Some West Side residents aren’t satisfied with Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s decision on Dec. 1 to dismiss Supt. Garry McCarthy. The move came one week after the release of dashboard-cam video showing the fatal shooting of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald by a white police officer.
Many see McCarthy as the fall guy in a cover-up that implicates a range of city officials and elected leaders, including numerous aldermen, Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez and Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
McDonald was shot 16 times by Officer Jason Van Dyke on Oct. 20, 2014, with some of the shots fired while the teen was on the ground.
Van Dyke was charged with first degree murder on Nov. 23. He is the first police officer charged in a fatal on-duty shooting in Chicago history. Van Dyke was released from Cook County jail after posting 10 percent of his $1.5 million bail.
“I think he got thrown under the bus,” Austin resident Mildred Wiley said of Supt. McCarthy, whose forced resignation happened hours after he appeared on a local news station saying he wouldn’t resign.
“Some restitution had to be done. He was the scapegoat. There were a lot of people calling for him to take the hit. That’s kind of been the scenario after these situations,” Wiley added, referring to other superintendents who were forced out after the police-involved shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri and the in-custody death of Freddie Gray in Baltimore.
Janice Spencer, of Austin, also believes McCarthy was a scapegoat. But she said he is not the sole person to blame in the department’s handling of the McDonald murder. Spencer believes the department took too long to release the video and that the State’s Attorney took too long to charge Van Dyke, which only strengthens her opinion that the video was part of a vast cover-up conspiracy.
“There were other people involved in this decision and each one of those people should be held accountable for what happened — not just not McCarthy,” Spencer said.
Melanie Brown, a South Side resident, called McCarthy’s firing somewhat of a win. But she added that he was “the lesser of the evils” to be sacked.
“I think he was a sacrificial lamb. They got rid of McCarthy to just try to get our minds off of other people [involved],” Brown, 31, said.
She believes Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez and Mayor Emanuel hold some responsibility. Alvarez took 400 days to charge Van Dyke and only after a Cook County judge ordered the video tape’s release. Brown wondered how much the mayor knew and even questioned the City Council’s Black Caucus, the members of which agreed with other aldermen to vote on a $5 million settlement without allegedly knowing all the facts.
“Even the police officers on the scene hold some accountability,” she said. “They lied. They said the man [McDonald] was coming to them with a knife. They should be held accountable.”
Janeicia Williams, president of the West Side NAACP’s youth council, is glad McCarthy is gone. She said he initiated a lot of policies that targeted youth, especially stop and frisks. The American Civil Liberties Union issued a report that showed police made 250,000 stop and frisk searches between May and August 2014. Blacks accounted for 72 percent or 182,048 of those stops, even though they comprise just 32 percent of the city’s population.
“It is definitely a big issue and it is overdone within our community,” Williams said, adding that she hopes the new police chief will reform that policy.
Austin resident Darryl Thomas cited the uptick in gun violence that’s occurred during McCarthy’s tenure. The city has seen an increase of shootings. According to the Chicago Tribune’s analysis of city data, in 2014, there were 2587 shootings in Chicago, compared to 2752 so far this year, an increase of 6.4 percent.
The number of homicides is also up from last year — with 429 murders this year compared to 423 in 2014 and 420 in 2013, according to Chicago’s data portal.
“His removal was definitely warranted,” Thomas said. “I do believe there is some type of change that needs to come about in order to incite new policies.”
Thomas wants to see more police body cameras and transparency in the department’s handling of police misconduct allegations and officer-involved shootings. Van Dyke had 20 misconduct complaints filed against him, which ranged from excessive force and illegal searches to verbal abuse — all of which were un-sustained by the Independent Police Review Authority (IPRA), according to the Citizen Police Database project, which tracks police misconduct complaints.
And according IPRA’s website, 18 of the 50 officer-involved shootings in 2014 were fatal. As of Sept. 30 this year, there have been 24 officer-involved shootings in the city — four of them fatal.
Thomas said he is not ostracizing the entire police department, “but you do have a lot of bad low hanging fruit that corrupts the whole barrel.” He believes McCarthy’s firing will bring about internal policy changes in the department. But for now, he said, it signals that “at least the general public is being heard as it relates to their concerns with the violence going on.”
Wiley also hopes change will happen under the mayor’s newly created police accountability taskforce. The taskforce aims to review the system of accountability, oversight and training that exists for Chicago’s police officers. Wiley hopes that the taskforce “would be an opportunity for us to make some lemonade out of this poor young man’s death.”