After police stood by and watched now-former Officer Jason Van Dyke pump 16 bullets into 17-year-old Laquan McDonald, the Chicago police department came under Justice Department scrutiny.
U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced the investigation after years of allegations and lawsuits against the department by Chicagoans concerning excessive force. The latest allegations came in the McDonald case, which revealed, among other things, that several of the officers who witnessed the shooting filed reports that were at odds with the videotape. The allegedly false reports claim that McDonald, who was carrying a three inch knife, was charging the officer when he was shot. Prosecutors saw things differently, and charged Van Dyke with first degree murder.
Now Chicago’s Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) is pushing back by demanding that the city of Chicago destroy all police misconduct records that are more than 5 years old. The FOP argues that keeping those records is a breach of the union’s bargaining agreement with the city, which states that disciplinary records will be destroyed after 5 years, and records containing allegations of excessive force will be destroyed after 7 years.
If the union prevails in having the city destroy the records, which go back nearly 50 years, it will be impossible for the Justice Department to establish a pattern of abuse.
Critics—and you can count me among them—say the police union is attempting to stymie the Justice Department’s investigation by essentially asking for evidence to be destroyed. And while I will leave it to lawyers to decide whether that amounts to obstruction of justice, I will say this: demanding such an action on the eve of a federal investigation takes unimaginable hubris.
The fact that the police union would go to such lengths to hide information tells me that Van Dyke is not the only Chicago cop who could be subject to criminal prosecution. But more than that, it tells me that good cops are remaining silent in this matter.
Unfortunately, the silence of good cops isn’t new. Perhaps there were good cops among those who stood by and watched as Van Dyke pumped 16 bullets into McDonald as he lay prone in the street. Perhaps there were good cops who watched as their colleagues filed police reports that vastly contradicted the evidence on the now-infamous video.
But why would good cops remain silent for over a year after witnessing what prosecutors allege is a murder? Why would good cops object to the release of departmental discipline records?
These are difficult questions for me, because I know good police officers exist. I trained with them as a teen at the North Philadelphia Police Athletic League where I learned how to box. I worked with them as a police dispatcher in my early twenties.
Today, they are my neighbors and friends, fellow parents and taxpayers. They are people I know and respect.
But there is a growing feeling among many in the African American community that good police officers, while calling on citizens to cooperate in solving crimes, have done just the opposite. Not just in the case of Laquan McDonald, but in cases too numerous to count.
CNN reports that a U.S. Justice Department study released in 2000 showed that “61 percent of police officers “do not always report even serious criminal violations that involve the abuse of authority by fellow officers.”
That kind of silence has enabled brutality to flourish, which brings to mind the age-old truism first penned by statesman and philosopher Edmund Burke.
“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”
And make no mistake. If good police officers don’t help to reign in the criminal activity of rogue cops, evil will continue to triumph, and it will do so more brazenly than ever.
Chicago’s FOP isn’t the only one demanding silence. In Pennsylvania, HB 1538, a bill that would protect the identities of police officers who shoot civilians, has been offered by state Rep. Martina White (R-Phila.).
If indeed we believe in an America that is free from oppression, we must seek to make sure that police are subject to checks and balances.
Allowing rogue officers to operate in the dark by destroying records and withholding information is tantamount to enabling their criminality.
I, for one, am not prepared to be a party to their abuses.
I’m calling for good police officers to stand with me.
Otherwise evil will triumph, because good men have done nothing.
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