Authors Bryan Burrough and Chris Tomlinson on why we need to remember the Alamo - but not in the way that most Americans are taught. Their new book is “Forget the Alamo: the Rise and Fall of an American Myth."
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel fired the city’s police superintendent yesterday. The move came a week after the release of squad-car video showing a white Chicago police officer shooting an African American teenager. The officer shot 16 bullets into the 17-year-old, who was walking down the street carrying a small knife. The video sparked days of protests in Chicago, reminiscent of unrest in other cities after fatal shootings of African Americans by white officers. In Chicago, the mayor also announced a task force on police accountability. Diane and guests discuss the latest on Chicago and efforts across the country to improve public trust in the police.
- Paul Butler Professor, Georgetown Law School
- Mary Mitchell Columnist, Chicago Sun-Times
- Carrie Johnson Justice correspondent, NPR
- Darrel Stephens Executive director, Major Cities Chiefs Association; former Chief of Police for the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department
- Ray Kelly Former police commissioner of New York City; author of "Vigilance: My Life Serving America and Protecting Its Empire City"
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Chicago's attorney general is asking the justice department for a civil rights investigation into the shooting of a black teen by a white officer. A judge, last week, ordered release of a video of the incident. Protests ensued and yesterday, Chicago's mayor fired the city's police superintendent. We'll talk about what's happened in Chicago and whether major reforms are needed in many of the nation's police departments.
MS. DIANE REHMJoining me in the studio, Paul Butler of Georgetown University School of Law and Carrie Johnson of NPR. Joining us from a studio in Charlotte, North Carolina, Darrel Stephens of the Major Cities Chief Association. I invite you to be part of the program. Give us a call, 800-433-8850. Send us your email to email@example.com. Follow us on Facebook or Twitter. But first, joining us from Chicago is Mary Mitchell. She's a columnist for The Chicago Sun Times.
MS. DIANE REHMMary, thanks for joining us. I know you wrote a column calling for the firing of the police chief, Gary McCarthy. Do we have any idea of who ordered the tape held for 13 months?
MS. MARY MITCHELLNo, we do not and that is the major problem. We would -- of course, the thought, prevailing thought, is that City Hall, that would be Mayor Rahm Emanuel's administration, wanted the tape held. They were the ones whose law department decided that this tape should not be seen. It took a lawsuit by a freelance journalist, a four-year lawsuit and a judge's ruling before that tape was released. And I had called for that tape being released at least ten months ago.
REHMSo do we have any idea who had possession of that tape, between the time of the shooting and its release last week?
MITCHELLWell, first of all, the family of the victim, in this case, Laquan McDonald, his family saw the tape. The lawyer had the tape, but the tape could not be publically released because the filed a probate case, that's how they had knowledge of the tape in the first place. Then, that tape -- the video would have been with the Chicago Police Department and then it would go to the law department. The claim from the city has been that they could not release the tape publically because there was a federal investigation and an investigation by the local authority, which would be the independent police review authority.
MITCHELLThat just delayed, delayed, delayed and strung this thing out for 13 months with no finding, by the way, by (word?) of whether or not this was a justifiable shooting. Now we know that the police officer involved in this has been indicted on first-degree murder charges and still there has been no reports coming out of the agency that should have overseen this investigation in the first place of whether or not it was a justifiable shooting.
REHMSo what you're saying is that the family of Laquan McDonald did, in fact, see the video and they saw it immediately after the shooting or how long after?
MITCHELLThey saw the video probably months after the shooting because the mother, the family of Laquan McDonald, did seek legal counsel on this shooting. But here's important part here. The important part here is that instead of transparency, which is what the Rahm Emanuel administration had promised at this last election, that there would be more transparency in city government, instead of transparency, they tried to hold this video recording back, believing that if they did -- I think believing that if they did that, it would -- the community would not be outraged.
MITCHELLThis is an outrageous event. This is a teenager being shot 16 times by a police officer and he was doing nothing to threaten the police officer.
