CRIME
11/26/2015 09:24 am ET Updated Nov 26, 2015

Laquan McDonald's Shooting Is Just The Latest Episode In Chicago Police's Brutal History

City officials have framed the cop who killed McDonald as one bad apple, but the department has been rotten for almost a century.

The sight of a cop emptying 16 bullets into the body of a black teenager was one Chicago police likely hoped the public would never see. But after a year-long battle to get dashcam footage released, viewers around the world on Tuesday night watched video of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald take his last steps before officer Jason Van Dyke buried him in a haze of bullets and gun smoke. 

Viewers struggled to understand why the 14-year veteran cop would repeatedly shoot a teenager who, though armed with a small knife, was walking away. Still more wondered why a cop would continue to shoot -- and try to reload -- well after the teen was motionless on the ground. 

Van Dyke's actions were an outlier on the scene. Of the eight police officers present, he was the only one who had fired his weapon. He did so because he "feared for his life," his lawyer said. 

Though Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy lamented the tragedy, they painted it as the actions of one bad apple. But for Chicago police, the department's reputation of being "rotten to the core" -- marked by conspiracy, corruption, torture and racism -- stretches back nearly a century.  

A 1928 article in the Southeast Missourian, which features the headline, "Chicago Police Department Is Called Rotten."
The Southeast Missourian
A 1928 article in the Southeast Missourian, which features the headline, "Chicago Police Department Is Called Rotten."

"The utter disregard for the fulfillment of their duties by the police department is appalling, and there is no question in the minds of the members of this jury that the police department is rotten to the core," Frank J. Loesch, founder of the Chicago Crime Commission and anti-corruption reformer, said of the Chicago police in 1928.

At that time in Chicago's history, there was a vanishing line between organized crime and corrupt politicians. The department was described in a 1929 Illinois Association for Criminal Justice study as a pawn for both. 

That same year, President Herbert Hoover's Wickersham Commission peered into the nation's law enforcement efforts and found that police torture and interrogation tactics dubbed the "third degree" were "thoroughly at home" in Chicago: adult and even juvenile suspects were worked over with everything from a rubber hose to the Chicago phone book. 

In the subsequent decades, the tactics would only get worse.

A police officer is seen squirting mace, a body-disabling chemical, at a crowd of anti-war demonstrators outside the Hilton H
Michael Boyer/ASSOCIATED PRESS
A police officer is seen squirting mace, a body-disabling chemical, at a crowd of anti-war demonstrators outside the Hilton Hotel in Chicago on Aug. 29, 1968. Hundreds were injured in the bloody clash outside the Democratic Convention headquarters for Hubert H. Humphrey. (AP Photo/Michael Boyer)

Chicago police treatment of not just suspects but everyday citizens made worldwide in headlines in 1968 when officers clashed with anti-Vietnam War protesters amid the Democratic National Convention in Chicago. In one of the more egregious instances of brutality, police took off their badges and marched into crowds of chanting protesters to club them to the ground.

Connecticut Sen. Abraham Ribicoff called the police action "Gestapo tactics" in front of the entire convention as a furious Mayor Richard J. Daley looked on. 

Robert Maytag, the chairman of Colorado's delegation, at one point interrupted the convention proceedings to ask: "Is there any rule under which Mayor Daley can be compelled to suspend the police state terror perpetrated this minute on kids in front of the Conrad Hilton?" 

The following year, the Chicago Police Department reached another grim benchmark with the slaying of Fred Hampton.  

Hampton was singled out by the FBI as part of Director J. Edgar Hoover's 1960s-era Counter Intelligence Program (Cointelpro) that targeted "subversive" protest groups like the Black Panther Party and the Puerto Rican Independence Party. The bureau secretly worked both the CPD and the Cook County State Attorney to carry out Hampton's assassination. 
 
“Fred was a very charismatic Black Panther leader in Chicago," according to Flint Taylor, a longtime Chicago attorney whose People's Law Office for decades has represented victims of police misconduct and torture. "And this was the height of Hoover's repression." 
 
