PI Original Ellyn Fortino Monday April 18th, 2016, 6:32pm

Amid Chicago Police Controversy, Rev. Jackson Calls On Obama For Help

In the wake of a task force report finding systemic racism in Chicago's police department, the Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr. and others urged President Barack Obama to step in and help implement an "urban plan for reconstruction" in the city.

After a report was issued last week detailing systemic racism and other problems in the Chicago Police Department (CPD), the Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr. and others are calling for reforms and help from President Barack Obama on an "urban plan for reconstruction" in the city.

Speaking Monday afternoon at the Rainbow Push Coalition with clergy, community leaders and Cook County Commissioner Richard Boykin, Jackson said Chicago "is the epicenter of modern urban violence and destruction."

He said Obama should assist his adopted hometown "because there's no city in America with a police force as large as, as corrupt as, the criminal justice system in Chicago."

"We need a plan for ending violence and reconstruction," Jackson said, stressing the importance of "a plan for jobs that corresponds to unemployment, skilled training, scholarships and targeted investment."

"We need the president to come to the city," he added. "The level of crisis in this city rises to the level of White House attention."

Among those standing alongside Jackson Monday was the Rev. Ira Acree, pastor at Greater St. John Bible Church on the city's West Side

"We support the call for having President Obama come home, 'cause we are in a state of crisis," he said. "Police misconduct has made us an international disgrace."

The request comes after Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel's Police Accountability Task Force released a blistering report Wednesday, concluding that officers in the department have "no regard for the sanctity of life when it comes to people of color."

In its report, task force members said the CPD should "acknowledge its racist history and overhaul its handling of excessive force allegations."

The report detailed troubling police statistics.

Of the 404 people shot by Chicago police between 2008 and 2015, 74 percent were African American, the report states. By comparison, Hispanics represented 15 percent of those shot by Chicago police over the past eight years, followed by whites at 8 percent and Asians at .25 percent.

African Americans were also more likely to be Tasered by Chicago police. Between 2012 and 2015, there were 1,886 Taser discharges, 76 percent of which hit African Americans. Thirteen percent of the Taser subjects were Hispanic, 8 percent were white and .21 percent were Asian.

To put those numbers in perspective, Chicago's population is 32.9 percent black, 31.7 percent white and 28.9 percent Hispanic.

Task force members urged police to end the "code of silence" about problem officers within the department. They were critical of police union contracts, saying they "essentially turned the code of silence into official policy."

Chicago's Independent Police Review Authority (IPRA) is also "badly broken," the task force argued, and should be replaced with a "new and fully transparent and accountable" civilian-led police investigative agency.

"It reaffirms what we already knew and suspected -- that there is systemic racism, that institutions have failed swaths of communities and especially the African-American community," Boykin said of the task force's report.

The county commissioner along with religious and community leaders want the city's labor contract with the Fraternal Order of Police renegotiated and say the filing of a false police report should be a felony.

"Rescind the discipline code of the FOP," Jackson said. "It is a source of coverup."

The community and faith leaders further called for IPRA to be disbanded and replaced with a truly independent oversight agency. They would also like to see all police crime scene video and incident reports released in a timely fashion.

Additionally, the leaders called for the closing of Homan Square and say the facility should be included in the U.S. Justice Department's "pattern and practice" probe into the CPD. Homan Square is a Chicago police facility that allegedly functions as an "off-the-books" detention and interrogation center, according to reporting by The Guardian.

According to the news organization's reporting, suspects detained at the "secretive" police facility -- located in a former Sears warehouse on Chicago's West Side -- have allegedly been beaten, abused and denied "basic constitutional rights," including access to counsel. The police department has denied any wrongdoing at Homan Square and asserts that the facility, which houses special police units and a ballistics lab, is not secret.

A recent Guardian analysis of Chicago police records revealed that more than 7,000 people were detained at Homan Square between August 2004 and June 2015. Of the more than 7,000 people brought to Homan Square, nearly 6,000 were black, the review found.

