A disturbing revelation hits you early in the scathing, 183-page report of a Chicago task force investigation into the culture and practices of America’s second-largest police department.
Delivered like a well-placed baton blow, the report states that the Chicago Police Department’s “own data gives validity to the widely held belief the police have no regard for the sanctity of life when it comes to people of color.”
It doesn’t get any better from there.
Here are seven shocking findings from the blistering report:
1. Blacks are shot at alarming rates.
The numbers speak volumes.
Between 2008 and 2015, of the 404 people shot or killed by police officers, 299 (74%) were African-American – a group that makes up about a third of the city’s 2.7 million people.
The other shootings: 14% (55) were Hispanic; 8% (33) were white; and 0.25% were Asian, according to the report.
Whites account for nearly 32% of the city’s population, Hispanics about 29%.
Even the use of Tasers has affected blacks disproportionately. Of 1,886 Taser discharges between 2012 and 2015, more than 1,400 blacks were shot with the devices, while only 254 Hispanics and 144 whites were Tased.
This stark reality comes at a time when large swaths of Chicago are devastated by abject poverty and soaring homicide numbers.
Overall, shootings have also skyrocketed.
According to data provided by Chicago police, the number of shootings in the first three months of the year jumped from 359 in 2015 to 677 in 2016 – a more than 88% increase.
2. City has a sad history of false arrests and wrongful convictions.
Disagreeable police encounters have left an indelible mark on the psyche of the populace, the mayoral Police Accountability Task Force report said. Officers move on. But residents remain “affected and if the encounter involved physical or verbal aggression, even if there was no arrest, there is a lasting, negative effect.”
The racism and mistreatment go back decades. History is riddled with flashpoints: The police killing of Black Panther leader Fred Hampton in the 1960s; a wave of disorderly conduct arrests in the 1980s; the unconstitutional gang loitering ordinance in the 1990s; and the widespread use of investigatory “stops and frisks” in recent years.
“False arrests, coerced confessions and wrongful convictions are also a part of this history,” the report said. “Lives lost and countless more damaged. These events and others mark a long, sad history of death, false imprisonment, physical and verbal abuse and general discontent about police actions in neighborhoods of color.”
The task force called the October 2014 fatal shooting of black teenager Laquan McDonald by a white officer and the long delay in releasing police dashboard camera footage “the tipping point for long-simmering community anger.” Initial police accounts of the shooting were “superficial and false.”
“The videotape was painful, horrific and illuminating in ways that irrefutably exemplified what those in communities of color have long said, and shocked and stirred the conscience of those in other neighborhoods.”
3. Those sworn to protect instead often mistreat.
The community has good reason not to trust the 12,000-officer force, according to the report, which was released Wednesday. Racism has fueled longstanding institutional failures in a department where rogue officers often act with impunity.
And police officers are ill-equipped to engage with the city’s youngest residents, fostering a climate of antagonism and distrust, particularly among young people of color, according to the report.
“Children in some areas of the city are not only being raised in high-crime environments, but they are also being mistreated by those who have sworn to protect and serve them.”
4. Many cops view people of color as perps.
For some residents, any police encounter feels dangerous, the task force report said. Everyday activities like a walk in your neighborhood or a drive in your car can end in an aggressive police confrontation.
It doesn’t matter whether you’re a man or woman, young or middle aged, a doctor or a lawyer, a student or a city worker – residents of color can’t help but feel that many cops see them as perps.
5. Combating racial bias is not a department priority.
Department efforts to deal with racial issues are woefully inadequate, according to the task force. For cops on the beat, it’s unclear whether and when to use race as a factor when initiating stops. Little information about these stops is available to the public.
The police department has a long way to go in diversifying its ranks, especially at supervisory levels. And cops need to be trained to “acknowledge and address their biases” in order to be “culturally competent and have a proper understanding of the communities they are assigned to serve,” the report explains.
6. There is no accountability.
Ideally, the system is supposed to hold officers accountable to the people they serve and protect. It’s supposed to identify misconduct, investigate it and, when appropriate, impose discipline, according to the report.
But it doesn’t work that way.
“At every step, the police oversight system is riddled with legal and practical barriers to accountability,” the task force report said.
The Independent Police Review Authority is “badly broken.” Serious questions arise about its fairness, competency and independence.
“Cases go uninvestigated, the agency lacks resources and IPRA’s findings raise troubling concerns about whether it is biased in favor of police officers,” the report said.
“Up until recently, the agency has been run by former law enforcement, who allowed leadership to reverse findings without creating any record of the changes. IPRA has lost the trust of the community, which it cannot function without.”
From 2011-2015, 40% of filed complaints were not investigated by IPRA or the Bureau of Internal Affairs, the task force reported.
In 2015, arbitrators reduced disciplinary recommendations in more than 56% of cases and eliminated any discipline in 16% of them. Overall, arbitrators reduced or eliminated discipline in 73% of cases.
7. Police stops make matters worse.
In the summer of 2014, police stopped more than 250,000 people – that’s about 94 out of every 10,000 city residents – in encounters that did not result in arrests, according to the report.
For perspective, consider New York, where from 2011 to 2014, police stopped between 2 and 23 people per 10,000.
Of the 250,000 people stopped by Chicago police that summer, 72% were African-American, 17% Hispanic, 9% white, 1% Asian.
And the department’s reliance on traffic stops as part of its policing strategy “only served to worsen already fractured community relations,” the report said.
In 2013, 46% of 100,676 traffic stops involved African-Americans, 22% Hispanics, 27% whites, the report said.
Black and Hispanic drivers were searched about four times as often as white drivers, according to the report. But the department’s own data revealed that contraband was found on white drivers twice as often as on black and Hispanic drivers.
The task force report opened with a statement voiced at a community forum earlier this year: “The police need to know who they work for – the community. The authority that they have belongs to the people.”
A painful but necessary reckoning is upon us, the report said.