The CPD obtained a search warrant and went to Hampton's house at 4:30 a.m. Dec. 4, 1969. They knocked on the door before firing as many as 99 bullets into the home, killing Hampton, 21, and Michael Clark, a 22-year-old Black Panther leader from Peoria, Illinois. 
 
“The FBI even had a floor plan of Hampton’s home to know where he was sleeping," Taylor said. 
 
A total of 14 Chicago police officers participated in the plan, which Taylor called one of the most notorious examples of the department colluding with the state attorney's office and government authorities.  
Aaron Cheney demonstrates outside the federal courthouse where former Chicago Police Commander Jon Burge was attending a hear
Scott Olson/Getty Images
Aaron Cheney demonstrates outside the federal courthouse where former Chicago Police Commander Jon Burge was attending a hearing on charges he obstructed justice and committed perjury for lying while under oath during a 2003 civil trial about decades-old Chicago police torture allegations Oct. 27, 2008 in Chicago, Illinois. Burge cannot be charged for the torture of suspects because the federal statute of limitations for the crime has expired.
Perhaps the darkest era of the Chicago Police Department is one that still ripples into the lives of wrongfully accused men (and Chicago taxpayers) to this day: that of the notorious Area 2 Police Cmdr. Jon Burge and his so-called Midnight Crew. 
 

Burge, who honed his torture techniques during Vietnam, oversaw the abuse of roughly 100 black men over three decades. Many of his victims were wrongfully convicted -- some to death row -- as a result of the interrogations that included beatings, suffocation and electric shocks to the genitals. 

The city has since paid more than half a billion dollars in Burge-related lawsuits, while Burge himself served 3 1/2 years after he was convicted of perjury in 2011. While many of his victims still fight for restitution, Burge now lives near Tampa, Florida, where he keeps a boat named "Vigilante" and is on a $4,000-a-month police pension. 

Former Chicago Police Cmdr. Jon Burge walks with members of his legal team into the Dirksen U.S. Courthouse, Monday, Jun. 28,
Alex Garcia/Chicago Tribune/MCT via Getty Images
Former Chicago Police Cmdr. Jon Burge walks with members of his legal team into the Dirksen U.S. Courthouse, Monday, Jun. 28, 2010, in Chicago, Illinois. Burge was convicted on all counts of an indictment charging him with perjury and obstruction of justice.
Burge's evasion of tougher punishment stands as a striking example of just how rare it is for police misconduct in Chicago to be punished. A recent report by the nonprofit journalism group Invisible Institute found that, in over 99 percent of citizen complaints against police, officers were not penalized. Even seemingly slam-dunk cases can end with officers walking. 

In 1980, three officers beat to death a 51-year-old former mental patient named Richard Ramey after he was arrested for smoking on a train. Officers Louis Klisz, Fred Earullo, and Fred Christiano were suspended from the department weeks later, but didn't go to trial for more than a year. 
 
Christiano's charges were quickly dropped once trial started for lack of witnesses. Klisz and Earullo ultimately received manslaughter convictions, despite damming photo evidence that Ramey's injuries were sustained in the interrogation room -- and not on the train where Earullo said he "feared for his life" as Ramey "stabbed" him with a pen.  
Karolina Obrycka leaves Cook County criminal court after a hearing in the case of Chicago Police officer Anthony Abbate, Tues
AP Photo/Brian Kersey
Karolina Obrycka leaves Cook County criminal court after a hearing in the case of Chicago Police officer Anthony Abbate, Tuesday, Mar. 11, 2008, in Chicago. Abbate faces more than a dozen felony charges, including aggravated battery and official misconduct, in the videotaped beating of Obrycka, a Chicago bartender.
Anyone who has ever challenged the police's tactics risks encountering the "Code of Silence" that many advocates say pervades the department. Under the code, Chicago attorney Flint Taylor explained, officers close ranks around one another and provide alibis, corroborate one another's stories or simply stay quiet.
 
