A federal lawsuit filed today by several civil rights lawyers and organizations seeks to force sweeping reforms in the troubled Chicago Police Department, the Chicago Tribune reports. The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Chicago, is an attempt to force a form of oversight Mayor Rahm Emanuel backed away from this month: federal court supervision of reforms in a department plagued by allegations of excessive force and misconduct. Some 15 lawyers from Chicago and New York City filed the lawsuit on behalf of six African-American plaintiffs who allege excessive force and other abuses, as well as groups including Black Lives Matter Chicago.
The lawsuit invokes police uses of force dating to the 1968 Democratic convention and the killing of Black Panther Fred Hampton in arguing that violence and racial discrimination remain structural features of the department to this day. The suit contends that police routinely beat, deploy Tasers on and shoot African Americans and Latinos with the protection of a “code of silence” and little risk of discipline. Though the suit seeks money for the individual plaintiffs, it is distinct from most litigation filed against the police because it also seeks an injunction to force reforms that are not specified but would be hammered out if the litigation succeeds. The chief goal is an order empowering a judge to enforce reforms that could include those endorsed by the U.S. Justice Department in its January report criticizing the police as badly trained, poorly supervised and prone to excessive force, said Craig Futterman, a University of Chicago law professor and a member of the plaintiffs’ legal team. Without court oversight, Futterman said, “We’ll be having the same conversation after the next scandal.”