nice to have a story, from the liberal Jewish paper The Forward, where Jewish people
are in the forefront of the fight against racism. Normally the story is of murders and racism by
Jewish people in the context of the Israeli state and how it is ‘anti-Semitic’
to tell the truth.
see in this case, the murder of an unarmed black teenager, by armed cops who
fire 16 bullets into the kid when he is already lying wounded on the ground.
of this has been presided over by Rahm Emanuel, Chicago’s Mayor, an ultra-Zionist
and former Chief of Staff to Obama. Many
and loud are the calls for this reprobate’s resignation. Under pressure Emanuel has been forced to dismiss
Chicago’s Police chief.
will see from the two videos above firstly the execution of Laquan McDonald and
secondly about the destruction of a crucial video tape from a local Burger King by Police immediately after the shooting and the
threats made to witnesses to the shootings, cars stuck in traffic, to
is democracy US style. The judges’
involvement in the case has been to help the Police cover up the murder by
allowing them to keep the tape of the murder under wraps until the pressure
became too great, not least because the City of Chicago was forced to settle
with the family of Laquan McDonald for $5 million.
also occurred to me that because thousands of people are dying in Syria and
Iraq since this incident, that it might be construed, according to the normal Zionist
logic, that telling this story is itself anti-American. Indeed because the Mayor of Chicago, Rahm Emanuel, is a Jewish Zionist it
is probably anti-Semitic as well since anyone who ever ‘singles out’ Israel for
criticism is automatically being anti-Semitic unless they have condemned each
and every human rights violation in every other state in the world! Of course it could just be that Rahm Emanuel got mixed up and thought that Chicago was actually a city in Israel where this type of thing is normal. It’s really hard to say what was going through the Mayor’s mind but of one thing I’m sure – it’s definitely anti-Semitic to criticise him!
— It all started with a phone call. In early November 2014, Craig Futterman, a
civil rights attorney and law professor at the University of Chicago Law
School, heard his phone ring. The caller, a source within Chicago law
enforcement, told Futterman about the existence of a dash-cam video showing a
black teenager being shot by a white police officer. What it depicted, the
source said, was shocking.
earlier, the police department had issued a generic statement about the October
20 shooting of a 17-year-old African American, Laquan McDonald, who police said had lunged at officers with a knife in the
city’s Archer Heights neighborhood, a largely Polish enclave in Chicago’s
southwest sector. One of the officers shot the teen in the chest, and he was
later pronounced dead, the police said. But this video, the source told
Futterman, flatly contradicted that account.
“This looked like nothing short of an
execution,” Futterman recalled the source saying. “They shot him like he was a
dog in the street.” His source went on to explain that the teen never lunged at
the officers but was, in fact, veering away from them when an officer shot him,
emptying his pistol and ultimately hitting McDonald 16 times.
Hearing Their Stories: Jamie Kalven (at right, standing) and Craig Futterman (sitting to Kalven’s left) talk with students at Hyde Park Academy about their interactions with police.
sure this doesn’t go away, don’t let it get buried, the source told Futterman,
who continues to protect this person’s request for anonymity. So shortly after,
from his Hyde Park office, Futterman called his longtime colleague, Jamie
Kalven, a writer and activist, and they began to dig in.
two men knew each other well; they’d been working together for nearly two
decades on issues of police accountability and social justice. But they also
share a heritage: Both hail from Jewish backgrounds, Futterman from the
Northern suburbs and Kalven from the city’s South Side. For years they have
pushed the Chicago Police Department for transparency and for answers. Today,
however, it is not lost on these two Jews that what’s come of their crusade has
not only upended the city, but also threatens the political viability of its
first Jewish mayor, Rahm Emanuel.
Arrestees often are not processed at the Homan Square facility, in apparent violation of Chicago police directives. Photograph: The Guardian
is such hostility toward the mayor because of this,” Kalven said, referring to
the consequences of their efforts. But, he added, such anger is misguided and
shortsighted. Emanuel inherited this problem. “He did not create it. And having
his head on a stick is not going to cure it,” Kalven added. “The only way
forward…is police reform in Chicago.”
hearing from Futterman’s tipster, Futterman and Kalven tracked down witnesses,
obtained the autopsy of McDonald’s body, gathered confirming accounts and, in a
widely distributed statement
on December 14, 2014, revealed the existence of the video that the city had
sought to keep under wraps.
The two men publicly demanded
the video’s release. And when the city refused multiple requests, Futterman
helped bring a lawsuit against the city, arguing in court that the public had a
right to see it.
the time Futterman initiated his campaign, Emanuel was running for re-election
in what turned out to be a very tough race. In February, three days after the
incumbent mayor was forced into an unexpected runoff, lawyers for the McDonald
family contacted the city seeking $16 million in compensation. By this point,
the family lawyers had themselves obtained a copy of the video through a
subpoena. Lawyers for the city reached a settlement for $5 million with the
family in mid-March, even before the family filed a suit. But the settlement
required approval by the City Council, which did not come until April 15—eight
days after Emanuel won his runoff.
