The Chicago Police Department is now officially under investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice. The move comes in the wake of the fatal shooting of Laquan McDonald by Chicago Police officer Jason Van Dyke. McDonald was shot 16 times by Van Dyke in an incident captured on police dash-cam video. The release of the video shocked the nation and caused mass street protests in Chicago.
But it was not only McDonald’s shooting that caused the investigation by the DOJ. The city of Chicago has been plagued by violence and police shootings of Black suspects for quite some time. The proliferation of violence has given the city the moniker of “Chii-Raq” and that reputation is the subject of a recent film by noted director Spike Lee. The McDonald case is already the subject of an investigation by the DOJ, however the new investigation announced will look into the practices of the Chicago Police Department and its policing of citizens. The Civil Rights division of the DOJ is now investigating whether or not the Chicago Police Department has a pattern of violating the civil rights of the people of Chicago.
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel at first called the pending investigation as “misguided” but later stated that he welcomed the increased scrutiny of the DOJ in Chicago. “We will let the Department of Justice address what action they will or will not choose to take, but as was made clear last week, we welcome the engagement of the Department of Justice as we work to restore trust in our police department and improve our system of police accountability,” stated mayoral spokesperson Adam Collins on Dec. 6.
The investigation by the DOJ was requested by Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan who wrote in a letter to the DOJ, “The McDonald shooting is shocking, and it highlights serious questions about the historic, systemic use of unlawful and excessive force by Chicago police officers and the lack of accountability for such abuse by CPD.”
The power of the DOJ to investigate these issues goes back to the 1991 beating of Rodney King in Los Angeles that sparked violent rioting in various cities across the country. A 1994 law passed by Congress gave the DOJ the authority to investigate and enforce changes to local police departments and the right to sue police if they do not comply with DOJ changes.
The investigation of the Chicago Police Department adds it to a long list of law enforcement agencies that have exhibited a pattern of police misconduct, including: Cleveland; the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department; Portland; New Orleans; Seattle; Puerto Rico; Albuquerque, New Mexico; and Warren, Ohio.