In 2007, the Mandel Clinic at the University of Chicago Law School released a study of the Chicago Police Department. The study was led by Professor Craig Futterman, who teaches at the law school, alongside a team of legal researchers. Their specific focus was on the CPD’s responsiveness to civilian complaints, and more specifically, the complete lack thereof. The study took place over a six-year period, ending in 2007.
The findings were horrendous. The researchers, including a fellow faculty member, a recent graduate, and a handful of law students, sampled 10,146 complaints filed from 2002-2004, and found that substantive disciplinary action was taken in two out of every thousand complaints studied. 85% of the complaints sampled by the Clinic were disposed of by the CPD without even interviewing the officer against whom the complaint was made. The disposition of the other 15% wasn’t much better.
We can assume, for the sake of argument, that a large plurality of these complaints might’ve been without merit. But this assumption seems of little help when one reads an example of one of the complaints made in the report:
In 2003 and 2004, Diane, a fifty year old African-American school janitor and mother of three, was subjected to multiple acts of abuse by a group of Chicago police officers. These officers were members of an elite tactical team that patrolled public housing on Chicago’s south side. Known as the “Skullcap Crew” to local residents, they had a reputation for racist and sadistic behavior. Over the course of the year that they targeted Diane for abuse, they forced her, on two separate occasions, to disrobe and bare the most private parts of her body. They threatened her with a loaded gun, needle-nosed pliers, and a screwdriver, leaving her convinced that they planned to rape and kill her. They beat and choked her. They hurled racial and gender-based epithets toward her. They tore up her home. They desecrated religious objects sacred to her. They threatened to plant drugs on her and to falsely arrest her. They beat her teenage son. They brought a middle-aged African-American neighbor into her home and forced her son to beat the older man for their amusement. Diane was subjected to these assaults on multiple occasions, despite initiating complaints with the Chicago Police Department (CPD).
One is struck by this statement from Futterman in the report:
In our years working at Stateway Gardens, we experienced the operation of a different constitution from that which we studied in our class rooms at the University of Chicago. Aggressive stop and frisks, street interrogations, and the searches of community members’ homes associated with the war on drugs in the inner city created the context for human rights abuses on a grander scale, committed by groups of officers like the Skullcap Crew against people like Diane. The expected rules were simply different in this community. Whenever police cars pulled into a public housing development, the young Black men outside expected to be searched and treated with the suspicion of being a criminal. Police misconduct that would constitute a dramatic and newsworthy event in our university community and in many of the communities from which we came was a routine reality at Stateway.
This is life for residents of poor, urban centers; particularly those in public housing. One of the reasons it can be difficult to convince a lot of
white middle-class people that this sort of abuse is pandemic is because they’ve never personally experienced it. Nor do they ever see it for themselves. And welfare recipients, and public housing tenants in particular, are not the most popular group of people in society. They are resented by people who stereotype them as lazy, and stigmatized by those who fear them via subconscious associations with criminality. So when the police abuse them, rarely does the public get outraged. Not in numbers large enough to matter.
Hopefully that will change one day. In the meantime, studies like this help humanize the victims of police misconduct in poor neighborhoods. In this modern era of limitless discretion and qualified immunity, it’s easy for the rabbit escape down the rabbit-hole. But studies like this shed light on the problem. And with a little luck, the culture of unaccountability will start to change.
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