Image: getty images Rahm Emanuel.
settlement included a provision requiring that the video of McDonald’s
death be kept private until the completion of an investigation.
was not until November 26, thirteen months after the shooting, that the city
produced the video under a judge’s order. It showed exactly what Futterman’s
source had described. Just hours before the forced release of the video — and
more than one year after the killing — the Cook County state’s attorney
announced the indictment of police officer Jason Van Dyke on a charge of
first-degree murder for shooting McDonald multiple times.
Image: Patricia Evans Jamie Kalven.
are very few things in life that are black and white, but this pretty much is.
It’s an execution,” Futterman said.
have charged that the city fought release of the video at Emanuel’s
instigation, to prevent it from exploding his re-election prospects. It’s a
charge that the mayor has adamantly and repeatedly denied, saying he himself did not
view the video until the public did. Its public release earlier, he said, would
have contradicted long-established city policy of holding onto such evidence
during the course of a live criminal investigation.
“This is not a murder case,” and
that his client has a “valid defense.”
recent weeks, Futterman and Kalven’s dogged efforts have culminated in massive
political fallout. Protesters spilled into the streets of Chicago, disrupting
holiday shopping and demanding Emanuel’s resignation. The mayor summarily
dismissed the city’s police chief, Garry McCarthy, and the head of the police
oversight agency. The Justice Department has launched a wide-ranging
investigation into the police department, and some angry residents are
demanding a recall election to force the mayor and the state’s attorney out.
state nor city law contain any provisions for a recall election. But the calls
to hold Emanuel and other city officials accountable are likely to only
intensify with the mortal shootings by Chicago police on Saturday of an unarmed
mother of five and a 19-year-old college student, both black, in an apartment
building on the city’s predominantly black West Side.
Jones, 55, was shot through the door of her first-floor apartment, according to
her cousin, Evelyn Glover. Reporters on the scene found a single bullet hole in
the wooden door to her apartment. Police said Jones was killed by accident and
extended their condolences. The college student, Quintonio LeGrier, was shot
seven times, according to his mother Janet Cooksey. Family members said police
were called after LeGrier, who was said to be suffering from mental illness,
threatened his father with a metal baseball bat.
police department provided scant additional information, saying an unspecified
weapon was recovered and no officers were hurt. Police did not say whether
there was a video of the incident and provided no information on the officers
happens now, nearly all agree that Kalven and Futterman’s work helped expose
the lack of transparency and failed response by the city, setting off the
subsequent firestorm. But for Kalven and Futterman, their work on police
accountably in Chicago has been more of a slow burn, spanning 15 years of daily
phone calls and twice-weekly meetings, plotting their strategy and next steps.
Their partnership has been a fruitful collaboration between a civil rights
lawyer and an activist, working to empower the city’s most vulnerable citizens.
“It’s a symbiotic relationship,” Futterman said.
early November they launched the Citizens Police
Data Project, an unparalleled public database of 56,000 misconduct
complaint records for more than 8,500 Chicago police officers. It is the result
of a decade of diligent work together and a successful 2014 landmark case, Kalven
v. Chicago, which held that documents of allegations of police abuse are
public information. But the police union is actively fighting the decision, and a judge barred the
release of any misconduct records older than four years while the city and
union go through arbitration. If the union doesn’t prevail, the database will soon
be flooded with the disciplinary history of every Chicago police officer since
we win, having built the database infrastructure, we will make this
extraordinary body of information public,” Kalven said. Indeed, no such thing
exists in the country.
67, who has deep-set eyes framed by a full head of silver hair and a matching
beard, is the son of the renowned lawyer and First Amendment scholar Harry
Kalven Jr. The elder Kalven, a professor at the University of Chicago, kept the
company of legends such as writer Saul Bellow and legal scholar Hans Zeisel.
(He once defended controversial nightclub comedian Lenny Bruce.)
was raised in a secular Jewish household in the racially integrated Hyde Park
neighborhood, where he still lives today with his wife Patsy Evans, a
photographer. But it was not until his father died unexpectedly in 1974 of a
heart attack at age 60 that Kalven took on a task that became a journey tinged
with a sense of religious mission.
his death, Kalven’s father left behind more than 1,000 pages of unedited
manuscript for a book on freedom of speech and civil liberties. Kalven took it
upon himself to finish what his father had started and spent the next 14 years
work on my father’s book was this intensely talmudic exercise,” Kalven said; so
much so that in the afterword of the completed book, titled “A Worthy
Tradition: Freedom of Speech in America,”
Kalven cited a quote from the Talmud
itself: “It is not upon you to finish the work; neither are you free to desist
work as a self-proclaimed “human rights” journalist and community organizer
includes a decade he spent working in Chicago’s public housing projects —
primarily Stateway Gardens in the city’s Bronzeville neighborhood — turning
vacant lots into gardens, cleaning out decrepit apartments, planting scores of
trees on its grounds.
was there, he says, that he saw police misconduct run rampant.
took me a while to see how different and disturbing patterns of policing were,” he said. “Once I saw it, I could not not see it. It became more and more
central to my work to document and understand.”