REHMMary, what I'm very curious about is the fact that the city of Chicago, I gather, paid the family of Laquan McDonald $5 million. Now, when was that payment made?
MITCHELLThat payment would have been made in April and that, you know, Laquan McDonald was killed in October. That payment was made in April and it was shocking simply because there was no -- at that point, there was no civil lawsuit filed against the city that would, you know, require a settlement. It was paid directly to the family, okayed by the city council and that meant that under the agreement of that settlement that that video recording could not be released.
REHMAnd was the family of Laquan McDonald required, pardon me, at that point to not release any statement about either the settlement or the video?
MITCHELLThe lawyer, at that point, did release a statement. I did write a column about that. They weren't required to release a statement. My understanding is that the mother of Laquan McDonald never even saw -- did not want to see the video, but the lawyer saw it. He understood what on it. The city saw it. They understood what was on it. In fact, the lawyer for the city made a statement that the tape was so graphic that they thought it was in the best interest of the city to settle, settle or pay out $5 million to this family, rather than have this video recording released.
REHMSo at what point did this whole terrible event become a major public controversy?
MITCHELLIt became -- let me just say, I started writing about this in December. He was killed in October. It became a major event only in the last couple of weeks. And why is that? Because of the video. And I think that that -- what that says, while we're calling for, you know, the mayor to step down and for the superintendent to step down and for the Cook County prosecutor to step down. You know, when I look at it, it looks like everyone need step down because there was no oversight.
MITCHELLThe alderman -- the black caucus of the city council, and that's the black alderman, had called for the firing of Gary McCarthy, Superintendent Gary McCarthy, before -- a month before this was release and it had nothing to do with the shooting of Laquan McDonald. It's because of the spike of homicides in the city. So I think that there's failure enough and blame enough to go around. All the systems that should've worked here, failed.
REHMYou have not, as yet, written that you believe that the mayor should step down. Do you plan to do that?
MITCHELLNo. I am going to -- what I'm calling for and what I will write about and really advocate for is that there is a federal investigation to how all of this came about. Number one, it has always taken too long for IPRA or the Independent Police Review Authority, to come out with any finding on any police shooting. This is just a Pandora's Box here because what's going to happen is that you're gonna have all these victims, people who have been shot by the police, coming forward now, wanting to see the video and wanting to make claims that their loved one was shot unjustifiably.
MITCHELLSimple because the IPRA has failed to do its job, which is investigate these shootings and render a ruling one way or the other.
REHMSo if you have a federal investigation, what do you think that could lead to?
MITCHELLI think that then it could lead to calls for either the mayor to step down -- certainly for the Cook County state's attorney step down because there has to be an explanation. There has to be an investigation into why it took so long for the city to see this video and also why it took so long for the police officer involved in this shooting to be charged with anything whatsoever.
REHMMary, is there any indication that the mayor himself ordered that the video not be released?
MITCHELLNo. We have not heard that. I think that that would be -- any ordering of the video not being released would've come through the simple way that the city does business and that is the city has always, to me, moved quickly to settle cases financially with families of people who have been killed by the police. They do it without admitting any culpability or any guilt on their part. They have basically been paying off families throughout these years that I've covered the city of Chicago.
MITCHELLThey've been paying off these families when they make claims that their loved ones have been brutalized unfairly by police or killed by police. That's how they've handled it.
REHMAnd Mary, finally, in our last few seconds, have you had an opportunity to speak with the family of Laquan McDonald?
MITCHELLThey have refused all interviews. I've tried to speak to them going all the way back to December. I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that at the time of his death, Laquan McDonald was a ward of the state and so there was a lot of personal family anguish going on outside of the shooting, before the shooting, so they have not granted any interviews.
REHMMary Mitchell, a columnist with the Chicago Sun Times. Thank you for joining us.
REHMAnd short break. We'll be right back.
REHMAnd welcome back. We're talking about the shooting of Laquan McDonald by a white police officer. He, that police officer, fired 16 bullets into this young man, even after he was already down. At a Politico event in Chicago this morning, Mayor Rahm Emanuel says he has no plans to resign, quote, we have a process called the election. The voters spoke, unquote.
