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The Spin: Politicians pivot to police reform | For Lightfoot, Preckwinkle and others, George Floyd death a painful reminder of racism in their lives | Chicago begins reopening

Wednesday, June 03, 2020
Chicago Tribune
by Lisa Donovan

Politicians across the country — including in Chicago and even in Congress — are pivoting to long-discussed police reforms in the aftermath of the Minneapolis police killing of George Floyd last month.

During a televised speech last night, Mayor Lori Lightfoot called for “peace” in Chicago. But the mayor also announced that she’s asked new police Superintendent David Brown to enact a series of reform measures in the next 90 days aimed at improving police-community relations, from classes to help officers understand the history of the neighborhoods they’re patrolling to a crisis-intervention program to help officers struggling with trauma and mental illness in a department that saw a cluster of suicides between 2018 and 2019.

Chicago boasts a diverse lineup of city leaders, including African American women elected to lead the city and Cook County governments, as well as the prosecutor’s office. But as they and other several high-profile African American officials have called news conferences to condemn the bursts of violence and looting following George Floyd’s death, they also have shared their own deep anger and grief over another black man dying at the hands of a white police officer. Some have related personal accounts of how systemic racism and prejudice has touched their lives.

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle recounted a story she’s told before about the two black families — hers being one of them — in her grade school in St. Paul, Minnesota, just across the river from Minneapolis. But at a weekend news conference where she reflected on Floyd’s death, her recounting of the bullying she faced at the hands of racist kids somehow felt more brutal: “From the first time I was in about first grade until about fourth grade, my younger brother and I were frequently waylaid by white boys on the way home from school.” She said the boys called them racial slurs and started fights. The torment, she said, was one of the reasons she studied history, so she could “discover why white people hated us so much.”

While not an elected leader, Brown talked about his resolve to change things — one shared by Preckwinkle and other black leaders. During a news conference this week, he shared a story about the push and pull of being African American and in law enforcement that began as soon as he decided as a 20-something college student to become a cop.

Brown said he wanted to not only fight crime in his own neighborhood, but to change an institution that his own father — who tried to talk him out of a policing career — saw as oppressive to African Americans.

Welcome to The Spin.

Cook County President Toni Preckwinkle and Mayor Lori Lightfoot at a rally in support of Cook County State's Attorney Kim Foxx on Feb. 28, 2020.
Cook County President Toni Preckwinkle and Mayor Lori Lightfoot at a rally in support of Cook County State's Attorney Kim Foxx on Feb. 28, 2020. (E. Jason Wambsgans/Chicago Tribune)

They have lauded the peaceful marches and have made it clear they’ll crack down on opportunist burglars and arsonists taking advantage of the painful global outpouring over the death of George Floyd. But some of Chicago’s elected leaders, the people we vote for (or against), are also sharing personal reflections of how the Floyd case — and systemic racism in this country — has affected them.

Mayor Lightfoot, the first African American woman to hold the post in Chicago, has praised the city’s police for doing the “heroic work” of answering thousands of calls daily to stem gun violence and shutter drug markets — made more difficult in recent months by a pandemic and, in recent days, some violent protests.

But the mayor also gets the strong public reaction to an unarmed black man killed by a white police officer. “I understand the anguish and pain that many people are feeling. Its roots stretch back across our history and reach the very fibers of our society, stemming from that original sin” of racism, the mayor told reporters this week.

The fraught history of police and the black community is something she said she carries with her when she walks through the front door at night: “We can’t rest knowing that black mothers and fathers in our city still live in fear of getting a phone call about something terrible happening to one of their children. I know I hug my daughter a little longer at night every time I hear a story about Mr. Floyd and I think about my brothers and men in my family; another black American that is killed in this way. And it’s a generational burden. I know my mother carried it, and I carry it too.”

Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx, the first African American woman to serve as the office’s top prosecutor, said watching video of the now-fired Minneapolis police officer kneel on Floyd’s neck, hand in pocket, knowing he was being filmed reflects a larger “casual acceptance of racism in this country”: “For those who don’t understand — to watch a man casually take the life of another under the color of law — as a law enforcement professional and as a black woman ... my heart broke,” Foxx said during a Sunday news conference. “What we have seen in this country are broken hearts and anger at the continual cycle that we have seen of the casual acceptance of racism in this country,” she said, ticking off other examples including health care and economic disparities that run along race lines.

Foxx, who’s up for reelection this November, has campaigned on a promise to continue trying to shore up yet another disparity: a criminal justice system where African Americans and Latinos historically have been overrepresented in the courts, jails and prisons.

As a parent, too, she is grieving and frustrated: “I have four teenage daughters who are frightened out of their mind.”

For Brown, a mayoral appointee, his regular reminder that policing is a difficult but “noble profession” came Saturday night as he watched some demonstrators turn violent and go after officers who held forth and worked to calm the situation. The experience took him back to why he wanted to get into law enforcement, despite his own father’s misgivings, he said during a recent news conference.

