The movement and other civil rights groups hope to bring transparency to the process in a department dogged by systemic racism.
Black Lives Matter and other civil rights groups filed a class-action lawsuit Wednesday against the city of Chicago to push for court oversight in reforming the nation’s second-largest police force, reports The Associated Press. The suit comes after the Department of Justice in January released a blistering report documenting systemic racism and a culture where officers cover up for each other.
“Absent federal court supervision, nothing will improve,” the lawsuit says, according to The AP. “It is clear that federal court intervention is essential to end the historical and on-going pattern and practice of excessive force by police officers in Chicago.”
The roughly 130-page lawsuit, which was filed in U.S. District Court in Chicago, attempts to amend a draft agreement between the city of Chicago and Department of Justice to enact reforms without federal court supervision. Groups involved in the suit are seeking to end a “historic and ongoing pattern” of violence and excessive force by city officers, according to the report.
About 15 lawyers from Chicago and New York are representing six African-American plaintiffs, who said they were subject to abuses at the hands of Chicago cops, in the suit, reports the Chicago Tribune.
The suit, which documents brutality cases including the 1969 killing of Black Panther Fred Hampton, argues that racial discrimination influences police interaction with the public and officers regularly beat as well as shoot Blacks with little risk of punishment. One male plaintiff claimed that he was thrown to the ground and beaten by police, writes the Tribune.
Tensions between Chicago cops and residents boiled over in 2015 when police were forced to release dashcam video of the the 2014 shooting death of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald. The video showed Jason Van Dyke shooting the teen 16 times, sparking protests and calls for police reform. The shooting also prompted a Justice Department investigation of the 12,000-officer force in 2015, notes NBC.
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who said a new police oversight agency was created and the police department was implementing new practices to hold cops accountable such as body cameras, agreed to a consent decree when the damning Justice Department report was released in January. The draft deal between the city and DOJ was negotiated in Washington in June, but does not include an agreement for any court-appointed monitor to govern the reform process, writes NBC.
Complicating matters further is an uncertainty about whether the Department of Justice under the Donald Trump administration is committed to sweeping reforms, as opposed to the Barack Obama administration which advocated for court-mandated reforms. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has publicly said that he is not a fan of consent decrees as agreements to spur reforms.
Craig Futterman, a University of Chicago law professor and the lead attorney in the BLM-led lawsuit, says that the plaintiffs hope Emanuel will work with the civil rights groups to create a comprehensive plan for reform that the court will oversee, according to the News.