LDF Statement on Department of Justice's Civil Rights Probe of the Chicago Police Department

The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF) supports the Justice Department’s decision to open a civil rights ‘pattern or practice’ investigation of the Chicago Police Department to determine whether the department has engaged in unlawful policing practices.  “The police-involved shooting death of 17-year old Laquan McDonald and the notorious Chicago police torture cases are clear signs of a troubled police department,” said Sherrilyn Ifill, President and Director-Counsel of LDF. “We are particularly gratified that the Department of Justice will focus part of its investigation on accountability within the Chicago Police Department,” said Ifill. “Given the number of officers on the scene of the Laquan McDonald killing and the willingness of some officers to corroborate a false account of how the teenager was killed, it is clear that accountability systems within the Chicago Police Department are broken. This cannot continue.”

A graphic video of a Chicago police officer shooting McDonald multiple times shows the teen moving away from the officers.  This contradicts reports by officers on the scene that McDonald moved toward the officers with a knife when he was shot.

Police ‘cover ups’ or the ‘blue wall of silence’ have existed for decades in Chicago. It was so entrenched that state elected officials established the Illinois Torture Inquiry and Relief Commission in 2009 to investigate and address the wrongful convictions of persons who were tortured by police and forced to confess to crimes they did not commit under the watch of former police chief Jon Burge. Reports estimate that about 192 persons, primarily African-American men, were tortured by Chicago police officers in the 1980’s and 1990’s.

“This type of police violence and abuse against civilians is what motivated Congress to give the Justice Department the authority to conduct ‘pattern or practice’ investigations,” said Janai Nelson, Associate Director-Counsel of LDF. “It is our hope that the Justice Department will consider charges under all federal civil and criminal statutes applicable to the actions of the Chicago Police Department.” However, this investigation does not relieve the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office from the obligation to pursue state obstruction of justice or other charges against any officers who made false statements or otherwise interfered with the investigation of the killing of Laquan McDonald. Given the failure of the state’s attorney to pursue these charges more than a year after Mr. McDonald’s death, we call for an independent special prosecutor to pursue this investigation.

LDF has successfully supported calls for a federal civil rights probe of the Baltimore Police Department, and eagerly awaits the Justice Department’s response to its request for a similar probe in North Charleston, South Carolina following the highly publicized death of Walter Scott, who was shot in the back by a North Charleston police officer. 

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The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF) is not a part of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) although LDF was founded by the NAACP and shares its commitment to equal rights. Since 1957, LDF has been a completely separate organization. Please refer to us in all media attributions as the “NAACP Legal Defense Fund or “LDF”.