JAMIE KALVEN: Thank you, Wes. My first reaction when Randy called to tell me I'd been selected to receive the 2016 Ridenhour Courage Prize was to recall a Robert Benchley line my father was very fond of. "You must be thinking of the other Mozart." [laughter] My second reaction was at once to be honored and humbled to have my name linked with that of Ron Ridenhour and to find myself in the company of past recipients of the prize.
My third, and enduring, reaction is profound gratitude for this acknowledgement of past work that serves as an inspiration for the work that lies ahead. When I first stood at the site of the Laquan McDonald shooting several weeks after the incident, I couldn't have imagined standing at this podium 16 months later. Nor could I have imagined the extraordinary and mysterious process by which Laquan McDonald's story has become a public narrative that bears comparison with that of another child of Chicago, Emmett Till. The story has broken through into the moral imagination, providing an avenue for deeper understanding of systemic conditions that give rise to police abuse and impunity. The crime, the execution of a child on the streets of Chicago, is shocking.
Equally shocking has been the institutional response to that crime. While the boy was bleeding out on the street, the machinery of denial went into motion. Evidence was destroyed, witnesses were intimidated, police reports were falsified, public information was withheld from the public. And ultimately, a $5 million settlement was entered into by the city with the family of Laquan McDonald on the condition that the now-famous video not be released.
For 13 months, at every level and at every turn, city officials maintained a narrative about the incident they knew to be untrue. The term code of silence evokes something essential; the coerced silence of police officers who don't report misconduct by fellow officers for fear of reprisal. And equally, the silence of abused citizens who believe they have no redress.
Yet, the term is also something of a misnomer. For the larger phenomena is not a matter of silence, it's a matter of narrative control. The code is best seen as a set of tools for enforcing that control. To an extraordinary degree, in the wake of the political upheaval precipitated by the McDonald case, the City of Chicago has lost control of the narrative. [applause] This has created an historic opportunity for real and enduring reform.
As Danielle noted, last week a task force on police accountability appointed by the mayor, issued its report, a sweeping indictment of entrenched racism within the department and a detailed blueprint for reform. The report states, and I'll quote this extraordinary language again, "The police in Chicago have no regard for the sanctity of life when it comes to people of color." That's from an official body in Chicago.
Racism is foundational. Issues of police accountability are embedded in the great unfinished business of American life, the blood knot of race. If reform is to run true, we must construct a path forward akin to South Africa emerging from apartheid that leads over time to a different kind of society.
It won't be easy. While this may prove to be a transformative moment, there are no transformative remedies. Rather, there are an array of concrete measures, reforms, interventions, none of them transformative in themselves, that may in the aggregate begin to change systems and cultures.
It's yet to be seen whether we'll be able to rise to the occasion. If we are to do so, we must resist the tendency, in itself a form of denial, to rush past diagnosis to prescription. While it's imperative to implement particular reforms as soon as possible, it's also critically important to sustain the process of diagnosis, of truth telling, of public acknowledgement.
The knowledge necessary to fix the system exists within the system, but it's atomized, scattered, divided from itself. In recent years in Chicago, we've broken through official secrecy and established the principle that police misconduct files are public information. We thus have unprecedented access to police disciplinary data. It's equally important, though, to access information on the ground in the communities most affected by abusive policing, and equally to create conditions such that conscientious police officer do not have to risk everything in order to report misconduct by fellow officers.
This process of public acknowledgement is exemplified by the McDonald case. We would not know the name Laquan McDonald were it not for the civic courage of two individuals who must, for the moment, themselves remain unnamed; a whistleblower in law enforcement who reached out with a tip about the case and a civilian witness, who despite his fears of police reprisals, told me what he had seen. I dedicate this unexpected and heartening award to them. Thank you.
The #FOIAfest panel "How independent journalists, attorneys uncovered alleged police misconduct through FOIA" kicked off March 12 in Chicago.
Come learn from more than two dozen journalists and other experts on everything from police misconduct and politicians using private email for public business, to filing a public records request and digging through data. Invisible Institute founder, Jamie Kalven, and producer, Darryl Holliday will be featured on panels:
Jamie Kalven: How independent journalists, attorneys uncovered alleged police misconduct through FOIA at 10a, March 12
Darryl Holliday (via City Bureau): Tackling big stories with limited resources at 3p, March 12
Visit FOIAIllinois.org for a complete schedule and line-up of speakers.
