US attorney in Chicago Zachary Fardon published a sobering open letter on Monday after he submitted his resignation.
In his letter, Fardon spoke at length about the most consistent problem that plagues Chicago: gun violence.
The former US attorney, who assumed his position in 2013, said that, “At no moment during those three and a half years did the gun violence abate. Every month, every year, innocents died, kids died.”
The already-precarious atmosphere in Chicago kicked into overdrive following the police shooting of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald in 2014, Fardon wrote. The police released video of the incident more than a year after the shooting occurred, after which the Superintendent of the Chicago Police Department was fired and the US Department of Justice announced it would be opening an investigation into the CPD.
The straw that broke the camel’s back, according to Fardon, was a deal that the ACLU struck with the CPD, which mandated that officers complete “contact cards” for every street encounter they had.
“That ACLU deal grew out of a lawsuit about stop and frisk, but the contract that settled the lawsuit swung the pendulum hard in the other direction by telling cops if you (officer) go talk to those kids on the corner, you’re going to have to take 40 minutes to fill out a form, and you’re going to have to give them a receipt with your badge number on it,” the letter said.
It continued: “So by January 2016 [when the deal was struck], the city was on fire,” because police were under public scrutiny and many did not want to risk stopping a suspect. They scaled back on some of their responsibilities towards public safety as a result of that, Fardon said.
This string of events led to, in his view, a splintering of Chicago’s law enforcement and an uptick in gun violence. He also wrote about other long-term factors that played a role.
Chicago’s rate of violence can be traced back, Fardon said, to the prevalence of gangs in Chicago’s south and west sides. “For decades, those neighbourhoods have been neglected,” Fardon said. “The reasons for that historic run of neglect are rooted in ugly truths about power, politics, race and racism that are a tragic part of our local and national history and heritage.”
Fardon ended his letter by articulating a number of suggestions to federal and local leaders that could heal the city’s scars and restore trust between citizens and law enforcement.
- Get a Consent Decree with an independent federal monitor. Consent decrees were created after the Los Angeles riots that were spurred after Rodney King was severely beaten by Los Angeles Poice Department officers. Consent decrees empower the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division to bring charges against local law enforcement suspected of using excessive force or violating citizens’ constitutional rights.
- Enhance and consolidate federal law enforcement in Chicago. Fardon suggested in his letter that the US attorney’s office in Chicago take on at least 15 to 20 more A.U.S.As. “If you want more federal gang and gun prosecutions, we need more full-time, permanent federal prosecutors in Chicago. That’s simple maths,” Fardon’s letter said.
- More stringently review social media to monitor activity that could lead to gun violence. “If a gang member makes CPD’s Strategic Subject List, find a way to curb or real-time monitor that gang member’s social media accounts,” Fardon said. “If kids have convictions or overt gang affiliations, find a way to curb their social media,” he continued, adding that he was aware the suggestion carried with it some constitutional risks related to the First Amendment.
- Create new “youth pathway centres” for kids to help guide them in the right direction.
- Reform the current prison system in the county so that poorer defendants facing less severe charges are not forced to remain in jail awaiting trial, while suspects facing felony charges for gang-related activity are able to post bond and get out. “That’s nuts,” Fardon said. “Lives are being lost, every month, because of that bail system. It’s fixable, now.”
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