REHMCarrie Johnson, Mayor Emanuel's election is sort of in the midst of all this happening, is it not?
MS. CARRIE JOHNSONAbsolutely, Diane. You heard -- you just heard Mary Mitchell talk about calls for a federal Justice Department investigation. The Chicago Urban League has called for that. The Democratic attorney general in the state of Illinois, Lisa Madigan, has called for that. And African-American clergy have actually called for a broader investigation not just of the police force and the pattern or practice of discriminatory policing in the city of Chicago but also the timeline of events leading up to the release of this tape.
MS. CARRIE JOHNSONRemember that Rahm Emanuel was in a tight race for re-election as mayor -- as mayor of the city, and this tape, where he actually went into a runoff election, and this tape was only released after, long after, he was re-elected this year. So there's a question in some people's minds about the motivation for the delay of the release of the tape and whether that had any connection to an erosion of support Mayor Emanuel may have been facing in the African-American voting community.
REHMOn the other hand, you heard Mary Mitchell say that the mayor himself did not have control over the tape.
JOHNSONThere's no evidence that Rahm Emanuel ordered this tape be hidden or that he had possession of the tape at any time. That said, the circumstances surrounding his re-election and the very public erosion of trust in police, in prosecutors in Illinois because of this incident has raised questions all across the board. Remember, Diane, that after this shooting last years in October 2014 of Laquan McDonald, police officials came out and said that the officer, the white officer, had been threatened, and Laquan McDonald may have lunged or done something with a knife toward the officer.
JOHNSONWhen we finally saw this video last week, there was no such footage on the video, and that raises questions across the board about what authorities are saying.
REHMRemind us of what the video actually shows.
JOHNSONIt shows Laquan McDonald walking in the center of the street. There's a small object in one of his hands. We now know it to be a small knife. And he's walking away, not towards authorities, but the dash cam footage shows him walking away, walking in the middle of the street, then being shot and then the police officer shooting, maybe even emptying, his magazine, all 16 shots going into Laquan McDonald's body even after he was down on the ground.
REHMDid someone else try to stop him?
JOHNSONThere's no evidence of that on the tape.
JOHNSONNot that I saw.
REHMPaul Butler, what's your reaction?
MR. PAUL BUTLERIt's always the cover-up. The police department lied about what was on the tape. They did say that the victim was approaching the cop with a knife. The tape shows that he's walking away when Officer Van Dyke shoots him 16 times, firing most of those bullets when the victim is cowering on the ground. But this is not just about one bad-apple cop. It's about a police department that has a long, tragic history of violence against black people. It's about a city government that is the opposite of accountable and transparent. I'm from Chicago, and I'm ashamed.
REHMYou grew up in Chicago?
BUTLERDuring the 1970s, I was a boy growing up in Chicago. One day I rode my bike to the library, which means I had to leave my all-black neighborhood and go to the white neighborhood where the library was. As I get close to the library on my bike, this white cop pulls up next to me. He rolls down his window and says, is that your bike. So Diane, you know I can be a little bit of a smart aleck. I said, is that your car. And I spend off.
BUTLERWhen I got home, I told my mom what I did. She marched with Martin Luther King and Malcolm X. I thought she'd be proud. She gave me a spanking. It's one of those spankings where you're both crying. She said, did I know what happened to black boys who talked to the cops like that. And in fact the epilogue is this year, it came out that there was this gang of cops in Chicago called the Midnight Crew that during this time was electrocuting suspects and beating them up and playing this game of Russian roulette with them, where they would, like, point guns at their head and pull the trigger, but the guns weren't loaded. The suspects didn't know that.
BUTLERThe cops were literally torturing young African-American residents of Chicago. So I'm kind of glad I got that spanking now because I could've been one of those victims of the Midnight Crew.
REHMDarrel Stephens, there as former chief of police for the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department, what's your reaction when you hear all this?
