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BGA panel addresses Laquan McDonald legacy

A year ago this week, the Chicago Police Department, under a court order, released a video that showed 17-year-old Laquan McDonald being shot 16 times by a Chicago police officer as the teen moved away. The images rocked the city. Since, officer Jason Van Dyke has been charged with murder, the Department of Justice opened a wide-ranging investigation, the agency that investigates police misconduct has been abolished and a steady drumbeat of protests have pushed the city to pursue a wide range of other reforms.

But whether anything has fundamentally changed after the resulting political and social uproar is an open question, as assessed by a wide-ranging group of five panelists Monday at a forum at Columbia College hosted by the Better Government Association. The session, a so-called idea forum called “Laquan’s Legacy: Police Reform in Chicago,” was moderated by BGA President and CEO Andy Shaw.

The panel was comprised of Frank Chapman, a field organizer with the Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression; Jamie Kalven, a journalist and founder of the transparency and journalism non-profit Invisible Institute; Anne Kirkpatrick, chief of the Bureau of Organizational Development at the Chicago Police Department; Lori Lightfoot, president of the Chicago Police Board and a partner at Mayer Brown LLP; and Rebecca Raines, the criminal justice chair of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) westside branch.

The panelists differed sharply over whether the city’s reforms, also touted Monday in a progress report released by Mayor Rahm Emanuel, spelled change in Chicago’s neighborhoods. While Kalven and Lightfoot agreed that the aftermath of the McDonald shooting had prompted reforms advocates have sought for decades, Chapman said elected officials shouldn’t have ignored an effort from activists to push through legislation requiring an elected civilian oversight board to oversee CPD.

“We do not trust the police to have control of it,” Chapman said. “They’ve had this power for decades, you might even say Centuries, and they have abused it. The solutions they are suggesting as a path ahead is not including the people.”

But Lightfoot said such a board would result in moneyed and politically connected groups – namely the police union – pushing through candidates.  “The reform that is necessary will be stopped in its tracks,” she said.

Kalven, whose recent series in The Intercept explored Chicago’s “code of silence” among police officers unable or unwilling to report police misconduct, said the police department’s culture must be changed. Lightfoot said the city should, at the very least, set up an anonymous hotline for officers to relay information, and she also praised a new inspector general’s office that would oversee the police department’s efforts to root out misconduct.

“It requires heroism to break ranks,” Kalven said.

While Shaw ended the meeting by saying that Chicago is “a much better city than we’ve allowed,” Lightfoot interrupted the applause to leave on a more optimistic note. “Keep the faith, keep the pressure on,” she said. A year from now, she said, people would be able to see substantial progress.