Can new task force bring transparency to Chicago police department?

The mayor of Chicago is set to announce a new police task force to try and repair police-community relations after the release of a video showing a white officer shooting a young black man sparked protests.

Andrew Nelles/Reuters
Demonstrators confront police officers during a protest in reaction to the fatal shooting of Laquan McDonald in Chicago Nov. 27. Video was just released showing Laquan McDonald, 17, being fatally shot by Jason Van Dyke, a Chicago police officer, in October 2014.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel is set to launch a new police accountability task force one week after the release of a video about a shooting incident sparked a wave of seething protests.

The release of the video and the subsequent launch of a task force designed to bolster accountability in the police department come as cities across the country are struggling to repair fractured relations between community members and law enforcement. Some communities are turning to community policing efforts to help establish positive relationships between community members and uniformed officers. In many cities, however, restoring trust has required a close examination of how police exercise their authority.

The call for increased police accountability in Chicago became amplified last week with the release of a video showing a white police officer shoot a black man 16 times for refusing to drop a knife, with many shots fired after the man had dropped to the ground.

The incident occurred back in October 2014, but Mayor Emanuel tried for over a year to avoid releasing the video of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald being shot by Officer Jason Van Dyke. A judge ruled that his refusal to release the video violated the state's open records laws, Bill Ruthhart reported for the Chicago Tribune. The officer who shot the young man was charged with first-degree murder.

The video has not calmed the situation, but rather has led to protests from the Black Lives Matter group and calls for the firing of Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy and the mayor's resignation. 

All this caused those who protested Tuesday night after the video's release and marched through the shopping melee of Black Friday to defend their anger.

"We were loud and angry, but we had a right to be," Charles Preston, the spokesman for Black Youth Project 100, which helped coordinate the protests, told Monitor correspondent Nissa Rhee. "The cops have their hands on their guns and they are agitating the situation.... I think in a situation like that we show great restraint."

Arrests of two key activist leaders have further convinced the protesters their concerns needed answers. Chicago poet Malcolm London was arrested on what Mr. Preston called "trumped up charges" and released shortly thereafter without charges, and National Association for the Advancement of Color People President Cornell William Brooks was arrested Monday.

In spite of arrests, the nonviolent nature of the Chicago protests has been a relief to many, a hope that dialogue is possible and the mayor's proposed police task force may provide impetus for progress in the department.

"I’ve been doing this work for 30 years, and I’ve never seen such a spirit of openness and trying to figure out what’s appropriate for policing as I’ve seen here," Tom Tyler, a Yale University professor of law and psychology, told The Christian Science Monitor at a Chicago police summit in late October.

This report includes material from Reuters.

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