MR. DARREL STEPHENSWell, it's a -- it's right when he says that Chicago has a long history of animosity and mistrust between the African-American community and the police department and allegations of excessive force. And the tragic shooting of Laquan McDonald is -- you know, adds to that perception about the police department and the relationships. But this, as it always is, is a lot more complicated, not only the McDonald shooting, the investigative part, who had control of the tape.
MR. DARREL STEPHENSI certainly know Superintendent McCarthy was not the key decision-maker in whether or not that tape was to be released. A lot of other people, the Independent Review Authority, was responsible for doing the investigation. And so it's a much more complicated thing than to just say it's all McCarthy's fault or that firing him is going to change the things. He's actually done a lot of good during his tenure as a police superintendent in Chicago.
REHMDarrel Stephens, are you saying that Gary McCarthy should not have been fired?
STEPHENSNo, I'm not saying that. That's actually the choice of the mayor. Police chiefs understand that they serve at the pleasure of the mayor and other cities at the pleasure of the city manager, and they can be fired basically at any time, and they...
REHMAnd when did the Independent Review Authority begin its own investigation?
STEPHENSI don't know the exact timeframe, but it's their responsibility in the city of Chicago to investigate that. In fact, you know, people across the country call for a model that wants independent investigations of these situations, and that system's been in place in Chicago for quite a number of years. In fact, it's the whole disciplinary process and the investigative process, it's one of the more complicated ones that you'll find in any city in America, and I think that leads to confusion, it leads to an excessive amount of time for these investigations to be completed.
STEPHENSIn the case of Laquan McDonald, a year is way too long. If we've got a settlement of $5 million several months ago, then this case should've been made public at that time, if not before.
REHMAll right, and joining us now is former New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly. He's the author of "Vigilance," and he's also vice-chairman of K2 Intelligence. Ray Kelly, what do you think of the payment of the $5 million to the family of Laquan McDonald and the holding of this tape for 13 months?
MR. RAY KELLYWell, let me first echo what Darrel Stephens said about Gary McCarthy. Gary worked for me. He then went to Newark, was the police director there, and went to Chicago, and Gary is a consummate law enforcement professional. Police chiefs' jobs, as Darrel said, they're sort of high-wire acts. They know they can be terminated at any time.
MR. RAY KELLYAs far as the payment of $5 million, I think it was premature in the sense that the facts were not made public. So obviously there was deep concern on the part of the city for their liability. I don't believe it would've happened in New York in that fashion, but you never can tell.
REHMPaul Butler, do you think the payment of that $5 million was premature?
BUTLERYeah, no, I do. Obviously they saw -- anybody who saw this tape, it's a murder, and anybody who saw that tape realizes the liability for the city, and obviously somebody didn't want the tape to get out.
REHMYeah, exactly. Paul Butler...
BUTLERIt was done to at least forestall or perhaps stop that tape ever getting out, and that was, in my judgment, inappropriate.
REHMAll right, Paul Butler.
BUTLERI think it was a pre-emptive strike. Look, the FBI is the world's best law enforcement agency. It does not take them 400 days to investigate a case like this, especially when there's literally smoking-gun evidence. So the concern is that not only is there not a prosecution of the officer, but he's a sworn officer of the Chicago Police Department until last week.
BUTLERSo they have evidence, again, that he pours all of his bullets into a young man who's cowering on the ground, and they're allowing him to enforce the law in Chicago during this time. That's reprehensible.
REHMDo we know, Carrie Johnson, about the actions of the other police officers standing around?
JOHNSONWe don't have a lot of evidence about that in part because the prosecution, the state prosecutor, only launched her case last week. And in the course of watching that case, she only presented some of the evidence she has. The federal authorities, the U.S. attorney in Chicago, Zach Fardon, is continuing to investigate this incident and whether civil rights charges might be lodged and other facts surrounding, and circumstances surrounding this incidence in October 2014.
