Chicago Police Department Superintendent Garry McCarthy listens to feedback, much of it critical, from aldermen during a Tuesday, Oct. 6 City Council committee meeting. | Igor Studenkov/Contributor.

In an incredibly tense meeting that lasted for more than five hours, members of the City Council’s Black Caucus lodged a barrage of complaints and concerns at the city’s top cop Garry McCarthy for what many of the aldermen claim has been his dereliction of duty — particularly when it comes to protecting, and engaging with, African American neighborhoods.

Less than 24 hours before the Oct. 6 meeting of the City Council’s Committee on Budget and Government Operations, Black Caucus members called for McCarthy’s resignation — with West Side Aldermen Michael Scott (24th), Jason Ervin (28th), Chris Taliaferro (29th) and Emma Mitts (37th) joining the chorus of discontent.

The black aldermen cited the rising tide of violent crimes across the city, the low number of African American police officers in leadership positions, and the lack of communication between the superintendent and their ward offices.

“I understand that we’re facing a historic budget crisis,” said Mitts, addressing McCarthy directly. “However, superintendent I want to tell you today that your policies are failing my ward and they’re failing the City of Chicago. They are failing our children, whom we’re burying regularly.”

Mitts’s comments at Tuesday’s meeting pivoted from her previous stance on the issue of McCarthy’s resignation. During a July candlelight vigil held in Humboldt Park for the slain 7-year-old Amari Brown, several community activists roused the crowd of more than 100 people with calls for McCarthy’s ouster.

“Supt. McCarthy needs to be fired,” said former CeaseFire head Tio Hardiman. “He’s been there for over four years and he has not solved anything. We need a young, African American superintendent who understands our people — both Hispanic and African American.”

Hardiman’s call for the superintendent’s ouster was echoed by South Side activist Jedidiah Brown and was accompanied by hearty applause. When asked at the time whether or not she thought McCarthy should resign, Mitts said, as an elected official, “I can’t say that and I will not say that.”

On Tuesday, however, Mitts, along with her fellow Black Caucus members, dug in with their criticisms of McCarthy. If Monday’s call for the superintendent’s resignation was the opening salvo, the Oct. 6 meeting was the frontal assault, with Caucus members launching an exhaustive round of reasons for why McCarthy should resign.

“You’ve been extremely disrespectful to every member in this body,” said Ald. Anthony Beal (9th), who zeroed in on how McCarthy conducted his listening tour over the summer and the superintendent’s policy of rotating commanders.

“Not once did you come and walk in our community,” Beal said. “Not once have you called the aldermen and said, ‘How can I partner with you?’ Not once have you taken my phone call. We had a great commander and you moved him to another district. I called to ask why my commander was moved to another district at the expense of the community — you still [have not called back].”

Mitts praised the city’s district commanders and beat officers, but felt that they were being hamstrung by what she described as McCarthy’s failed strategies. She argued that more cooperation among various governments was key to reducing Austin’s violence.

“We need more help,” she said. “We need more resources. I’ve asked the police department to join up with the State’s Attorney, join up with Oak Park police officers, to combat crime.”

Ald. Scott praised McCarthy for giving more resources to 11th District Commander Barbara West to combat the drug trade on the West Side, but the alderman expressed concern that those resources aren’t enough.

“Commander West would need even more resources than you gave her,” Scott said, adding that he wanted the police department to hire more officers who reflect the communities they serve.

Ald. Taliaferro, a former police sergeant, said morale in the department is low and isn’t improving. He suggested that the department loosen its education requirements.

“I don’t think you need 60 [college] semester hours to be a qualified officer,” said Taliaferro. “I firmly believe that we’re losing qualified minority applicants by placing education requirements [on the application].”

McCarthy said that 23 percent of the police department comprises African Americans, with 32 percent in executive positions and 17 percent working as detectives. He said he wasn’t certain how many African American officers are assigned to investigate violent crimes. According to Chicago Police Department (CPD) data, 78 percent of victims of violent crime are black.

When asked whether or not CPD’s psychological testing might be keeping qualified African Americans out of the department, McCarthy said that black applicants are passing the exams at rates similar to white applicants — with an 82 percent pass rate for black applicants, compared to an 84 percent pass rate for white applicants.

The complaints about McCarthy’s job performance weren’t limited to aldermen representing the city’s West and South Sides. Some North Side aldermen, including Aldermen Michelle Smith (43rd), Tom Tunney (44th) and James Cappleman (46th), expressed concern about CPD’s community engagement and the small number of officers in their wards.

Some aldermen, however, spoke out in support of McCarthy. Aldermen Ed Burke (14th), Joe Moreno (1st) and Joe Moore (49th) all insisted they’ve never had trouble communicating with the superindent.

For his part, McCarthy tried tempering expectations and making a case for progress that has happened on his watch.

In his opening statements to the committee, McCarthy summarized several recently unveiled initiatives that he argued would reduce crime. He said every seizure of an illegal firearm would be investigated by an assigned detective; more resources would be directed toward investigation violent crimes; and the city would direct more city services to high-crime areas.

“There’s no magic solution,” McCarthy said, referencing the city’s violence. “And I can’t tell you one thing that can change that. We all know it’s a complicated situation.” 

Igor Studenkov

Igor Studenkov is a winner of multiple Illinois Press Association awards for local government and business reporting. He has been contributing to Austin Weekly News since 2015. His work has also appeared...

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