Chicago aldermen are holding hearings over the next couple weeks to vet Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s budget. One of the departments funded by the city is IPRA, the Independent Police Review Authority. IPRA investigates serious police misconduct but several aldermen are expressing concerns about the effectiveness of that agency.
One case involving the verbal and physical abuse of an Asian-American woman has been getting particular attention because it was caught on tape. But it’s also getting attention because when the officers realized the abuse was on tape they tried to take possession of the recording.
That seeming attempted obstruction of justice was never investigated by IPRA.
Ald. Ameya Pawar of the 47th ward joined WBEZ’s Robert Wildeboer in studio Tuesday to talk about the case and its implications for community trust of police.
WILDEBOER: First off, IPRA is recommending a 25-day suspension for a police officer who told Jessica Klyzek, an Asian-American woman, that she wasn’t American. The officer said he was going to put her in a UPS box and send her back to wherever she came from. Is a 25-day suspension appropriate?
PAWAR: I mean, I thought what was said on that tape was incredibly offensive and not just to the woman but to the broader Asian-American community, and I think if we’re going to say that we are an immigrant-friendly city then our public safety agencies along with all our departments have to reflect that and I think the 25 days is light in my opinion.
WILDEBOER: Asian-American community groups in Chicago are calling for the officers to be fired. You’ve seen the video. Should these officers should be fired?
PAWAR: I think what I want to know is what they’ve done in the past and how they arrived at 25 days. Again, I’m a process-oriented person so I want to know how they got from point ‘A’ to point ‘B.’ Looking at that tape in its entirety it doesn’t seem to reflect the values of the police department. It doesn’t seem to reflect the values of all the men and women who serve in the Chicago Police Department so my question is how they got to that penalty.
WILDEBOER: After the verbal abuse officers realize that they are being recorded and they appear to try to destroy the video. You’ve watched that portion of the video. What’s your take? Does this look like an attempt to obstruct justice and is this something you think IPRA should have investigated?
PAWAR: I think that second question is the right one, which is, why weren’t there any questions asked about, it seemed to me that the conversation was, well, if we seize the video then it’s better us than them. That to me is highly problematic. And again, I have a lot of questions on why there wasn’t a broader investigation, or at least a question, a simple question as to why they were discussing seizing that surveillance video. I mean I think this is why people are suspicious of the people who are supposed to serve them. Remember, we’re all supposed to be on the same team here.
WILDEBOER: You’ve previously said it’s important to question and challenge police agencies and I wanted to see if you could talk a little bit more about that.
PAWAR: So I’ll give you some political context. I marched with a ‘Black Lives Matter’ processional prior to the election and during the election that came up as me being anti-police, that I don’t support police officers. Questioning a police officer or a police department is seen as being anti-police and I think that is really problematic because you have to be able to question your public institutions. That’s what makes them stronger. That’s what make democracy stronger. I think it’s also important to know that as an alderman—and I support the police department, I’m about to vote on one of the largest property tax increases in history to fund their pensions—so I just think we have to move beyond this idea of …this being a binary conversation, that either you’re with the police or you’re against the police. It just doesn’t make any sense. It doesn’t lead to good results and it’s going to continue to divide communities. And I think that also means that the FOP, the police department, the superintendent, city council, we all have a role in this and making sure we’re addressing the legacy issues. We have to.
Robert Wildeboer is a WBEZ criminal and legal affairs reporter. Follow him at @robertwildeboer.