- WHAT: FOIAFest 2016
- WHEN: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Sat., March 12
- WHERE: Loyola University Chicago’s Water Tower campus
- *Sessions split between Lewis Towers, 820 N. Michigan Ave. (entrance is on Pearson Street) and Corboy Law Center, 25 E. Pearson St. More details to come.
COST: (breakfast and lunch included)
- $5 for students
- $15 for Chicago Headline Club members
- $20 for non-members
FOIAFest is generously supported by the Chicago Headline Club, Loyola University Chicago and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation.
Invisible Institute producer Darryl Holliday profiles Chicago's Black Lives Matter movement through one of its most prominent activist organizations, the Black Youth Project 100. The Chicago magazine piece is featured in the March issue and online here, with artwork from our partner, Illustrated Press.
The night of December 9, 2015, was a particularly tense one at the Chicago Police Department headquarters on Michigan and 35th, just south of the Loop. That afternoon, hundreds of protesters had marched up the Magnificent Mile, stopping at intersections to disrupt traffic, as they had several times since the November 24 release of the now-infamous Laquan McDonald video. Earlier in the day, Mayor Rahm Emanuel had publicly apologized for the shooting death of the 17-year-old at the hands of a police officer, but that acknowledgment only seemed to fuel the outrage.
Now, as the Chicago Police Board began its monthly public meeting, a standing-room-only crowd filled the first-floor auditorium. The McDonald shooting was top of mind for many on hand. Some in the audience refused to sit quietly, resorting to chants of “Sixteen shots! Stop the cover-up!”
Out interactive data project recently won a Knight Foundation grant to develop and expand the CPDP — here's what folks had to say on social media.
CHICAGO -- The Invisible Institute, a journalism production company on the South Side of Chicago, has been named one of 17 winners of the Knight News Challenge on Data, which asked for ideas that make data work for individuals and communities. The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the nation’s leading funder of journalism and media innovation, awarded the creative nonprofit $400K to continue to develop its Citizens Police Data Project -- the largest interactive database of police misconduct. Knight Foundation made the announcement today at a convening at Civic Hall in New York.Read More
Jamie Kalven was on a panel of journalists and policing professionals January 7, 2016, at the University of Chicago’s Institute of Politics. The conversation, “Chicago After Laquan McDonald: Rebuilding the Trust,” included retired St. Louis Chief of Police Daniel Isom, Chicago Sun-Times columnist Mary Mitchell and Kate Grossman as moderator.
See the full conversation below:
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel stands at the center of a crisis that threatens his administration, his political viability and his legacy.
Revelations about the city's handling of the 2014 fatal police shooting of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald have provoked charges of a cover-up. A rising chorus is calling for the mayor's resignation. The collapse of public confidence is such that his every act and utterance is interpreted in the most negative possible light. And steps he has taken thus far to address the situation — firing the police superintendent and the head of the agency that investigates police shootings, appointing a task force to recommend reforms, embracing federal oversight of the Chicago Police Department and making an impassioned mea culpa speech to the Chicago City Council — have done little to quell public outrage.
Can the mayor rebound, restore a measure of public confidence and effectively address the institutional conditions that enable and shield police misconduct? Speaking as a journalist who has reported extensively on police abuse and impunity in Chicago, repeatedly sued the CPD under the Freedom of Information Act and played a role in bringing the McDonald case to light, I hope the mayor can rise to the challenge.
In 2008, in the midst of the cascading collapse of financial institutions, Emanuel, then President Barack Obama's chief of staff, famously remarked, "You never want a serious crisis to go to waste."
Less often quoted is the second part of that remark: The reason you don't want to waste a crisis, he said, is that it presents "the opportunity for us to do things you could not before."
What we are confronting in Chicago are systemic conditions that have long existed. The institutional responses to the killing of Laquan McDonald — the operation of the code of silence, protracted investigation as a form of cover-up, the use of settlements to avoid public and judicial scrutiny, etc. — are not departures from the norm. They are the norm.
The Emanuel administration did not create the dysfunctional culture within the CPD. But having inherited it, the administration accommodated itself to that culture and defended it, culminating in its deplorable handling of the McDonald case. It has a lot to answer for. Yet the political reality remains that, in the absence of a galvanizing crisis, it would have required extraordinary leadership to take on these deep pathologies.
Now the mayor's political survival hinges on making the most of the opportunity "to do things you could not do before" created by the crisis that has engulfed his administration.
