Illinois attorney general Lisa Madigan filed a federal lawsuit today asking a judge to oversee reform of the Chicago Police Department. If that sounds familiar, it’s because a very similar lawsuit was filed in mid-June by a coalition of community organizations led by Black Lives Matter Chicago and a group of individual victims of Chicago police violence. Like Madigan, the community groups are seeking federal oversight of police reforms. The difference, however, is that while the city is currently fighting BLM Chicago’s suit in court, Mayor Rahm Emanuel has said he’s ready to cooperate with Madigan and skip litigating her suit to pass straight to negotiations over a consent decree.
At a press conference earlier today, Madigan and Emanuel explained that they’re picking up reform efforts that have been abandoned by the Trump administration’s Justice Department since Obama’s DOJ staff issued a scathing report on CPD. Earlier this year, Emanuel backpedaled from his previous commitment to a consent decree and said he’d seek an independent monitor for police reform without court oversight. Madigan later told the Sun-Times that Emanuel was “scared” of a consent decree. But in a backpedal to that backpedal, the mayor now seems ready to move forward with court-monitored reform. He and Madigan vowed to seek public input in figuring out the terms of the consent decree, but an attorney representing the plaintiffs in the Black Lives Matter suit cautions that without meaningful input from victims of Chicago police violence the reform efforts are sure to fail.
“I think that the fact that the mayor has recognized that what’s wrong with the Chicago Police Department isn’t going to get right in the absence of judicial oversight is an important concession,” says Sheila Bedi, a lead attorney in the BLM lawsuit. “What’s most important now is what comes next: any sort of remedy negotiated without input from communities affected by police violence will most likely fall short.”
Madigan’s suit could have positive ramifications for the BLM litigation, Bedi says. Though the city has filed a motion to dismiss that lawsuit, there’s precedent for the federal court to combine the two suits given the similarity of the complaints and the relief being sought. Similar aggregations of police reform lawsuits have happened in Cincinnati and in New Orleans, she says. “The AG’s complaint is in line with what we were requesting.”
Bedi wouldn’t comment on whether she and the rest of the legal team had had any contact with Madigan. The attorney general’s office did not immediately respond to the Reader‘s requests for comment.
The attorney general’s and mayor’s commitment to police reform will be tested by the extent to which victims of police misconduct are included in figuring out what reform looks like, Bedi says. With Emanuel’s surprising embrace of Madigan’s proposal and agreement not to fight her suit while he’s litigating against a nearly identical one from community groups, she says, “there is a danger that the people who have been most affected by police violence could be cut out of any process of developing a police remedy.”
Update: Asked whether there are concrete plans to collaborate with the plaintiffs from BLM’s lawsuit on reform negotiations, Madigan’s office replied only that the process “needs and will benefit from input from all of the stakeholders as well as the community.”