'Recall Rahm' bill sponsor pressed the mayor on police issues, got ignored for years

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Protesters calling for Rahm Emanuel’s resignation marched down State Street December 6. - SCOTT OLSON/GETTY IMAGES
  • Scott Olson/Getty Images
  • Protesters calling for Rahm Emanuel’s resignation marched down State Street December 6.

Several months before Laquan McDonald was shot dead, before a multi-million dollar settlement was paid to his estate, the chief co-sponsor for the "Recall Rahm" bill raised the issue of police accountability with Mayor Rahm Emanuel and then-police superintendent Garry McCarthy. But they stonewalled her efforts.

State representative Mary Flowers is no stranger to the issue of police misconduct, having tried throughout her 30-year tenure to enact legislation that would address police brutality and racial biases in law enforcement. But most of the Chicago Democrat's proposed measures, including police sensitivity training and a special task force on race and policing, died in committee without the benefit of a floor discussion. 

So Flowers opted for a more direct approach. On two separate occasions and in two separate letters, one sent in 2013 and one in 2014, the state rep wrote to the Chicago mayor and police chief, urging them to institute a full pilot program for body cameras, along with related data collection. In both letters, Flowers argued that outfitting Chicago police officers with body cameras could reduce officer misconduct complaints and the use of lethal force. She also stressed that doing so could help the city be "shielded from a frivolous lawsuit" and protect officers from the "stigma which flows from a false accusation."

Flowers told the Reader that her first letter, dated July 29, 2013, was met with nothing but radio silence from Emanuel.

"I never got a one-on-one with the mayor," Flowers says. "No returned call, no returned letter, and not even a form letter acknowledging the office received my letter."

However, McCarthy responded in a September 17 letter, noting that he recognized the importance of technology and the use of social media in the department. He didn't directly address Flowers' proposal for body cameras. Instead, he stressed the department's increased presence on Twitter in a number of districts, and the already-enacted "text to tip" program targeted at young people.

McCarthy's reply, Flowers says, led to an in-person meeting between Flowers, her staffer, McCarthy, and then-first deputy superintendent Alfonso Wysinger. Flowers says she hoped that the growing national buzz on body cameras presented an opportunity to reintroduce ideas from previous legislative sessions.

But the meeting did not go as Flowers had hoped.

"All of a sudden, out of nowhere, [McCarthy] stood up, banged his hand on the table and said, 'Who the hell do you think you are, coming here to take up my time with a task force and cameras, when I've the problems of the whole city of Chicago to address?'" Flowers recalls.

After delivering a brief, in-kind response that mirrored McCarthy's act of intimidation-noting that she "has the whole state's problems to address"-Flowers and her staffer exchanged no further words with McCarthy or his first deputy. They gathered their belongings and left.

"[The meeting] was a waste of my time," Flowers says now. "Obviously, [McCarthy] wasn't interested or engaged in wanting to make change."

Flowers says she hasn't spoken to McCarthy since. But the police department has slowly introduced the use of body cameras, efforts that date as far back as fall 2014-roughly a year after Flowers' encounter with the police superintendent. She says she only learned of the development while reading the news, and responded with a follow-up letter to McCarthy and Emanuel dated September 16, 2014.

"There is no single tool which will reduce the crime rate in my community, or incidents of false accusations leveled against officers," Flowers wrote, urging the data collection element as a key tool for public accountability in the use of brute force. "However, a reduction in the public's unnecessary negative encounters with the police would reduce distrust, which in turn would improve the department's effectiveness."

Although the state legislature went on to pass a body camera bill last August, the law doesn't require police departments to use the technology.

In the many months that followed, Flowers says Emanuel remained silent, as he had before. She also heard nothing from the Chicago Police Department. That silence has persisted in the days since state representative La Shawn Ford filed House Bill 4356 , which Flowers backed in short order.

Flowers believes that the communications breakdown she experienced with the city reflects the lack of political will to address police accountability-a deep negligence not just at the police superintendent's office, but also at the mayor's office.

"McCarthy being fired was not enough because we still have the problems-he was just symptomatic of the issue," Flowers says, stressing the continuing need for the city to address issues of racism in law enforcement. "You would never have black police officers going into white communities, doing what white police officers have done to our black youth. It wouldn't be accepted."

Representatives from the mayor's office and the Chicago Police Department did not respond to the Reader's requests for comment.

Last week, Flowers told CNN's Brooke Baldwin that despite the mayor's office's statement insisting that the recall bill is politically motivated, it's really about Emanuel's years of negligence on problems with police.

"This is an issue I saw coming and I wanted to get ahead of it," Flowers noted. "I wasn't even given an opportunity to have that conversation."

"This bill isn't about Rahm Emanuel," she added. "It's about a process whereby people could have their voices heard again. Right now, there is no process in place. If it happens to be where Rahm Emanuel is recalled, so be it."

See the full text of Flowers' correspondence with McCarthy here: 

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