WVON commentary

I recorded a commentary for WVON this week. It airs three times today, and maybe over the weekend, too.

Here’s the text, if you want to read instead:

This is Brandon Smith. I’m that journalist that sued the city to make ‘em release video of Laquan McDonald being shot, working with your brother Will Calloway. I’m here with something that’s half PSA, half open letter to the DOJ. See, the Department of justice has a dozen investigators in Chicago now, plus their support staff. They say it’s the biggest civil rights probe they’ve ever done on a police department. Now, let’s get this out of the way: as a journalist, I deal in facts. But as a human, I have to advocate against oppression when I see it. And there are still a bunch of cowboys in the Chicago Police Department—not all, but many—who still think people in some neighborhoods are, quote, “bad guys” and people in other ones are generally good. Ta-Nehisi Coates said this, he said: “racism is not merely a simplistic hatred. Is is, more often, broad sympathy toward some and broader skepticism toward others.” But I probably don’t need to tell you that; I’m hoping you share this piece with your friends who don’t understand. Lotta people out there still think the city did what it was supposed to do with that video of Laquan. What I say to that is, the DOJ being here means there’s a lot that’s not right. I think the mayor and the new superintendent are hiding behind this notion that there are *all these different ideas* about how to make sure police don’t kill people when they shouldn’t. There’s a lot to fix, but don’t believe for a second that it’s too complicated. After speaking with hundreds of people since the Laquan video came out—including a lot of black activists that talk to a lot more people—I’ve made a list of some of the most pressing problems. These are what the D-O-J needs to investigate, and include in their eventual set of rules for what police can’t do anymore.

– civil forfeiture
– shooting people in the back as they run away
– not booking people immediately when they arrest them, like they do at Homan Square
– roughing people up and other, quote, “harsh interrogation.”
– trading guns for freedom—particularly guns you have to buy or spend a lot of time getting
– police having to sign their name to every time they call out an awful co-worker
– police not being charged with perjury when they probably should be
– requiring sworn affidavits from citizens who file complaints against officers
– cops destroying dashboard camera audio devices

Now, I’ll publicize the DOJ’s responses if I get them. And if you want to spread word about this piece, I’ve tweeted it out. Twitter.com/muckrakery. It’ll throw you over to the site of the people at WVON. Until next time: Peace.

Calloway calls for fired IPRA whistleblower to lead that agency

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William Calloway meets with Lorenzo Davis to talk about police discipline–and lack thereof–in late January 2016. Photo by Brandon Smith.
Editor’s note: the following is a lightly-edited press release given to me by William Calloway, who worked with me on the FOIA that resulted in the Laquan McDonald video. Calloway and others are advocating for Lorenzo Davis to head the Independent Police Review Authority.

Community Activists, Leaders, Supporters Demand Immediate Appointment of Former Investigator Lorenzo Davis to Head IPRA

Following the release of the Laquan McDonald & Cedrick Chatman videos, the public distrust when it comes to African-Americans and police relations is at an all time high. Activists believe this is in large part because of little-to-no disciplinary action taken against officers for misconduct. “The Independent Police Review Authority,” responsible for police misconduct investigations,”has let the community down,” says community activist William Calloway. Since its establishment in 2008, there has been over 409 police shootings with only 2 of them being founded “unjustified.”
Lorenzo Davis, a former IPRA investigator, was fired last summer by then-IPRA Chief Administrator Scott Ando, for not changing his investigative findings in the fatal officer-involved-shooting of Cedrick Chatman. After watching the Chatman video when it was released, community members and activists agree the shooting was NOT justified and have questioned why Davis was fired. Activists believe there should be community selection of IPRA’s chief, and that any mayoral appointment will be compromised.
Calloway, who was partly responsible for the release of the McDonald video, and protested for the release of Cedrick Chatman video, has spoken directly to former IPRA investigator Lorenzo Davis. Davis has said he will take into strong consideration being appointed as IPRA Chief Administration once the offer is proposed.