“I’m nearly 60 years old now, but when I was 21 ... I wanted to make a difference in what was happening in my neighborhood.” he said, adding: “I wanted to be a cop, I wanted to help, I wanted to help people.”

Brown recalls his father, born in 1939 Jim Crow America “asked — he lectured me, ‘Why do you want to be associated with an organization like that, that mistreats people of color?’ I told my dad: ‘How will it ever change if we don’t serve and get involved?’”

‘This is a step back.’ Latino activists speak out about racial tension with black Chicagoans on Southwest Side amid George Floyd fallout: The Tribune’s Laura Rodriguez Presa has the story here.

Special prosecutor in Laquan McDonald case says George Floyd’s a call for swift change in criminal justice system: Kane County State’s Attorney Joe McMahon, the special prosecutor who secured a guilty verdict against white Chicago police Officer Jason Van Dyke in the 2014 shooting death of Laquan McDonald, issued a statement today expressing his “disgust” over the Floyd killing, saying “there’s no known police technique I’m aware of that justifies” an officer kneeing on the neck of someone handcuffed and prone, begging for his life.

McMahon, a Republican who decided not to run for reelection this year, said it goes beyond policing: “Our system of justice must recognize where it has fallen down with inconsistencies in charges, prosecutions and sentences, in addressing police misconduct and how these mixed messages are received by the public.”

And in a moment of self-reflection, the outgoing prosecutor added: “I, like many across Kane County and our nation, ask myself if I have contributed to the discord. Have I done my part to strengthen the fabric of America? What have I learned since 2014” when Laquan McDonald was killed in Chicago or “the Rodney King beating in 1991 and the civil rights movement in the 1960s? We have made some progress, but we need to do better.”

Former Dallas police Chief David Brown appears with Mayor Lori Lightfoot at City Hall on April 2, 2020, where she announced he's the next Chicago police superintendent.
Former Dallas police Chief David Brown appears with Mayor Lori Lightfoot at City Hall on April 2, 2020, where she announced he's the next Chicago police superintendent. (Abel Uribe / Chicago Tribune)

During a televised speech last night, Mayor Lightfoot said she’s asked Chicago police Superintendent David Brown to enact a series of reform measures in the next 90 days aimed at not only improving police-community relations but also to help officers deal with the trauma that comes with crime fighting.

The Tribune’s Gregory Pratt lays out the mayor’s to-do list she gave Brown to complete over the next three months, including launching crisis intervention and procedural justice training for all officers, and establishing a new program for recruits on police-community relations and community policing with input from residents, she said.

The mayor also is calling for Brown to flesh out an officer “wellness” program as well as a support program for officers in crisis. Read Pratt’s full story in the Tribune, here.

Reminder: This comes as the city is under a federal consent decree that mandates changes to training, supervision and discipline. The reform rollout has been slow, as my colleague Dan Hinkel wrote in a piece out yesterday: “Late last year, the first periodic report from the independent monitoring team hired to guide the department’s progress found the city had missed 37 of its 50 deadlines during the first six months of implementing the court order.”

The court-supervised consent decree came on the heels of the police killing of African American teen Laquan McDonald and a wide-ranging report by the U.S. Department of Justice that portrayed the city’s police as poorly trained and loosely supervised, with little reason to fear discipline. The Justice Department’s findings echoed long-standing complaints about flawed investigations into shootings and the disproportionate use of force against minorities, among a host of other issues.

Minneapolis may follow Chicago’s lead on the consent decree: Read The Associated Press story here.

Prosecutors level more serious murder charge against Minneapolis police officer in death of George Floyd, as they announce new charges against three other officers: Read the story here.

Discipline factor: I spoke with the Rev. Jesse Jackson, the civil rights leader, earlier this week, who said he’s heard time and again that it’s a few “bad apples” responsible for the crime and other problems on the any given police force. While that may be true, he sees a flawed system that makes it difficult to get rid of bad actors — either because of a “Code Blue” system in which fellow officers don’t report a problem colleague or police union contracts that make it difficult to fire an officer.

Snapshot: Several years ago, the Chicago Tribune and ProPublica Illinois examined “314 disciplinary appeals the police union pursued on behalf of officers between February 2010 and February 2017.” Of those, “266 led to favorable outcomes for officers. Police had their punishments reduced or — in 58 of those cases — had them overturned entirely.”

Perspective: “About half of the 314 total grievances were decided by an independent arbitrator selected by the union and the city. In the others, union officials and city lawyers negotiated settlement agreements before arbitration began, typically for officers to receive a reduced punishment in exchange for withdrawing their grievances,” The Tribune and ProPublica reported.

Quotable: Sharon Fairley, the former chief administrator of the Civilian Office of Police Accountability, which investigates allegations of officer misconduct, said at the time that the frequency with which officers win grievances raises questions about the disciplinary system. Read the full piece here.

