Justice

Chicago Police Department Called out for Racist Social Media Posts

Just over a year after the Department of Justice opened an investigation into the Chicago police over civil rights violations, the agency released a report of its findings Friday. Among the issues detailed in the report is a section describing how some Chicago Police Department (CPD) officers shared discriminatory images and messages on public social media accounts and how "CPD takes insufficient steps to prevent or appropriately respond to this animus."

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Though the report states that CPD policy prohibits officers from using social media platforms to post "any communications that discredit or reflect poorly on the Department, its missions or goals," the DOJ officials determined that "this policy is apparently not well-enforced, even against supervisors." The report listed several captions that appeared in CPD social media posts, including one that read "[h]opefully one of these pictures will make the black lives matter [sic] activist organization feel a whole lot better!" The report states that the captions was accompanied by two photos, including one that depicts two dead, bloodied black men slumped over in a bullet-ridden vehicle. It does not describe the other photo. 

ATTN: searched Facebook using the text of the caption and found a matching post associated with an account that belongs to a user with the name of a current Chicago police officer. The name was cross-referenced with the City of Chicago employee directory, which turned up a matching result. CPD did not immediately respond to requests to confirm the identity or employment status of the individual by the time of publication, so we are withholding the name.

Other posts referenced by DOJ featured disparaging remarks about black, Muslim, and Hispanic people. "The only good Muslim is a fucking dead one," a CPD officer apparently wrote in one photo caption, which showed a dead Muslim soldier lying in a pool of blood. A CPD sergeant allegedly posted "at least 25 anti-Muslim statements and at least 43 other discriminatory posts," according to the report.

Shari Runner, the president of the civil rights organization Chicago Urban League, said she saw parallels between police and gang activity on social media. 

"I think it’s interesting — when we hear about the violence that’s going on in Chicago, a lot of the explanation about what’s going on is that it’s run through Twitter or Facebook or gang members talking back and forth, dissing each other... that the gang members are inciting violence through social media," Runner told ATTN:. "This whole idea of police using social media as a way to verify or validate their own racism is kind of the same thing."

The DOJ investigation, which was opened in response to the fatal police shooting of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald in October 2014, also raised concerns about excessive use of force by officers, insufficient training, and a lack of accountability following instances of misconduct.

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The social media posts nonetheless reveal "a lack of sufficient concern about such conduct" on the part of CPD, the federal agency noted.

"The conduct of those officers who have engaged in the racist and abusive behaviors described here, unchecked due to the systemic and cultural failings described in this Report, hurts the many well-intentioned officers. CPD will not be able to convince residents in these neighborhoods that it cares, no matter how earnestly it launches community policing initiatives, if it does not take a stronger, more effective stance against unnecessarily demeaning and divisive officer conduct."

Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson said the report was "difficult to read" and pledged to "do better" during a press conference Friday.