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Thursday, Dec. 3, 2015 12:20 am

The state must step up

PHOTO BY ALAN SOLOMON/TNS
Here’s what the Chicago Police Department told the media after Laquan McDonald was killed by a police officer 13 months ago: A drug-addled black kid lunged at a cop with a knife and was then shot in the chest.

Six months later and a week after Chicago’s mayoral election, the city council rushed through approval of a $5 million settlement with McDonald’s family, even though no lawsuit had been filed.  

Seven months after that, the city finally released the dashboard video from a Chicago police car which clearly showed McDonald walking away from the police when he was shot 16 times – and almost all of those shots were fired as he lay bleeding to death on the pavement.

In addition to the officer who shot him, everybody failed that kid; from his own mother, who lost custody of Laquan after her boyfriend savagely beat him; to the state’s Department of Children and Family Services, which was supposed to protect him and help him as its legal ward; to the city’s mayor, who covered up the gruesome manner of McDonald’s death by fighting the release of the dashboard video; to the city council for not demanding answers before approving such a huge settlement; to the mainstream media for not following up on their denied Freedom of Information Act requests with a lawsuit; to the Cook County State’s Attorney for her all too usual slow-walking of investigations of alleged police misconduct; to the Illinois Attorney General, who waited until the day before a judge finally acted to claim that the city had violated the state’s Freedom of Information Act by sitting on the video.

Other states take much better care of their young wards. Yes, that can be expensive, but if caring for the kids nobody else wants isn’t one of the state’s most important responsibilities, I don’t know what the heck is. According to the Chicago Sun-Times, Laquan was sexually molested in two different foster homes that were chosen, vetted and paid for by the state.

Two.

If that doesn’t boggle your mind and enrage your very soul, then absolutely nothing will.

Other states release their police dashboard and body cam videos much, much faster than Illinois. While that may lead to some unrest in the streets, it’s infinitely more democratic and honest than our far too encumbered, lumbering process which overwhelmingly favors the political interests of those who run things.

Citizens can’t hold politicians accountable if they are deliberately kept in the dark, so Chicagoans deserved the right to know about McDonald’s death before they voted last spring.

And most other states license their police officers.

According to a November article in The Police Chief magazine, 44 states license police officers and have a statewide process for revoking those licenses.

Illinois does neither, but it’s not for lack of trying.

Earlier this year when the General Assembly was debating law enforcement reforms, police licensure was a hot topic. But according to its chief sponsor, Sen. Kwame Raoul (D-Chicago), the idea was derailed by the House Republicans. The proposal was dropped in order to achieve a bipartisan victory on some much-needed reforms like body cams and police training.

Cops have an almost impossible job, particularly in Chicago. Between Jan. 1 and Nov. 23 there have been 2,712 Chicago shooting victims, according to the Chicago Tribune. I wouldn’t want to be a Chicago cop for any amount of money.

The number of fatal shootings by police (70 in five years) pales in comparison to the total of all shootings. For most, our first instinct is to back the police. It’s a natural reaction. They’re our protectors, so we want to believe they are just and good people, and most definitely are.

But more citizens, particularly in high crime areas, have more contact with the police than they do with any other government employees. And, of course, the cops carry guns and are allowed to use them. In Chicago, official discipline of bad cops is so rare as to be almost non-existent, according to some recent studies. It’s a problem that screams for a remedy from above.

We need to do a better job as a state. The nightmare at DCFS needs to be addressed before the government makes more kids’ lives even worse.

Our Freedom of Information Act should no longer be a freedom from information law.

And we as a state should revisit the police licensing issue, since Chicago apparently can’t seem to take care of this very real problem on its own.

Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter, and CapitolFax.com.

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