- A South Side police commander and his officers tortured black suspects into confessing to crimes they didn't commit. Another rogue unit shook down drug dealers on the West Side for drugs and money. A different group of officers accepted payments from drug dealers to warn them of police raids.
And for years, whenever Chicago officers did something wrong, their colleagues covered for them.
The city's longstanding reputation for police misconduct and brutality shattered relations with the black community long before the federal government announced this week that it was launching a wide-ranging civil-rights investigation of the Chicago Police Department. The probe was prompted by a video showing a white officer shooting a black teen 16 times and revelations that other officers filed false reports about what happened.
"There is a deep mistrust, and it really becomes a cancer here in Chicago because it eats away at respect for authority and respect for the law . . . that becomes toxic," said the Rev. Marshall Hatch of New Mt. Pilgrim Missionary Baptist Church. He said some communities feel like they're being occupied by police rather than protected by them.
Craig Futterman is an attorney who helped win the release of video showing the fatal shooting of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald. He said the footage underscored two things: A pervasive code of silence at all levels of the department has allowed misconduct and brutality to fester, and previous reform efforts have done little to solve the problem.
"Political leaders never had the political courage to address underlying issues that allow a minority of police officers to abuse the most vulnerable among us, disproportionately black folk, with impunity," said Futterman, a professor at the University of Chicago, which last month released an analysis that found of 56,000 complaints against Chicago police, only a fraction led to disciplinary action.
The department first earned a widespread reputation for brutality during the 1968 Democratic National Convention, when officers were seen on television beating demonstrators. In the years that followed, that belief was cemented by one scandal after another.