The Wrigley Field marquee reads "END RACISM" as demonstrators walk North Clark Street as they protest the death of George Floyd.
The Wrigley Field marquee reads "END RACISM" as demonstrators walk North Clark Street as they protest the death of George Floyd. (Erin Hooley / Chicago Tribune)

From the Tribune’s Robert Channick: "While small businesses tend to broken store windows and damaged merchandise amid fallout from George Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis police, major brands are busy weighing in on systemic racism in America.

“McDonald’s, Walgreens and the Chicago Cubs are among the Chicago-area companies that have posted social media messages, sent letters to employees and held town halls in recent days denouncing discrimination, and pledging commitments to diversity and inclusiveness. Nationally, the list of companies and CEOs taking a stance is a who’s who of consumer brands: Apple, Google, Nike, Citigroup, Uber and Netflix, among others.”

Expert eye: Channick notes, “Taking a stand can help both the company and the cause, according to Myriam Sidibe, a senior fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School and an expert on the impact of social mission marketing campaigns by brands.” Read the full story here.

Faith leaders, supporters, and members of the community attend a rally in Bronzeville after the May 25 killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer.
Faith leaders, supporters, and members of the community attend a rally in Bronzeville after the May 25 killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer. (Armando L. Sanchez / Chicago Tribune)

From the Tribune's Gregory Pratt: "On Chicago’s first day easing coronavirus restrictions on city businesses, Mayor Lori Lightfoot and police Superintendent David Brown expressed hope that the city’s civil unrest was calming.

"But, they said, the city remains on guard against both the COVID-19 disease and looting.

"The city’s keeping all of its resources in place, including the National Guard, and making strategic adjustments to help make sure residents in the neighborhoods feel safe, “given the looting,” Brown said.

By the numbers: Pratt also reports that officials recorded the lowest number of arrests since the weekend, with 274, Brown said. The city also had the lowest number of looting calls and arrests, he said. There were 46 disorderly conduct arrests, he said, mostly for people throwing rocks or verbally assaulting city cops.

Recovering from a pandemic, then vandalism: Many store owners are dealing with empty shelves and shattered windows, the wreckage left by looters, largely on the South and West sides, but downtown as well. With a 9 p.m. curfew in place and the ongoing threat of the coronavirus, the so-called return to normal will likely be slower than already expected.

Chicago mayor sets up $10M fund amid vandalism, unrest, calls for insurance companies to ‘start cutting checks’ as ransacked businesses clean up: You can read the Tribune stories here and here.

Illinois congressional Democrats to President Donald Trump: ‘We strongly object’ to suggestion of sending military to state to halt protests: U.S. Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, of Schaumburg, and other Democrats in the state’s Washington delegation told Trump in a letter they objected to his call to send the military to states where unrest continues over George Floyd.

“While a president reserves the authority, under the Insurrection Act of 1807, to dispatch the military to the states in extremely limited circumstances,” the letter states, “we strongly object to asserting that authority here because not only are such limited circumstances not present, but also such a course would prolong and exacerbate the current unrest.” Read the full letter here. Mayor Lori Lightfoot said she’d take Trump to court if he tried to deploy the military on protesters.

Downtown definitely reopens: After days of road closures and reduced transit service because of incidents of looting and violence, access to downtown Chicago started today, the Tribune’s Mary Wisniewski reports. Read her story here.

But CBOE delays reopening of trading floor after widespread disruption in the Loop: The Tribune’s Robert Channick has the details here.

Lavance Fulton restocks shelves at Mariano's in Chicago's Bucktown neighborhood amid the coronavirus pandemic on March 19, 2020.
Lavance Fulton restocks shelves at Mariano's in Chicago's Bucktown neighborhood amid the coronavirus pandemic on March 19, 2020. (Chris Sweda / Chicago Tribune)

From the Tribune’s Alexia Elejalde-Ruiz and Jonathon Berlin: "Before the death of George Floyd ignited a powder keg of tensions over social inequities in the U.S., COVID-19 had already laid them bare.


“Blacks and Latinos, as well as lower-income people, are not only more likely to die from the disease than whites, but also are disproportionately hurt by the economic fallout because of the kinds of jobs they tend to hold. In a new report, the Illinois Economic Policy Institute quantifies the “significant structural inequities” COVID-19 has revealed about Illinois’ economy.”

Snapshot: “Face-to-face workers, who hold jobs like restaurant servers and hair stylists, make up a quarter of the workforce and are disproportionately made up of blacks and Latinos. Remote workers are more likely to be white and living in Chicago.” Story and graphics here.

Museum layoff wave continues: Lincoln Park Zoo cuts 18 workers amid COVID-19 budget shortages: The Tribune’s Steve Johnson has the details here.

Thanks for reading The Spin, the Tribune’s politics newsletter. Sign up here to have it delivered to your inbox weekday afternoons. Have a tip? Email host Lisa Donovan at

Twitter @byldonovan

Lisa Donovan

Lisa Donovan is a veteran Chicago journalist and host of The Spin e-newsletter. An Omaha native and University of Nebraska-Lincoln graduate, she’s called Chicago home for more than two decades. While Donovan and her husband live on the North Side, they trek all over the city, including to see their beloved White Sox play (and sometimes win).



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