REHMNow Mary Mitchell, this morning on NPR, said she believed the prosecutor ought to be removed, as well.
MITCHELLWell, Anita Alvarez is the Cook County prosecutor. She has said she has no intention of going anywhere. She is an elected official, and she had defended her actions in this case, saying it took a while to do this investigation properly and that she is committed to prosecuting this officer to the fullest extent.
REHMBut there are two conflicting ideas here, and you put your finger on it, Paul Butler. If you pay off a family with $5 million, aren't you pro-forma admitting guilt?
BUTLERYou are pro forma. It's not technically legally binding. Again, there could be one civil judgment that doesn't have any legal bearing on what happens in criminal court. But if you look at the -- what happened here, the prosecutor said that this video was so graphic, it was so violent that it warranted first degree murder charges. There haven't been those kinds of charges against a cop in Chicago in 30 years.
BUTLERSo you have to ask, what took so long, and again, why was this man walking around with a license to kill for 400 days.
REHMAnd you're listening to the Diane Rehm Show. Carrie, you wanted to add to that.
JOHNSONJust to add here, we're talking about the tragic death of Laquan McDonald, but he's part of a long pattern in Chicago history, recent Chicago history. There's a good government organization in Chicago that's tallied up the amount of money that's been paid to families of victims of police shootings, put the number at over half a billion dollars. As Paul Butler noted earlier, there was a gang of police officers, maybe rogue, maybe not, that was torturing suspects from the '70s into the '90s. And earlier this year, the Chicago City Council awarded $5 million in reparations, reparations, to victims of that torture. So this is part of a long history in Chicago, a long and dark history that's surfacing again now.
REHMAll right, let's open the phones, 800-433-8850. First to Ralph (PH) here in Washington, D.C. You're on the air.
RALPHHi Diane. Thanks. I'm glad this subject came up. You know, I happen to be white, but I was very poor in Chicago, and we were afraid of the cops because we knew that they would take you and beat the hell out of you in a paddy wagon or torture you. And we never knew about the official torture chambers. We also knew that they would take potshots at people just for the fun of it. You know, it's not just white-on-black violence. There's also black-on-black where one cop in D.C. shot a black kid who -- a black cop shot a black kid in the back. He was 14 years old. And then he shot another black kid in the back.
RALPHYou know, but he was never removed. It's a problem with the system in that the police are acting like gangs. A gang will not rat on another gang, you know, member.
RALPHAnd then you have the attorney generals who are in bed with them, saying it's like an us-against-them type of mentality.
REHMAll right, Paul Butler?
BUTLERYou know, it's true if you think about prosecuting cops, it's difficult sometimes because the prosecutors use cops as their witnesses. So Ms. Alvarez is in a tough re-election campaign. So part of her calculus, to say it's political isn't to say anything bad. That's why she gets elected, because she's a politician. So she's got to think, do I want to get all of these cops angry at me by bringing charges, or on the other hand, am I willing to risk the wrath of the community.
BUTLERAnd the politics have changed so much on this issue in the last year. It used to be you couldn't criticize a cop at all. Now they're being held to the same standards of accountability and transparency as other government officials.
REHMRay Kelly, would you agree with that?
KELLYYes, I would agree with that. I think police should be held to the same standard as the public. There is some provisions in law that basically give police, you know, additional powers over what the civilians have, and so they do get the benefit of the doubt. They get it in law. But ultimately they -- we should all be held to the same standard.
REHMYeah, I wonder whether that benefit of the doubt is shifting, Ray Kelly, with the number of incidents going on around the country.
KELLYWell, as far as the authorization in the law, I don't think that's shifted, but clearly public opinion has shifted.
KELLYNo question about it that the relationship between the police and communities of color has been set back by these series of events, the horrific shooting in North Charleston, South Carolina. That was another murder. And I understand people say hey, this is suspicions confirmed. We think this has been going on, you know, all along, and now that we have the advent of video cameras, we're finally -- we're finally seeing this. You know, I think...
