A Forgotten Resource on Deadly Force in Chicago (1969-1970)

Recent efforts to investigate and prosecute Chicago police officers for shooting at, or killing, civilians have drawn attention (yet again) to the use of deadly force in that city and the difficulty of prosecuting those cases. But the problem is not a new one. In the two-year period from January 1969 through December 1970, Chicago police officers killed 79 civilians. A report prepared by the Chicago Law Enforcement Study Group established that civilians in Chicago had a higher risk of being killed by police than civilians in the four other largest cities in the country (New York, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, and Detroit) (Report, p. 11, 14).

More to the point, the report found that the majority of the people the police killed in that period were Black, male, and less than 25 years old. According to that report, Blacks in Chicago were six times more likely to be killed by a police officer than their white counterparts (Report, p. 74).

The report also concluded that police misconduct was involved in at least 37 % of the deadly force cases in that period (Report, Table 15 & p. 74). Yet in those 76 cases, there were no convictions.*  This was largely because the various groups charged with investigating or prosecuting absolved the police officers involved (Report, p. 38):

  1. Chicago police pressed criminal charges in only 2 cases.
  2. The Cook County state’s attorney’s office presented only 4 cases to the grand jury.
  3. The grand jury indicted only 1 officer.
  4. At trial, the one officer charged was acquitted.

In addition, the report noted that the Cook County Coroner’s Jury found the homicide justifiable in 65 cases, or resulted from an accident 9 times. The coroner’s jury concluded only 1 of those 76 cases involved involuntary manslaughter, and that only 1 of those cases seemed to be murder (Report, p. 40).

The Law Enforcement Study Group investigated criminal justice in Chicago between 1970 and 1985. Their research, which is gathered at the Chicago History Museum, looked at domestic violence (including police response to complaints by battered women), homelessness (including police treatment of homeless people), and the juvenile court system. In 1971, the group published a report on police use of deadly force in Chicago for 1969-1970. Unfortunately, that report, “The Police and Their Use of Fatal Force in Chicago,” is out of print and available at only a few libraries. But it is a study that should be given greater attention by those interested in the problems of criminal justice, police misconduct, and the use of deadly force by the police.

 

* Fred Hampton and Mark Clark were also killed by the police in this period. Their deaths, which were still being investigated when the report was completed were not included in these figures (Report, p. 37).

Published by

erdale13

Professor, History and Law, University of Florida

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