Book review

A nice review of my book by Mara Dodge in the September 2017 Journal of American History (unfortunately the rest is behind a paywall):

In Robert Nixon and Police Torture in Chicago Elizabeth Dale provides a thought-provoking, well-written, and meticulously researched history of police violence. Using newspaper accounts and the records of eighty-six court trials, she identifies four hundred cases involving defendants who claimed that police used force or coercion, usually in an effort to extract confessions. The coercive techniques included physical abuse, deprivation, psychological pressure, and holding suspects incommunicado. Dale, a former Chicago civil rights attorney and a professor of history and law, is ideally qualified to explore these issues.

 

 

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).

A black eye

In 1914, Catherine O’Callaghan said she was called to Chicago’s Stockyards police station late one evening to get her sixteen-year-old son, Daniel. As she walked into to the station, she heard her son screaming and begging in another room (Chicago Tribune, December 5, 1914).

When she opened the door to that room, she saw her son between four police officers. As she watched, the officer to Daniel’s left hit him a blow that swung him forward, then the officer to his left hit him with a blow that sent him reeling back. Another office, who she identified as Thomas Coffey, hit Daniel over the head (Chicago Tribune, December 5, 1914, p. 8).

Mrs O’Callaghan complained to Thomas Cronin, the Captain of the station. Cronin admitted that Daniel, who had been arrested on suspicion of stealing car tires, had been interrogated by officer Coffey and three others, who were identified as John Adams, James O’Connor, and Peter Carney. But Cronin denied that any of the officers struck or otherwise harmed Daniel, a claim that seemed somewhat dubious in light of the fact that one of Daniel’s eyes was swollen shut and marked by “a long blue streak directly across it,” and a large lump on the back of his head (Chicago Tribune, December 5, 1914, p. 8).

Undeterred, Catherine O’Callaghan filed a charge against the four officers. The superintendent’s office did assign an investigator to the case, and he made inquiries at the station. Once again, Captain Cronin denied that anything untoward had happened to Daniel O’Callaghan. And, making an argument that was echoed in other cases, Cronin pointed out that Daniel O’Callaghan was no innocent youth. In fact, Cronin said, O’Callaghan was up to his old tricks and had been arrested yet again for tire theft (Chicago Tribune, December 6, 1914, p. H14).  Apparently, the investigation did not go any further.