Jackson called Homan Square a "national disgrace," urging the U.S. Justice Department to become "more visible" and "act on Homan Square now."  Homan Square is a "travesty," according to Boykin, and "a mark on America that we should not have." The facility "goes to the heart" of constitutional and human rights violations, the commissioner added.

"I don't understand for the life of me how you can investigate CPD and not investigate what's taken place at Homan Square," Boykin said. "Unless we deal with Homan Square and the issues there, all of this is just window dressing," he continued.

Illinois Poll On Criminal Justice Reform

Also on Monday, new polling was released by the U.S. Justice Action Network showing strong support for criminal justice reform in Illinois.

The poll of 505 registered voters was conducted February 1 through February 4 by Lemont-based Fako Research and Strategies.

Among the poll's key findings: "One-quarter (26%) of voters believe the Illinois criminal justice system needs 'A Complete Overhaul.' One-third of voters (33%) believe that the Illinois criminal justice system needs 'Major Reform' while another quarter of the electorate (26%) feels the system needs 'Minor Reform.' One-tenth of voters (9%) feel that the Illinois criminal justice system is 'Working Pretty Well As It Is.'"

The poll's margin of error is plus or minus 4.3 percent.

The U.S. Justice Action Network -- a criminal justice reform advocacy organization made up of progressive and conservative partner groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union and Right on Crime -- has done criminal justice reform polling in other states. 

"We're finding similar results across the country, and across the ideological spectrum," Holly Harris, U.S. Justice Action Network's executive director, said on an afternoon conference call. "I would put Illinois and Michigan up there in the top tier of states that have overwhelming bipartisan support for reform."

The Illinois poll asked about specific criminal justice reforms. Proposals involving "rehabilitation, diversion, or reduction of recidivism" garnered the most support among survey respondents. For example, 94 percent of Illinois voters said the criminal justice system should offer more rehabilitation and job training for those who commit low-level and non-violent offenses. And 87 percent of survey respondents said they favored replacing "mandatory minimum sentences with sentencing ranges so that judges can weigh the individual circumstances of each case, such as seriousness of the offense and the offender's criminal history, when determining the penalty."

"This poll reveals a mandate for criminal justice reform in Illinois," Harris said. "The prison population has exploded over the last few decades, and yet we aren't seeing the public safety return that we deserve. So it's no surprise that an overwhelming number of voters from the far left to the far right support policies that would reduce prison sentences for low-risk, non-violent offenses and offer more rehabilitation programs for those leaving incarceration. In light of this polling data, we urge lawmakers to take action to support these needed changes to our broken system."

State Sen. Kwame Raoul (D-Chicago) and Rodger Heaton of Gov. Bruce Rauner's Illinois State Commission on Criminal Justice and Sentencing Reform responded to the U.S. Justice Action Network's poll results. 

"The fear of backlash has always been the obstacle to advancing such legislation, and I think this poll is one tool in the toolbox, as well as the coalition of advocates pushing criminal justice reform, to enable us to do what we've been unable to do during my tenure of nearly 12 years in the legislature," Raoul said on the conference call.  

For its part, the Illinois State Commission on Criminal Justice and Sentencing Reform has been directed by the governor to propose reforms that will reduce the state's current prison population by 25 percent come 2025.

"The poll results certainly strengthen the commissioners' resolve to consider bold reforms to safely reduce the state's reliance on incarceration," Heaton said.

State officials were asked about the Chicago Police Accountability Task Force's recommendations and whether they can be included in state-level efforts on criminal justice reform. 

"There are some similarities, I suppose, in looking at the conduct and training of correctional officers, just as we would be prepared to look at the conduct and training of police officers," Heaton said. "The commission has taken a hard look at what kinds of additional training and preparation correctional officers need to have to basically address offenders in ways through the course of their incarceration that can enhance their ability to return successfully to society. There is gonna be some opportunities for us to study the work of the Chicago task force and think about whether it bears on the kinds of solutions we're coming up with."

Raoul added that state lawmakers "will be looking at the recommendations of the task force as well as [legislative proposals] and things that have been discussed by the commission, including [the] potential of licensing of law enforcement officers."

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