REHMAll right, we've got to take a short break here. Ray Kelly is former New York City police commissioner. We'll take more of your calls, your email, when we come back.
REHMWelcome back. With me for the hour, Paul Butler, Professor at the Georgetown University School of Law. Carrie Johnson, Justice Correspondent for NPR. On the line with us from Charlotte, North Carolina, Darrel Stephens. He's Executive Director of the Major Cities Chiefs Association. He's former Chief of Police for the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department. And Ray Kelly, he's former New York City Police Commissioner, author of "Vigilance" and Vice Chair of K2 Intelligence.
REHMWe understand that Mayor Emanuel was asked this morning by Politico why didn't you go public with the video during the campaign? To which he apparently responded, nobody asked me about it. Carrie Johnson, how do you read that?
JOHNSONWell, it's a bold statement. It's worth noting that the video only came out because independent journalists filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit when the city initially refused to turn over the tape. Which is, I think, how they got into court in the first place. So, those independent journalists have been getting a lot of kudos, well received, for taking this matter to court and forcing the release of that video last week.
REHMHere's a comment on Facebook, which says the worst part is I think America really needs to ask itself if this happened once, how many more times did it happen? We might never know the answer. But I have a feeling the black community has known for a very long time. Paul Butler.
BUTLERI mean, the Chicago Police were notorious, and it's important to understand it's not just, again, these single bad apple cops. It's about a culture that even today is problematic. So, how did Officer Van Dyke make his bail? A Chicago chapter of the Fraternal Order of Police put out a fundraising plea. What does it mean when the police are giving bail money to an accused murderer? What does it mean when a city has, in the last 10 years, paid 500 million dollars in settlements to victims of police brutality?
JOHNSONWell, you know, I talk a lot with folks at the law enforcement officer's legal defense fund, which raises money to defend officers. And they are very careful, for obvious reasons, about what they say about this. But they have pointed out to me, in the recent past, that they have not contributed to legal defense funds, for instance, for the officer accused of murder in the South Carolina shooting that was also captured on tape. There are lines to be drawn here and some people are drawing them in law enforcement.
REHMAll right. And I'm going to take another call here from Fort Worth, Texas. Kenneth, you're on the air.
KENNETHHi Diane. Thank you very much for taking my call.
KENNETHI, too, grew up in Chicago in the '70s. And there was an incident where I smarted off, like the guy earlier in the case. Police asked him a question and I smarted off to the police. They took me to the police station. I was like 12-years-old. When my parents came to the station, they said, Jenkins, your parents are here. And I looked at the cop and I said, I bet you want to put your hands on me now that my parents is here. And in front of every cop at the police station, he slapped me to the floor.
KENNETHNot one cop came to my defense. Just like that night when they killed that kid. Not one of the cops at the scene, the cop knows what a crime is, not one cop at the scene that seen that crime put that cop under arrest. We didn't need a video. We had police officers at the scene that seen exactly what happened and not one of them stood up for us.
REHMKenneth, thanks for your call. Ray Kelly, should the other police who were standing around have stopped the officer from shooting?
KELLYI think it happened too fast. It seemed to me that they were surprised as well. They was just no reason for it. But yeah, I mean, if they could have, they should have. And I think to see more and more, yeah, there is a bit of a blue wall of silence, but more and more, that's coming down. But there is a wall of silence in just about every profession. You know, lawyers don't willingly report lawyers for bad actions, many, many times.
REHMBut they don't kill people, do they?
KELLYThat's true. That's true.
REHMAll right. Carrie.
KELLYAnd when you make a mistake, when you do something like this that's so egregious, it just underscores the fact that when police make a mistake, it costs lives. When business makes a mistake, it costs money. There's a big, big difference between...
KELLY...between the two.
JOHNSONI'd just add, quickly, that it is true that many of these tragic incidents happen and unfold very quickly. But to me, a telling factor is whether any of the officers, after someone is shot in a situation like this, go to render aid to the victim lying prone on the ground. And I don't think that happened in the Laquan McDonald case. It didn't seem to happen in the Ferguson case involving Michael Brown, where his body was allowed to sit outside in Ferguson for four hours or more. These are important factors to consider.