In his speech to the City Council on Wednesday, he described this crisis as "a defining moment on the issues of crime and policing — and the even larger issues of truth, justice and race." He admitted that there is a code of silence within the Police Department that must be addressed. Most important, he acknowledged the reality of residents of the city who have reason to distrust the police, and he sounded the theme that police accountability is essential to effective law enforcement.
The mayor's description of deep, systemic problems within the CPD is in sharp contrast to his statement on Nov. 23 that only "one individual needs to be held accountable" in the Laquan McDonald case, Jason Van Dyke, the officer who shot him. And Emanuel's acknowledgment of the code of silence directly contradicts the arguments by city lawyers who sought unsuccessfully in 2012 to have a federal judge vacate a jury verdict that included the finding that a code of silence exists within the CPD.
Only through his actions in coming days can the mayor give full credence to his words and demonstrate that he has truly broken with the past. The public and press must demand on a daily basis that he live up to those words. At the same time, it is important to recognize that we are all implicated in these conditions. The problems do not exist apart from us — from a press too often satisfied to publish the police blotter, from a passive City Council, from a citizenry conditioned to tolerate the intolerable.
We thus find ourselves in Chicago in the early stages of something akin to a truth and reconciliation process. A necessary condition for realizing this historic opportunity is public acknowledgment of the realities. Mayor Emanuel's challenge is to facilitate such an accounting and at the same time to withstand public outrage at what is revealed.
While federal intervention is welcome, it is important that it not pre-empt this unfolding political and social dynamic. For what is ultimately at stake at this pivotal moment in our history is a precious opportunity to progress from a society that tolerates apartheid justice toward one that guarantees equal treatment under the law.
— Jamie Kalven
December 10th, 2015
Chicago Tribune Op-ed
Jamie Kalven spoke at the Chicago Urban League for “Truth and Justice for All: Advancing Police and Community Accountability” panel, which examined the need for improved policing practices by the Chicago Police Department (CPD) following the deaths of Laquan McDonald and Ronald Johnson.
On December 9, the Chicago Urban League (CUL) brought together leading voices on social justice and legal issues for a critical discussion on how to reform the CPD and why reform is necessary. Kalven was joined by the following speakers:
Lorenzo Davis, former Chicago Police Department investigator
Craig Futterman, Clinical Professor of Law, The University of Chicago, and Founder, Civil Rights Accountability Project
Trina Reynolds, Black Youth Project 100
Shari Runner, Interim President & CEO, Chicago Urban League
Paul Strauss, Co-Director of Litigation for the Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and Director of the CLC’s Employment Opportunities Project
Rufus Williams, President and CEO of BBF Family Services
We're happy to announce that the Invisible Institute has won the December 2015 Sidney Award for the Citizens Police Data Project (CPDP), an interactive database of 56,000 complaint records for more than 8,500 Chicago police officers.
Many thanks to The Sidney Hillman Foundation — we'll eagerly await our bottle of union-made wine.
Our interactive database of 56,000+ Chicago police misconduct complaints went live Nov. 10 — here's what people are talking about in the first week of its launch.
In June, the Chicago Reporter made public a video of police officer Marco Proano opening fire on a moving car containing six unarmed black teenagers at 95th and LaSalle streets. On July 29, the City Council approved a $360,000 settlement to three of the teens, two of whom were injured. What the intrepid Reporter didn’t know when they broke the story was that Proano had shot and killed a 19-year-old black youth named Niko Husband almost two years earlier on July 17, 2011.
The Chicago Independent Police Review Authority's practice of not including the names of officers involved in shootings in the information it releases is inconsistent with prevailing standards of transparency established by the 2014 Illinois Appellate Court decision in Kalven v. Chicago—a FOIA case in which Invisible Institute founder Jamie Kalven was the plaintiff—and adopted by the city in its policy for implementing that decision.
This is an easy fix. There are no legal or technical impediments to immediately adding the names to the investigation summaries. The Proano episode dramatizes what is at stake. Whether inadvertently or by design, essential public information was withheld from the public. IPRA should move immediately to make sure this never happens again.
Read our full story in the Chicago Reporter.
For the past four years, the Mandel Clinic and the Invisible Institute have been engaged in an inquiry into youth-police interactions on the South Side of Chicago. Initially, the aim of the project was to introduce high-school students to practical applications of civil rights law. Toward that end, we conducted workshops in a variety of venues – classrooms, after-school programs, anywhere that would have us.
Over time, it became apparent we had more to learn from the teenagers we were addressing than we had to teach them.Read More