CHICAGO –Seeking to ensure that concerns about interactions between Chicago police and people with disabilities are part of any reform effort, the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois and Equip for Equality filed a federal lawsuit today with Chicago-based organizations Community Renewal Society, Communities United, Next Steps and ONE Northside. The groups seek the participation of impacted community groups in the reform of the Chicago Police Department (“CPD”), including how force is used against people with disabilities and against Black and Latino Chicagoans.
“The Police Accountability Task Force’s 2016 report and the DOJ’s 2017 report found that the CPD does not have the training or vision to ensure safe encounters with people with disabilities. This community must be part of the discussion about how to reform policing in Chicago,” said Karen Sheley, director of police practices at the ACLU of Illinois.
Specifically, the lawsuit challenges the City’s failure to train and monitor officers to ensure they safely interact with people with disabilities— one third to one half of the victims of police violence nationwide. The suit also challenges CPD’s disproportionate use of force on Black and Latino Chicagoans. For people of color with a disability, these disparities are compounded, too often leading to injury or death at the hands of the police.
“We hear regular accounts of frightening, dangerous interactions between Chicago Police and people with disabilities,” added Barry C. Taylor, Vice President for Civil Rights at Equip for Equality. “Police need the training and preparation necessary to ensure that these interactions do not occur in the future. This must be a part of police reform in this City.”
Last January, the U.S. Department of Justice issued a scathing report on the use of force by CPD officers and the failures of CPD to appropriately train and manage its officers. The lawsuit alleges that these deficiencies are causing a pattern of excessive force, encouraging a culture of cover-up, and failing to provide Chicago with a community-based policing strategy to promote public safety.
"We have a moral imperative to ensure that law enforcement officers are accountable and responsible to the communities they serve,” said Reverend Robbie Craig, Interim Executive Director at the Community Renewal Society. “True and lasting reform can occur only with community members at the table. We must act to make this inclusion a reality and not rely on vague promises from politicians."
“We deserve a police force that can safely serve and protect all Chicagoans, including residents with disabilities. CPD does not have the training and ability to achieve this goal, meaning that routine interactions habitually escalate into violence. We are proud to join this lawsuit to demand all residents be involved in oversight and reform,” added Curtis Smith, Board President at ONE Northside.
Almost nine months after the DOJ report concluded that a consent decree with an independent monitor was necessary to address the CPD’s entrenched problems, no decree has been issued nor has a monitor been appointed. Though Mayor Rahm Emanuel held a press conference in August promising to work with the Illinois Attorney General to resolve her lawsuit filed the same day, that lawsuit does not address the harm of the City’s practices to people with disabilities.
The community groups involved today also felt compelled to file suit because the City recently announced it would work with the office of Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan to negotiate a consent decree, yet it continues to seek dismissal of the lawsuit filed in June by black civil rights groups. Neither the City nor the AG’s office has explained how affected communities will be able to influence their private deal-making or whether they will have a role in the enforcement and monitoring of a consent decree.
“The City of Chicago cannot negotiate this agreement behind closed doors. True oversight must involve impacted communities,” said Roxanne Smith, a member of Communities United. “Communities United is committed along side our partners to guaranteeing positive reforms in the Chicago Poilice Department and changing how they interact with their community for the better.”
The lawsuit filed today also aims to ensure there is a long-term commitment to enforcing a consent decree. Recently, Attorney General Madigan announced she would leave office in early 2019, raising the prospect that her office’s commitment to a decree could disappear with a new Attorney General. For many, the ACLU notes, this is reminiscent of what happened after the Trump Administration took office in January and abandoned the DOJ’s plans to negotiate a consent decree on police reform in Chicago.
“People with disabilities are not currently served well by either our mental health care system or our criminal justice system,” said Fred Friedman of Next Steps. “The results get worse when those systems intersect. It is critical that the interests and concerns of those with disabilities be fully heard and considered in police reform. This lawsuit helps insure we have a seat at the table.”
“The ACLU has long history of challenging unlawful police practices and fighting for the rights of people with disabilities,” Sheley added. “We believe that this process will take years, not months, and requires stable leadership. We are ready to work with the City, the current and future Attorney General, and community groups to design and implement specific reforms. In the meantime, we urge those with disabilities who have had a bad experiences with the Chicago Police Department to contact the ACLU of Illinois.”