The Chicago Police Accountability Task Force Recommendations Are Important for Racial Justice Beyond the Criminal Justice System
Almost two years ago, the Shriver Center pointed to the racial injustice embedded within the criminal justice system and urged that a new understanding of implicit bias could produce reforms that would prevent deaths like that of Michael Brown in a police shooting in Ferguson. Over the past few years we have seen many grassroots movements primarily led by young black organizations draw national attention to this longstanding epidemic. Last week, the Chicago Police Accountability Task Force, formed in response to the similar shooting of Laquan MacDonald, urged the City of Chicago and its police department to “acknowledge the force’s history of racial disparity and discrimination.” In its final report, the Task Force states that racism, which stems in part from our city’s long history of residential segregation, “undermines the Chicago Police Department’s relationship to the community.” The Task Force put forth thoughtful recommendations to reform the current policies and practices that have debilitated the public's trust in police in Chicago and across the country. These included recommendations to:
- create localized Community Empowerment and Engagement Districts (CEED) that collaborate with local stakeholders to develop tailored community policing strategies;
- implement a data driven, best-in-class Early Intervention System for the Chicago Police Department (CPD) to identify officers with problems before they become problems for the community; and
- establish a Deputy Chief of Diversity and Inclusion for CPD.
The task force report echoes community voices that have long been clamoring for such reforms, but have not until now been heeded by policymakers. The findings and recommendations of the Task Force are a call for action not just for Chicago but also for the nation.
Reforming the racially biased and discriminatory criminal justice system is important well beyond law enforcement. Arrests and convictions also sentence people to a lifetime of disadvantages and impenetrable barriers to housing, employment, public benefits, and voting and derail them from having a fair chance in this country. While our nation has made progress in acknowledging these collateral consequences of involvement in the criminal justice system, there is a long way to go for all of these other systems on the civil side to end blanket reliance on criminal records. Blanket bans based on criminal records are unjust even when the original criminal involvement was a legitimate conviction. They are exponentially worse when the original criminal involvement was the unjust result of a racially biased and discriminatory criminal justice system.
The actions of law enforcement officials have an important effect on youths of color. The task force describes CPD's relationship with youths of color as “antagonistic to say the least.” By acknowledging the random but pervasive physical and verbal abuse youths in communities of color experience from police, the task force draws attention to aspects of policing that do not make headline news, but nonetheless foster a relationship of distrust between police departments and the people they serve. Many black youths do not see the police as an institution that protects them. High school students on Chicago’s South Side discuss everyday instances of harassment that are too minor to merit the involvement of a civil rights lawyer but substantial enough to illegitimatize the police force collectively as a trusted source of protection. These negative encounters infiltrate every aspect of these students’ day—on their way to school, at school, and even at home. This common experience of youths of color throughout the country leads them to feel dehumanized and singled out as criminals in every aspect of their lives.
While racial bias has severe implications within every profession, within the police it pulls a lever that starts an assembly line leading toward involvement in the criminal justice system that transforms people of color into second-class citizens. That assembly line is lubricated by a code of silence that prevents good officers from slowing the process down, fixing it, or stopping it. It is not enough for leaders to admit that there is sanctioned racial bias and discrimination within the system, furthered by a code of silence. The department needs to create a professional environment where accountability can thrive and racial bias can be acknowledged and eliminated.
The task force report is a call to action. Its implementation through effective and sustainable action is an important measure of the commitment of the City of Chicago and this nation to make a fair chance not just a privilege for the few, but a birthright for all.