A newly assembled organization called the Community Accountability Council has started to work toward holding elected officials accountable for the acts of political, social, & economic injustices that are plaguing the African American Community. As its first specific demand, it calls for black elected officials to voice their support for appointing Lorenzo Davis as head of IPRA.

——-                                      ———
 
MONDAY FEBRUARY 8, 2016 @ 6PM STARTING ON THE CORNER OF 87TH & COTTAGE GROVE activist, protesters, and supporters will march onto the office of 8th ward Alderman Michelle Harris, demanding her public support for the appointment of Lorenzo Davis, and protest to hold her accountable for her 100% voting record with the mayor. This will be the beginning of an initiative that will be seen over the next weeks to call for the Black Caucus to support the appointment of Lorenzo Davis as Chief of IPRA.
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William Calloway (773)-301-4682

The video out, the officer charged, the problem persists

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A press conference to discuss what we are working toward with the release of the Laquan McDonald video. Me at left, William Calloway at the podium, and Dorothy Holmes, right, mother of Ronald Johnson, who was killed by police a week before Laquan McDonald. Thanks to ABC7 for the screengrab.

A lot has happened in the past week, including my column in the Guardian; a New York Times article about me being barred from the press conference my lawsuit precipitated; and a Columbia Journalism Review article about my as-yet non-tethered nature in the news industry.

But here’s the latest.

My lawyer and I are demanding that all documents related to Laquan’s case are immediately posted to the internet. (We’re using #LaquanOnline.) That’s the only way to show the public what they need to know in this rather obvious cover-up. (Kudos to the Washington Post editorial board for not mincing words!) Making everything public is the only way the city will “heal,” as Rahm often likes to say.

We’ve filed a FOIA for everything involved in the case, but we are very interested in the first half of one particular video, if it exists; the video from one particular police car, if it exists; and the mysteriously missing audio from all the tapes. Also, crucially, any statements taken from any officers on scene; and the names of all the officers on scene that day.

But it’s not an isolated incident, as most of us know, and this case finally brought that idea into the sails of major media. In the article linked above, the Washington Post editorial board called for the heads of Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy and Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez. And the Post wasn’t easy on Rahm, either. Said the cover-up likely stretches all the way to him. Ben Joravsky also had an insightful column about Rahm’s position in all this.

In my view, Rahm needs to discuss the data behind police shootings. There’s one per week on average since at least 1986, according to the Reader’s Steve Bogira and copious data. (There are no signs of it slowing, as McCarthy has bewilderingly stated.) And Rahm needs to discuss the concrete steps he’s taking to make sure the shootings slow to a near halt. Not vague references to “culture.”

A good start would be to tear down and rebuild the so-called “Independent Police Review Authority,” tasked with investigating police misconduct. They have historically found virtually no officer at fault. Even a whistleblower has come out and shown (with emails!) that he was asked to falsify his investigations of police misconduct, and he was fired when he tried to push back internally.

We won. Epically. Now we wait.

press conference crowd

Attorney Matt Topic, myself, and activist William Calloway answer questions from reporters at the Daley Center courthouse Nov. 19 after winning our lawsuit against the city. (Obscured is the other attorney on the case, Craig Futterman.) We sought the release of a video that allegedly shows police shooting 17-year-old Laquan McDonald 16 times on a Chicago street last year. Our suit accused the Chicago Police Department of using certain exemptions to the Freedom of Information Act without merit in withholding the video. Cook County Judge Franklin Valderrama ordered the city to release the footage by Nov. 25.

As this story is ongoing, please see my Twitter feed, @muckrakery, for the latest updates.

Speaking of Twitter, I’ll re-post here a few key items I’ve posted there since the ruling.

9-22:

This weekend, Rahm Emanuel reached out to leaders in Chicago’s black community to try to get black activists to meet with him.

Some black activists undoubtedly will meet with Rahm; others say (via Facebook) that they will not. I don’t blame them.