REHMDarrel Stephens, what needs to happen in order to regain trust between the public, and I'm not just talking about the African-American public, but the public and the police across the country.
STEPHENSWell, I think, I think we need to return, and there are a lot of police departments that are doing this currently, to engaging folks through community policing and problem solving. Engaging them around the issues that are important to them, the neighborhood to join together to deal with the crime problems and the sources of fear. And there's many, many examples, all across the country where that has been taking place. And is taking place. These egregious acts that we see police officers engage in from time to time.
STEPHENSCertainly in some organizations, there's a -- the cultures are different than others, but by and large, across America, the overwhelming majority of police officers out there to serve the public, they do come to their aid even in shooting situations. And I've seen that time and time again.
REHMBut why do you think they did not in this situation, Darrel?
STEPHENSI wish I knew the answer to that question. They should have come to his aid, even after, even after he had been shot. Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri laid out there on the ground for four hours. He had already been pronounced, but it was inappropriate for him to lay there without some sort of protection or some sort of cover, even though they had to investigate a crime scene. Those are things that, you know, you look back and you think, well how could that happen? Sometimes they just do and we need to learn from those.
STEPHENSAnd I think that's the tragedy is sometimes we don't learn those lessons very well.
BUTLERThe police need to stop having so many unpleasant contacts with citizens, including arresting and stopping and frisking African-Americans and Latinos for petty things. That we just need to reduce those contacts. You know, there was a video in D.C. that went viral for all the right reasons. Last week, or a couple of weeks ago, cops got a call about some teenagers hanging on a corner. They were being rambunctious, had gotten into a fight. The cops show up. She says the gang hanging out there, a gang of kids hanging out there.
BUTLERShe says, you look, to one little girl, you look like you've got some moves. Let me see what you can do. And so they have a dance off. First, the little girl dances. And then the cops dance. And it's great. It's funny, it's wonderful. At the end of the dance off, the cop hugs the kids, the kids disperse, and the cop goes back to her car. That's great policing.
JOHNSONThere's a new movement led by the Justice Department, the President's Task Force on 21st century policing, which he appointed Diane after the unrest in Ferguson and the tragedy there, that talks about police thinking of themselves as guardians rather than warriors. The irony is that Gary McCarthy, who was just fired in Chicago, was a key proponent of some of these efforts. He had a lot of challenges and a lot of problems in Chicago. But he was one of the people who wanted to do more community policing who argued that we should be doing less prosecution of people for drug offenses.
JOHNSONBecause in fact the law was applied in a racially discriminatory way that hurt public confidence and law enforcement. Those efforts, though, continue. And in fact, there's some new research now by Cynthia Lum, a Professor at George Mason University, who says, instead of evaluating police based on the number of arrests they make, we should partially evaluate them based on public confidence. And we should do surveys and measures of public confidence as well.
REHMRay Kelly, what about the use of cameras that so many have called for. Is that going to make a difference?
KELLYYes, I think so. I really do. I was slow to come to this decision, because I thought it would hesitate, it would cause police officers to hesitate, and whether or not that's good or bad, I think, needs to, needs a little more study. But the horrific murder of Walter Scott in North Charleston, South Carolina convinced me that no rational person would have done that if he were wearing a functioning body camera. So, I think their time has come. I think we'll see the adoption of cameras throughout the country. And that's a good thing.
KELLYI think it's a good thing for the police. We often see these YouTube videos showing the police engage with the -- somebody, it's a tumultuous situation. What we don't see is the entire event. We see it happening, or someone starting in the middle of an event. Now, at least you'll have the potential for seeing the entire action. And I think the cameras will show, obviously, much more beneficial, good appropriate work than inappropriate conduct. So...
KELLY...yeah, I think cameras are the way to go.
REHMDarrel Stephens, what's your view?
