In the United States, one-third to one-half of fatal police incidents involve someone with disabilities and a quarter of victims of police violence are people with a mental illness.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois on Wednesday continued the push for reforms in the Chicago Police Department by filing a lawsuit claiming it mistreats people with disabilities in black and Latino communities.
In August, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan sued the police department for alleged discrimination of black and Latino residents. The AG’s action followed on the heels of a damning Justice Department report on police brutality in the city released in January.
The federal lawsuit filed on Wednesday by the ACLU and four community groups comes as Attorney General Jeff Sessions has moved away from an Obama-era policy to prosecute and monitor troubled police departments. Sessions was skeptical of the Justice Department report, and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel said in August that talks for monitoring have ground to a halt.
The community groups said they filed the lawsuit to ensure that CPD reforms are long-term and not abandoned as “political winds shift.”
Equip for Equality, Community Renewal Society, Communities United, Next Steps and ONE Northside joined the ACLU as plaintiffs in the lawsuit.
The groups said they also want to make sure that the concerns of people with disabilities are on the table.
In addition to focusing on reform efforts on how force is used against black and Latinos in Chicago, the groups say the city has failed to train and monitor officers to make sure that they safely interact with people of color with disabilities.
“Racism embedded in the CPD’s policing tactics results in the CPD having more contacts with black and Latino residents, during which officers use…unnecessary force,” the lawsuit states. “This brutality is also magnified for people with disabilities, who disproportionately interact with and are more likely to experience violence by the CPD.”
In the United States, one-third to one-half of fatal police incidents involve someone with disabilities, according to the lawsuit, and a quarter of victims of police violence are people with a mental illness.
“The City of Chicago deploys CPD officers armed with guns and Tasers but not deployed with critical de-escalation skills, and in doing so subjects residents, police officers, and bystanders to harm. When people with disabilities are subjected to CPD’s use of force, the role that their disability played is often either ignored or cited to blame the victim,” the 53-page complaint states.
The Justice Department has said CPD was not doing enough to train officers for interactions with people with disabilities, according to a statement from the ACLU.
Barry Taylor, vice president of civil rights at Equip for Equality, said that he had heard stories of “frightening, dangerous interactions” between Chicago police and citizens with disabilities.
“Police need the training and preparation necessary to ensure that these interactions do not occur in the future. This must be a part of police reform in this city,” Taylor said in a statement.
The Justice Department report exposed a police department where racism has become ingrained in the culture, according to the groups, who say that has created a pattern of excessive force, cover-ups, and a failure to embrace community policing.
Even though the Justice Department concluded that a consent decree with an independent monitor is needed to reform the department, there is still nothing on the table, the ACLU said.
Mayor Emanuel promised in August to work with the Illinois Attorney General to settle her lawsuit, but the community groups said they felt compelled to file their own complaint because the city continues to seek dismissal of a lawsuit filed in June by black civil rights groups.
“The City of Chicago cannot negotiate this agreement behind closed doors. True oversight must involve impacted communities,” Roxanne Smith of Communities United said.
Attorney General Madigan has said she will leave office in early 2019. The ACLU says that raises “the prospect that her office’s commitment to a decree could disappear with a new attorney general.”
“Plaintiffs bring this action to ensure that public safety – and particularly the safety of people of color and people with disabilities – does not continue to be compromised as political winds shift,” the complaint states.
The groups seek a declaratory judgment that Chicago is violating the federal and state constitutions, a permanent injunction, and an order for the city to create a plan outlining how it will reform its policies and train, supervise and discipline its officers.
They are represented by Karen Sheley of the ACLU of Illinois.
CPD spokesman Michael Carroll declined to comment on the pending litigation.
Read the full text of the ACLU complaint
Top photo | In this Nov. 24, 2015, file photo, Chicago police officers line up outside the District 1 central headquarters in Chicago, during a protest for the fatal police shooting of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald. (AP/Paul Beaty File)