Former Chicago police superintendent Garry McCarthy resigned last month in the fallout over the police shooting death of Laquan McDonald, a black man seen on video walking away from police officers. McCarthy resigned after questions arose over a police cover-up. Video evidence over what happened to McDonald -- disproving the initial police accounts of the incident -- took over a year to be made public. The city paid McDonald's family $5 Million with the condition that the video not be released. Protests erupted when footage of a cop shooting McDonald 16 times finally filled TV screens across the country.
Demonstrators now want not only Cooke County prosecutor Anita Alvarez but the mayor himself, Rahm Emanuel, to fall on his sword. Emanuel seems content with having McCarthy take the political fall. Protesters are unsatisfied and their determination to make top public officials pay the price for police killings could mark a movement's shift on to the offensive.
McCarthy's story lends some insight into the upper echelon of police leadership that connects across the country. Years ago, before he'd take over the reins at the Chicago police department, McCarthy was a tough-talking NYPD deputy commissioner. How tough? So tough that he cursed out a pair of New Jersey parkway police officers who attempted to give his family member a traffic ticket at a gas station. His wife allegedly even tried to grab her husband's gun as an argument turned into a melee that ended with McCarthy in handcuffs.
No one seemed to notice as McCarthy's stock rose. He jumped from NYPD deputy commissioner to police director in Newark, New Jersey under then-mayor Corey Booker. McCarthy brought with him there strategies and tactics that were, as he put it, "nurtured in the [Bratton] era", referring to COMPSTAT and Broken Windows policing learned under two-time NYPD commissioner Bill Bratton. As Chicago's top cop, McCarthy (remember, the belligerent foul-mouthed NYPD boss who fought with cops his damn self) became co-chair of Law Enforcement Leaders, the group of 130 police officials who lent their rhetorical weight this year to a national law enforcement-led move to supposedly end mass incarceration.
And yet down McCarthy went. The same thing happened in Baltimore with Anthony Batts. Adding fuel to a fire there that erupted with Freddie Grey's spine-severed death last year, Batts' embrace of New York born ideas, like aggressive quality-of-life policing, created the conditions for an uprising. Even a former Baltimore police commissioner pointed to Broken Windows policing as having created a wedge between the black community and police there. Batts might have learned the approach from self-described "close friend" Bratton, who graciously lent his services as a $560 an hour private police consultant in 2013 to the department Batts was running. Down went Batts.
Atop a good ol' boys club of police power sits its most influential member: Bratton. Perhaps America's most celebrated police official, he not only influences public officials, he revolves through powerful doors in the private world as well. His consulting and business resume rivals those of corporate CEO's. And in fact those private dealings have been of great use to him. When heading the Los Angeles Police Department, then under the purview of a federal monitor, Bratton had an inside track with the feds: the monitor was his friend and business associate. The federal monitor, Michael Cherkasky, oversaw Bratton's LAPD even though both had worked together for Kroll Inc., a New York-based corporate consulting behemoth. And when Bratton stepped down from the police department in 2009 he landed a cushy job at Cherkasky's new international security consulting company, Altegrity Inc.
The reason that protesters in Chicago are now intensifying their anger, with some now getting arrested, is because they sense corruption not just around the McDonald case and not just around the department, but around the entire system. They smell political blood in the water and they're calling out Emmanuel not only for delaying the McDonald video release for his own political purposes, but also for his decision to close 50 public schools -- themes that hit close to home for black Chicagoans and stretch beyond the police.
Chicago may end up inspiring new waves of protests focused on the behind-the-scenes machinations and politicians that have kept men like McCarthy, whose volatile temper should have never been allowed to head up a police department, untouchable until last month. Those dangerous ideas Chicago protesters are pushing under the #ResignRamh campaign have already elicited vows of solidarity among establishment figures with NYC mayor Bill de Blasio insisting Emmanuel be left alone to, get this, install reforms. Making mayors accountable, who'd want that precedent set?
If the system is corrupted from the top down then individual cops can't be the only focus. "Que se vayan todos!" is a popular protest slogan from Latin America, "Make them all go!" Police commissioners and mayors should be fair game. Their comfy relationships with federal oversight officials should be exposed. Their greasy political games should come to an end. Kick them all out. Bratton, the country's most influential police figurehead, would be a grand prize. Of course no resignation itself is a silver bullet, but it is a political bullet -- which is precisely what's needed in a war that we've struggled at times to merely respond to.