49, who is the director of the Police Accountability Clinic at University of
Chicago Mandel Legal Aid Clinic, grew up in the staunchly middle-class suburb
of Niles, to the city’s northwest, in, he said, “a Jewish home with a strong
sense of a Jewish identity.” But Futterman, who stands 6 feet tall with a broad
smile and a smoothly shaved head, spent much of his childhood on Chicago’s
predominantly black South Side with his grandparents, with whom he was very
close. They were the only Jewish family in the mostly African-American Auburn
Gresham neighborhood, and Futterman said he was welcomed by neighbors and found
an extended family there. He observed for himself the stark realities of the
city’s pernicious segregation and socioeconomic inequalities. But there was
also a point of connection. “As a Jewish person, I identified far more with
discrimination and racism,” he said.
now for 21 years to Kenyatta Tatum Futterman, who is African American,
Futterman finds that his notions of race and religion are all the more
entwined. The couple has two daughters, both of whom celebrated their bat
mitzvahs at Temple Sinai, a Reform congregation that is home to the now retired
rabbi who married Futterman and his wife. “I have black and Jewish family
members. It’s who I am. It’s who my family is. I don’t consider those
identities in tension with one another,” he explained.
working as a Cook County public defender and civil rights lawyer at a boutique
firm, Futterman took a teaching job at Stanford University’s law school, where
he also directed the school’s public interest program. When he left California
in 2000 for a job at the University of Chicago, a mutual friend introduced him
to Kalven. The connection was immediate. Futterman was looking to do a citywide
project on police misconduct. With Kalven’s help he began to focus on the areas
of the city where Kalven, in his work at Stateway Gardens, had seen officers
act with impunity.
collaboration came to be very central to that project,” Kalven said. Over time,
the combination of Kalven’s reporting skills and Futterman’s legal work
resulted in multiple federal and civil rights suits. Futterman and his students
would regularly work out of Kalven’s office in a Stateway high rise.
and Jamie’s values are so similar,” said Sunny Fischer, the former executive
director of the Richard H. Driehaus Foundation and a longtime friend of Kalven’s.
“It’s just a fabulous partnership, and it has made a huge difference for the
city and people and communities that were abandoned.”
Fischer currently serves
on the governing board of the Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law.
and Futterman both say they are concerned with the issue of black-on-black
violence, which some point out kills many more people than police shootings.
But Futterman said, “That is not the fundamental focus of the work that I do.” Choosing the battle they feel they are in a position to fight, they see their
work to be the fight for police accountability and transparency.
Futterman and Kalven have been working around the clock. There is so much more
to be done, and both are acutely aware that this tsunami of attention — from
MSNBC, The Huffington Post, The New York Times, The New Yorker and Politico —
must be harnessed.
reminds me in our interview that the tip about the McDonald video “is far from
the first call I have gotten like this.” What’s more, the police union is
fighting the release of the police records Futterman and Kalven fought for, and
won, in court. The union is citing a provision of its contract with the city
that says misconduct files should be destroyed after five or seven years, depending
on the category of the file.
other words, in the midst of a DOJ inquiry into the city’s police department,
its history dating back to 1967 is at risk of going up in flames. “The stakes
are really high,” Kalven said. “It’s like the institution blinding itself.”
Fraternal Order of Police did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
so, Kalven and Futterman continue their fight. Both admit they have had little
sleep and even less time to process and reflect on what they’ve done, or how
their work has pushed this city over a difficult but necessary precipice toward
honesty and transparency, and meaningful reform.
there was a time — in the midst of fighting for the video and pleading
McDonald’s case to the public — when Futterman and Kalven felt like the city
was stuck in a cycle of denial and dishonesty.
“Part of what this case revealed
is the very nature of the norm,” Futterman said. “Immediately the machine of
denial goes into effect and the code of silence goes into effect, and this case
is an example of that.”
both men see an important shift — post-Ferguson, post-Baltimore, post-Staten
in Chicago and around the nation, we are in a very different place,” Futterman
said, citing the work of young organizers and massive protests after the
killings of black men by police or in their custody.
“forcing all of us to grapple with the everyday realities and police abuse in
black and brown communities,” he said. “It’s forcing us to care.”