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12/1 Chicago Urban League's Letter to Attorney General Lynch Requesting Federal Investigation

December 1, 2015


The Honorable Loretta E. Lynch

Attorney General

U.S. Department of Justice

Civil Rights Division

950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW

Washington, DC 20530-0001


The Honorable Vanita Gupta

Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Civil Rights Division 

U.S. Department of Justice 

950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW

Washington, DC 20530


Dear Attorney General Lynch and Deputy Assistant Gupta:

On behalf of the Chicago Urban League, I write to formally request that the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice open a pattern or practice investigation into the Chicago Police Department (CPD), brought pursuant to  the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, 42 U.S.C. 14141(“Section 14141”).

Accordingly, we request that you investigate the circumstances surrounding the October 20, 2014 shooting death of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald at the hands of CPD Officer Jason Van Dyke.  

Although Officer Van Dyke was charged with murder on November 24, 2015, more than one year after Laquan McDonald’s death, many in the community believe that the charges only came after a judge ruled that the city had to release the videotape of the shooting.

It has been widely reported that there have been at least 18 citizen complaints, ranging from racially charged language to roughing up suspects, filed against Officer Van Dyke, but he has never been disciplined prior to this shooting. Additionally, not only was Van Dyke not arrested immediately following the murder of McDonald more than one year ago, he was kept on the CPD payroll. It took officials 400 days to charge Van Dyke.

There are also reports that the CPD was involved in tampering with evidence in this case, specifically, a surveillance tape at a nearby Burger King that may have shown evidence of the shooting.

In light of the severity of the allegations and mistrust of the CPD by the city’s African-American communities, we believe that law enforcement authority, investigative expertise and independence of the U.S. DOJ are required. Though Van Dyke is the first on-duty CPD officer to be charged with first-degree murder in almost 35 years, this is not an isolated case. More than 1,600 people have been struck by bullets fired by Chicago police officers—including 19 men killed last year. For example, in addition to McDonald’s shooting, a 16-year old black male was fatally shot 17 times by CPD. As the Daily Beast reports, most of those killings remain in a state of “evidentiary purgatory,” because of lengthy and still-pending investigations from the Independent Police Review Authority.             

We believe these events surrounding the death of McDonald underscore the need for a full investigation and, accordingly, request that the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice promptly investigate whether the Chicago Police Department, as well as the Mayor of Chicago, IL and the State’s Attorney for Cook County, engaged in a pattern or practice of civil rights violations. 

It’s past time to take a deeper look at how racial bias has permeated the Chicago Police Department. Longstanding complaints from the African American community, capped by Laquan McDonald’s tragic death, raise questions that demand answers and accountability.

While we are pleased with the resignation of CPD Superintendent Garry McCarthy and the creation of the task force on police accountability as announced by Mayor Rahm Emanuel, we are still calling on the Department of Justice to launch a pattern or practice investigation. Unfortunately, due to the long history of systemic misconduct, we cannot trust the CPD to police itself.

Through a thorough investigation, the DOJ can help reform a broken system which is currently unequal and inequitable, ignoring the civil rights of citizens. This will be an important step in mending frayed trust within the city. We would welcome a detailed report on the CPD along with recommendations to reform this critical agency in a timely manner.

Thank you again for your leadership on these issues.  Chicago Urban League welcomes the opportunity to discuss the request further and stands ready to assist you in your efforts. Please do not hesitate to contact me.

Thank you in advance for your attention to this matter.



 Shari Signature

Shari Runner

Interim President and CEO