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Condemnation | Chicago Lawyers vs. CPD

The Chicago Council of Lawyers was founded in 1969 by local lawyers, still reeling from the prior year's Democratic National Convention, who were concerned about the fundamentally unfair policies and practices prevailing in Chicago and across the country.

This weekend, nearly 700 people were arrested during protests against police brutality in Chicago.

In the wake of the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor in Minneapolis and Louisville, respectively, several sources have shared horrifying accounts of CPD officers pepper-spraying apparently peaceful protestors and known journalists, pushing people to the ground and beating them with batons, ramming crowds with police vehicles, assaulting reporters, and much more.

The Council condemns, in the strongest possible terms, police violence against demonstrators and journalists in Chicago and elsewhere and the culture of systemic racism, police militarization, and mass incarceration that give rise to the horrifying scenes we have witnessed across the country. We also condemn President Trump's stoking of racial divisions and incitements to violence.

Chicago's long history of anti-black racism is well-documented and palpable, but the violent actions of police over the past several days showed a general lack of restraint, disregard for public safety, and intolerance for dissent that feels eerily similar to those in 1968. As Chicago's first public interest bar association, it is our duty to speak out strongly against all forms of structural violence in our city - including at the hands of the Chicago Police Department.

Approved in January 2019, the Federal Consent Decree aims to dictate the direction of police reform in Chicago, but - while certainly a step in the right direction - it in no way removes the biases and long-standing barriers to justice that are deeply rooted in CPD contracts.

The Council joined as a member of the Coalition for Police Contracts Accountability (CPCA) to release a Series on Police Accountability and Union Contracts (December 2019), which included papers covering "Barriers to Identifying Police Misconduct;" "Conditions that Make Lying Easy;" "Requirements that Evidence of Misconduct be Ignored or Destroyed;" and "Barriers to Investigating Police Misconduct."

There are three collective bargaining agreements governing the supervisory positions at the Chicago Police Department. These current contracts - all of which expired over three years ago - include specific limitations on transparency and protections that enable officers to lie about misconduct.

As we saw with the murder of Laquan McDonald in 2015, the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) Lodge 7 and Illinois Policemen's Benevolent and Protective Association (PBPA) unions' contracts with the City of Chicago effectively make the "code of silence" official policy.

Officers were allowed a 24-hour grace period before submitting statements, which led to the 16 CPD personnel lying about what they witnessed, which permitted the boy's killer, Jason Van Dyke, to avoid murder charges for almost a year.

Until the harmful provisions in police contracts are changed, CPD officers will continue to operate under a separate, unequal system of justice.

The Chicago Tribune reports that the City of Chicago has spent over $750 million on Chicago police officers' misconduct-related payouts, settlements, and losses at trial since 2004 - this includes civil rights cases, car crash claims, racial discrimination complaints, sexual harassment suits, and some other legal matters. The economic burden placed on Chicago taxpayers to pay for police corruption is a minor issue compared to the detrimental intergenerational effects such entrenched systemic CPD misconduct has had on our city's marginalized, divested, primarily Black communities.

The Council calls on its members and the legal community at-large to fight against and invest in fixing our broken criminal system. We call on our members to contact their representatives, engage with their communities, and whenever possible, volunteer or provide pro bono representation to support meaningful criminal justice reforms, including:

* Reforming the CPD's collective bargaining agreements to eliminate the code of silence and hold officers accountable;

* Joining the fight to eliminate money bond statewide, and until it is eliminated, support organizations like the Chicago Community Bond Fund that provide assistance for arrestees given unaffordable bonds;

* Advocate for and sign witness slips in support of sentencing reform legislation to reduce and eliminate our state's and our country's destructive, racist culture of mass incarceration.

Council members should also be advocates and allies in the fight against injustice by naming and combating bias and prejudice whenever they encounter it in their homes, communities, or practices. We can - and must - provide pro bono assistance in whatever form possible (be it individual representation or work toward structural change) to eliminate racial inequities. We must elevate Black voices and Black organizations leading the fight against injustice.

Police departments across the country have proven time and again that they do not have the capability, impartiality, or frankly the will to provide the internal oversight necessary to police themselves. We know that our recommendations in no way cover every aspect of change necessary to protect Black lives from unjust, state-sanctioned violence and death. We only hope to provide these strategies to the community as an offering of mutual aid and solidarity on behalf of our members, volunteers, and staff. We stand with you.

Black lives matter.

David Baltmanis
President, Chicago Council of Lawyers

Malcolm Rich
Executive Director, Chicago Council of Lawyers & Chicago Appleseed

Sarah Staudt
Senior Policy Analyst & Staff Attorney, Chicago Council of Lawyers & Chicago Appleseed

Stephanie Agnew
Pro Bono & Communications Coordinator, Chicago Council of Lawyers & Chicago Appleseed


Comments welcome.


Posted on June 2, 2020

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