the victim-blaming characterization of young black males as “thugs.” Chicago’s police force is deep within an unethical existence of using illegal means to save their own asses—and not even facing major consequence when their actions are revealed.
In reaction to the McDonald case, The Atlantic cited two previous police corruption scandals within the Chicago Police Department. In the 1970s through the 1980s, a Chicago police officer—who later was promoted to detective—allegedly used war torture tactics he learned in the Vietnam War against incarcerated men. He was dismissed from the police force in 1993, but was never charged with torture or any other crime. From 2004 until recently in 2015, an off-the-books incarceration facility in Chicago was discovered to have hidden the identities of and refused the legal rights of over 6,000 incarcerated people.
If we dive deep into the histories of police departments in cities across the country, we’d probably find similar scandals involving the mistreatment of incarcerated people—those of whom, in Chicago, are mostly black—and the lack of consequences for corrupt officers.
Although the McDonald case is not new or unique compared to the many unjustified murders that occur regularly in America, the backlash against the dishonest bureaucracy involved in the case seems to be turning heads. Racism and victim blaming against people of color cannot entirely hide the hard facts and proof of police forces acting to cover up their rogue officers.
Police brutality has nearly become the face of public discourse about race relations in America and situations such as those involving the Chicago Police Department have been publicized with much fervor and protest—both literally and figuratively. There is frighteningly little that people of color and allies in America can do against powerful and unethical police forces than protest and fight for the lives of the force’s victims.
The Van Dykes of America’s police forces should not be the only ones facing the consequences of their actions. The behind-the-scenes bureaucratic powers that lie and cover up and destroy crucial evidence should be considered just as responsible for the deaths of these primarily young, black Americans.
To be able to go against superiors is difficult as well. The police officers who are just and want to create peace within the system may find themselves in compromising situations. Nothing short of an overhaul of our police forces, their training and bureaucratic organization can start some sort of change.