In 2012, a petite Chicago bartender named Karolina Obrycka tried to put that very code on trial. Five years earlier, she had refused to pour another drink for Anthony Abbate, an over-served off-duty cop who had come to her bar intoxicated before. 
 
Surveillance video captured the 250-pound cop throwing the 125-pound bartender against the wall, punching her in the face, kicking her and allegedly yelling, "nobody tells me what to do."
 
Abbate later claimed self-defense.
 
Obrycka alleged other officers covered up for Abbate, who was eventually convicted of a felony and fired. In her lawsuit, Obrycka alleged "that there is an attendant 'code of silence' that exists within the CPD, whereby officers conceal each other’s misconduct in contravention of their sworn duties."
 
In 2012, a judge sided with Obrycka -- despite protests from Emanuel.  
Donald Lightfoot holds a sign in support of Rekia Boyd while joining other protesters in Chicago on Monday, Apr. 20, 2015.
Nuccio DiNuzzo/Chicago Tribune/TNS via Getty Images
Donald Lightfoot holds a sign in support of Rekia Boyd while joining other protesters in Chicago on Monday, Apr. 20, 2015.
Unlike most of the 70 people fatally shot by Chicago police between 2010 and 2014, Rekia Boyd's name has been commemorated in chants, banners and songs, thanks to the Black Lives Matter movement. 
 

The 22-year-old Boyd was shot to death by Dante Servin, an off-duty detective, as she was enjoying an unseasonably warm spring evening with friends on the South Side in March of 2012.

Servin got into a verbal altercation with Boyd's group over noise as they were standing in the park. He claimed he "feared for his life" after a man in Boyd's group pointed a gun at him. It later turned out to be a cell phone. Servin fired over his arm at the group, fatally hitting Boyd in the back of the head.

Boyd's family was awarded $4.5 million in a wrongful death suit against the city, but Servin himself escaped conviction. He was cleared of all charges of involuntary manslaughter without having to mount a defense. The judge made her ruling on a technicality, saying prosecutors could not prove Servin acted recklessly because his actions were clearly intentional. In other words, the cop walked because he was under-charged. 

Chicago police Officer Jason Van Dyke arrives at the Leighton Criminal Courthouse in Chicago on Tuesday, Nov. 24, over the ki
Chicago Tribune via Getty Images
Chicago police Officer Jason Van Dyke arrives at the Leighton Criminal Courthouse in Chicago on Tuesday, Nov. 24, over the killing of Laquan McDonald.

Cook County State Prosecutor Anita Alvarez on Tuesday charged Van Dyke with first-degree murder in the shooting of Laquan McDonald. Alvarez said she was confident her office could meet its burden, citing video footage of the shooting as well as witness accounts. Alvarez didn't specify if the witnesses were motorists on the scene, or any of the seven police who were on the scene with Van Dyke.  

Taylor expressed skepticism that any of the officers on scene would break their supposed "code of silence."

"[Cops] go on record, they write reports, they testify before a grand jury. And if they’re proven wrong, they’re committing perjury," Taylor said. "They can’t turn back." 

For police that do break rank, Taylor said retribution is all but certain. He cited Detective Frank Laverty, who handed prosecutors evidence he gathered in 1982 which proved cops had fingered the wrong man for a crime. 

"Laverty, an experienced homicide detective, was reassigned to watch new recruits give urine samples," said Chicago attorney Flint Taylor, whose People's Law Officewas involved in the case. "In the station, we learned later that when Laverty walked through the room, [Cmdr. Jon] Burge would pull out his gun, put it to Laverty's back and go 'Pop! Pop!' in front of all the other cops in the room." 

Van Dyke's indictment was the first time in more than 30 years that a Chicago police officer had been charged with murder. If convicted, he could serve 20 years to life in prison -- and would be the first Chicago cop in the modern era to be convicted of first-degree murder from an on-duty shooting. 

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