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The Ferguson Effect Strikes the Chicago PD

We turn our attention now to the city of Chicago, where both Northsiders and Southsiders are reveling to see that their respective baseball teams, the Cubs and the White Sox, are comfortably in first place.  Yes, it’s only May, but in Chicago one must revel when one can.  And when Chicagoans check their morning newspapers to see how their teams fared the previous evening –  the batting averages, the home runs, the strikeouts, and all the rest – there is another set of statistics they consult, one that appears as regularly as the box scores but calls for no celebration: They look to see how many people in Chicago were shot overnight.

And they most often find the answer is quite a few, as reflected in this May 7 story from the Chicago Tribune.  “A 58-year-old man was pronounced dead,” the story begins, “after a bullet ripped through a front door of his home and struck him in the head as he was eating dinner.  The man was one of five people shot Saturday, police said.”  The story was posted to the paper’s website at 9:55 p.m., Central Time, which left more than two hours of prime crime time for Saturday’s total to run even higher.  But if the number of shooting victims held at five with only one of them killed, Chicagoans would label the day a modest success.  So far this year the city has averaged more than nine people shot and 1.5 homicide victims per day.

And amid all this carnage we are told that the trouble in Chicago is not that people shoot each other with such casual alacrity and alarming frequency.  No, they say, the trouble in Chicago is that the police officers aren’t nice enough.  Last month, Chicago’s Police Accountability Task Force released its report (PDF) on the perceived defects of the Chicago Police Department, chief among which, they say, is racism.  At a series of community forums held by the Task Force, the report says, Chicago residents expressed “their deeply held view that racism, or at least racial bias, is the root cause of the lack of trust between CPD and minority communities.”  Indeed, the word “racism” appears 15 times in the 190-page report, and the word “bias” appears 84 times.  We are thus led to believe that when one black teenager picks up a gun and shoots another black teenager, somewhere there is a white person who can and should be blamed for it.

The history of race relations in Chicago is long and complex, and no serious discussion of the city and its Police Department would be complete without addressing that history.  But the Task Force surrenders much of its credibility on the matter in its nakedly dishonest effort to blame the city’s ills on racism in the Chicago P.D.  On page 7 of the report, immediately after revealing its conclusions about police racism, the Task Force presents a series of statistics intended to buttress these conclusions.  Among the people shot by Chicago police officers between 2008 and 2015, the report says, 74 percent were black, 14 percent were Hispanic, 8 percent were white, and 0.25 percent were Asians.  The percentages break down similarly in the number of people on whom police used Tasers between 2012 and 2105.  The city’s population, the report points out, is almost evenly split among whites, blacks, and Hispanics.  Thus the uninformed reader is led to believe that the disproportionate number of shootings and Tasings involving blacks and Hispanics can only be ascribed to racial animus among police officers.

In this the Task Force has engaged in a common subterfuge among those who turn a blind eye to the reality of crime, to wit, comparing the number of people shot or Tased (or arrested, or stopped and questioned, or what have you) to the overall population rather than to the pool of criminal offenders.  As the Chicago Tribune’s map of shooting incidents demonstrates, the incidence of shootings across the city corresponds quite neatly with each neighborhood’s demographics.  The uncomfortable truth is that in Chicago, as in any other American city you could name, those neighborhoods with the highest concentrations of blacks and Hispanics see the highest levels of violent crime.  One may argue why this is so, but not whether it is.  If the police are asked to address this crime, officers will of necessity be deployed where it occurs and come into contact with those responsible for it.  Some small percentage of those contacts will be acrimonious; some still smaller percentage will be violent.

In Nashville last month, a white police officer attempted to arrest a black man for assaulting a black woman, an effort that might have been applauded in many places.  But this incident took place in a housing project, and as this video (warning: coarse language) makes clear, the prevailing sentiment among the many witnesses was clearly on the side of the alleged lawbreaker as they cheered his escape.  Some in the crowd went so far as to attack the officer and assist in that escape.  Taking race completely out of the discussion, what conclusions should a police officer – or anyone – draw about a place where such appalling behavior seems to be so common?  Yes, this was Nashville, but cops in Chicago and many other cities know the same thing could happen to them in some neighborhoods.

But, as we’ve discussed previously here on PJ Media (here, here, and here) in Chicago, as in many other cities, officers are coming to the conclusion that the risks of these violent contacts are prohibitive and that a prudent regard for one’s livelihood demands a less zealous approach to combatting crime.  No, the cops aren’t afraid of getting shot or stabbed or otherwise injured in an altercation, they’re afraid of becoming the next YouTube sensation when an arrest goes wrong and fails to unfold in a manner approved by cowardly department brass, unprincipled politicians, and ignorant “community leaders,” all of whom exhort the cops to go out in the streets and stop the madness, but to do so without hurting anyone.

It is a given that most major cities, even those in so-called red states like Texas, are governed by liberal Democrats.  Police chiefs in these cities are selected based on their ability to espouse the doctrines favored by these leftist politicians, i.e., poverty causes crime, private ownership of guns should be outlawed, and all the rest.  Thus at the top of nearly major police department in America is a chief whose political outlook is no different from that of the mayor.  Whether it’s Rahm Emanuel in Chicago, Bill de Blasio in New York, Eric Garcetti in Los Angeles, all of them have selected police chiefs who are comfortable toeing the party line.

At the bottom of these police departments are the cops on the street, men and women who know from sad experience that the liberal nostrums advocated by their chiefs are unproductive at best and harmful at worst.  In any police department a line can be drawn somewhere between the chief and the street cops that delineates where the break between these outlooks can be found.  In a healthy police department, that break can be found at or near the top, as with some chiefs who can mollify his political masters while maintaining a realistic outlook on crime and thereby his credibility with his cops.

But these chiefs are rare.  Far more common is the chief whose experience on the street is so long forgotten and whose ambition is so consuming that he willingly abandons his credibility with his subordinates for the sake of staying in the good graces of the mayor.  Witness the malleability of Commissioner William Bratton in New York, who while serving under Mayor Rudy Giuliani 20 years ago spoke candidly about crime, but who today holds his tongue while working for Bill de Blasio.  And look at LAPD Chief Charlie Beck, who was well regarded among the troops while rising through the department’s ranks, but who under Mayors Antonio Villaraigosa and Eric Garcetti has morphed into nothing more than a liberal politician with a badge.

And in Chicago, when it came time for Rahm Emanuel to choose a new superintendent for the Police Department, he selected Eddie Johnson, who in his first interview with the Chicago Tribune said he had no immediate plans to change any crime-fighting strategies, but hastened to inform us that even he had been subjected to racial profiling.  Yes, there’s a man who will get those shooting numbers down.

We must not excuse or overlook racism where it occurs, most especially within a police department.  But nor can we excuse or overlook the poisonous culture that produces so much bloodshed.  If Eddie Johnson were so gifted as to root out all traces of racism within the Chicago Police Department, it wouldn’t prevent even a single shooting.  Chicago is a violent city, but the cops are not the problem.

(Artwork created using multiple Shutterstock.com images.)