One black activist says she’s insulted at the invitation, b/c she and others couldn’t previously get a meeting to discuss police brutality.

(I also re-tweeted a link to this well-researched article, “The Laquan McDonald video will not cause violent protests”)

9-20

“The conversation” that the video adds to? It’s the one underpinned by the work has done and continues.

(Responding to some rumors that some news organizations already have the video, either leaked or on embargo) Let’s put it this way: the city has to tell me when they release the video, because I’m the #$&@ plaintiff. I’ll let you know when I know.

It’s our responsibility as journalists to describe what’s really happening. Unvarnished. That’s not “objectivity” (a myth). Nearly opposite.

Perfunctory language, clinical language—like in statements issued by police—ends up obscuring reality. Videos set the record straight.

When policing is done in communities of color, it’s done much differently than in white communities. The data supports this unequivocally.

It’s easy for people in responsibly-policed communities to think “that happens over there.” To not advocate for reform. Folks need a shake.

These are our police. This is our government. We give them their power. And thus, they are ALL of our responsibility.

My case gets air time on WGN

Hearing at Daley Center

My attorney Matt Topic and I discuss our court case against the city for a WGN news crew Oct. 28. Thanks to Andy Thayer for the photo.

Just wanted to make you aware that our case against the city continues. We brought a civil suit against the police department (the city of Chicago, really) because they refuse to release a police-car video of teenager Laquan McDonald being shot dead by a police officer last october. Several other officers watched as one officer shot McDonald 16 times. The officer who fired remains employed by the police department on desk duty, CPD says.

WGN-TV covered our suit last week. I should have something out soon about what we’re arguing versus what the city is arguing. It should be an important case for Freedom of Information law when it deals with law enforcement.

The city is asking for the ability to withhold the video because they are “cooperating” in an “active investigation” into the matter. But they’re hardly cooperating in any meaningful way; they’re just fulfilling their legal obligations. In fact, they shouldn’t be able to investigate themselves–that’s the purpose of the so-called “Independent Police Review Authority.”

FOIA case law also holds that the body denying the public release of material has to prove that said active investigation (if you can call a 12-month process active) would be harmed by the release of that material. If you can’t prove that, you don’t get to withhold the material. And the city’s lawyer told the judge in court this week that he has yet presented no such proof.

Why I’m suing the Chicago Police Department

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Justin Kaufmann, host of WGN Radio’s evening show “The Download,” poses for a quick shot with me after our live segment August 12 about FOIA fails and transparency in Chicago.

In case you weren’t aware, I’m all for transparency, particularly when it concerns police misconduct. As such, I’m suing the Chicago Police Pepartment. It’s an attempt to force them to release the video of an officer shooting dead a 17-year-old black teen last fall.

I recently wrote an op-ed for the Chicago Reader going into the case in greater detail, and why I think police should release the video.

Then, last night, Justin Kaufmann and his producer Pete Zimmerman have me on their talk radio show to discuss the state of transparency in Chicago. (Spoiler alert: transparency isn’t exactly alive and well here.) An mp3 of the audio is available to download at that link.

A big thanks to Justin for letting me talk about what I think is important. He gave me pretty free reign, which is so cool coming from a media company as big as the one he works for. I got to say that I think everyone can and should be filing FOIAs–maybe with the help of FOIA Machine for everyday ones and Muckrock for complex ones. Also I got to mention the case coming this fall, where the Fraternal Order of Police is attempting to force the city to destroy all records of police misconduct from 1966 to 2011.

You’ll hear more from me on that subject. I second journalist Jamie Kalven in calling for the FOP to back down from it’s position, which is at best foolish and at worst criminal. Destroying evidence of a crime is itself a crime, and for rape and murder in particular, there are no statutes of limitations.

Whistleblowers and electronics no longer mix: my story

Whistleblower art

My story for In These Times’ July edition revealed some tactics that whistleblowers of a national security bent might have to use in case they want to remain anonymous.

It appeared on the back cover, where the nonprofit that runs the magazine prints stories, not ads.