STEPHENSI agree. In fact, the research that's been done so far suggests that both the -- an encounters with the police, both the police officer and the citizen behave differently. And, in a more civil way. And it will give us, they're not a panacea, but it will give us a better record of the interaction with police officers and people in the community. And I think a lot of police officers are very supportive of having those cameras on themselves.
REHMAll right, and to Chris in Charleston, South Carolina. You're on the air.
CHRISHi Diane. Great show, as always.
CHRISMy main question today, you know, and it would be more for the Rahm Emanuel, the city council, you know, the prosecutor, you know, why did it take 13 months to file charges, you know, I mean, maybe there's more of the cop shown on the videotape, but that's what the trial is for, but why are the other cops that were there not also being charged as accessories? Because they stood around -- it's their job to arrest murderers.
JOHNSONWe simply don't have enough evidence and information about what those other police officers said, if anything, to the state's attorney or to federal investigators in the US Attorney's Office right now.
REHMDo they appear in the video at all?
JOHNSONI didn't see that. When I saw the video, the video was a dash cam video of the cop car and it was pointed at Laquan McDonald. And that's what I saw when I watched the video. I would point out, though, apropos of your earlier question about body cameras, this footage can help restore public confidence and it can also cause a crisis in confidence as we saw in Chicago. Because when you withhold video like this for 13 months, and then you put it out, and it explicitly contradicts the claims of the police department or the FOP, you've got a big confidence problem.
REHMAnd you're listening to The Diane Rehm Show. Paul Butler, as an attorney, what do you believe body cameras can and cannot do?
BUTLERYou know, there are important concerns about privacy. We want police officers to be able to go into peoples' homes sometimes and resolve situations. And citizens have legitimate concerns about whether they want all of your personal information being out on the internet for the whole world to see. But the law's actually good at working out those problems. For example, the government has lots of other personal information about us that it considers carefully what to release.
BUTLERSo, I think on balance, the good that they do, it's about transparency, it's about accountability, it's about democracy. So, I think the cameras are good for our democracy. They say sunshine is the best disinfectant.
REHMAnd what else does need to happen to create or try to recreate trust between the public and the police? Paul Butler.
BUTLERI think we have to talk about race. So, the Planned Parenthood shooter killed three people, including one police officer and wounded nine others. The very brave police officers of Colorado Springs captured the shooter, who's white, without killing him. They concealed themselves, they communicated with them. That's good policing. With black suspects, like 12-year-old Tamir Rice in Cleveland, we see the cops roll up on the suspect, willfully expose themselves, and then use that as an excuse to kill this 12-year-old boy. That's bad policing. Communities of color and poor people get too much bad policing.
REHMSo, do you think communities of color around the country are going to begin to demand changes in behavior on the parts of police in their own communities?
BUTLERI think we're seeing that right now. Again, these videos aren't new. The stories aren't new to people of color. We've been saying this for years. What's happened is that movements like the Black Lives Matter movement are being strategic. They're being savvy, so, you know, I think that if people, everybody, including white people, know what's going on, that that will make a difference. I think we've seen white people move on these issues, so this is a real moment of crisis, but it's also a moment of opportunity.
JOHNSONI think there's a lot more conversation to be had here, and there's a long conversation to be had about re-engineering police training. So, they think before they act and in some cases, they don't swoop right in. If you see a person who looks like they're 12-years-old or even 16-years-old, and they're not doing anything that appears to be threatening, like Tamir Rice in Cleveland, why did you need to drive the car right up to him at that moment? If you had waited, parked farther away, and gone up to approach the person, or at least shouted without approaching the person physically, you might have avoided the death of a 12-year-old boy.
REHMSo, more training, better training, cameras. Just a beginning, but a lot more conversation. Thank you all so much. Paul Butler of Georgetown University, Carrie Johnson of NPR, Darrel Stephens, former Chief of Police for Charlotte-Mecklenburg. And Ray Kelly, former New York City Police Commissioner. Thank you all so much.
BUTLERAlways a pleasure.
REHMThanks for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
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