A Corruption Beyond Chicago's Top Cop

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

As David notes, Garry McCarthy, superintendent of the Chicago Police Department is out. The bungled investigation of the killing of LaQuan McDonald made his position untenable:

Immediately after the shooting last October, a Chicago police union spokesman said that McDonald had lunged at officers before he was killed. And in an official statement the next day, Chicago police said McDonald "refused to comply with orders to drop the knife and continued to approach the officers." The video, however, showed McDonald walking down the street, away from officers as Van Dyke opened fire.

With that video airing on news telecasts across the country and online around the world, McCarthy and Emanuel's one-bad-apple narrative of Van Dyke's actions didn't square with Chicago's sordid police history that once again was back in the national spotlight. Serving as the backdrop: decades' worth of police torture and wrongful conviction cases, corruption and ineffectual oversight in shootings and other excessive force actions. Time and again, the department had quickly cleared officers of allegations, only to have civil litigation later reveal video and other evidence that painted a much darker picture of police misconduct.

That last part is crucial. Conor has a good rundown on how deep the problems in the CPD run. You can add to that rundown the killing of Rekia Boyd, the maintenance of black sites, and a heritage of torture. So grand is the scale of Chicago’s police brutality that the city has, over the past 10 years, paid out a half-billion dollars in settlement money to victims:

The half-billion spent on these cases could have built five state-of-the-art high schools and more than 30 libraries, repaved 500 miles of arterial streets, or paid off a big chunk of the pension bill.

What this suggests is that while it’s good that McCarthy resigned, an accountability that ends with him is the minimum possible. Many people charged with the safety of Chicago’s citizens, from actual officers on the scene up to the mayor, were in position to know that this was murder. That it took a year to reach that determination is evidence of something beyond “one bad cop,” something even beyond “one bad superintendent.”