The Price is Life: How Chicago is Helping Wall Street Make a “Killing” off Police Violence

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A stock image of police officers. On their website, the Action Center for Race and the Economy wrote: “Chicago has borrowed $709M to pay for settlements including Chicago Police misconduct cases since 2010. This will cost taxpayers more than $1 billion in interest. Read their report at https://www.acrecampaigns.org/pbb.” (Anthony Franklin / PEXELS)
Police brutality is costly, but not just in the way you would think. While much discourse about police reform focuses on the emotional burden of police brutality, a major enabler of this violence is seldom explored: money.

Many people do not realize how much money goes into funding police-related settlements, and this creates an “information gap,” said Carrie Sloan, a research director at the Action Center for Race and the Economy. This is a gap she said ACRE seeks to close.

According to data provided by ACRE research analyst Alyxandra Goodwin, Chicago had spent around $413 Million covering police-related settlements from 2011-2017, averaging out to approximately $59 Million a year.

These exorbitant expenses cause budget concerns. 

Goodwin stated, “When they [City Council] are looking to make cuts, the social safety nets are the first to go.”  In Chicago, Goodwin continued, these “social safety nets” were things like public education and mental health services, which both experienced major cuts under Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who has been in office since 2011.

Emanuel has been criticized for his policies that have negatively impacted Black and Hispanic communities in Chicago. Yet, Emanuel does not act alone in seemingly enabling this system of police violence. It is controlled by many repertory players.

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Chicago’s budgeted versus actual spending on police misconduct settlements from 2011 to 2017. (Javanna Plummer / Rwebel)
The above chart, which uses some of the data gathered by Goodwin, shows that Chicago exceeded its allotted settlement budget every year from 2011-2017. City Council, who approves spending, thus becomes complicit in this system of police violence. When Chicago exceeds its budget, the city takes out bonds, or loans to governments.

​These bonds only compound the problem because, in addition to borrowing at high volumes, Chicago’s Law Department does not distinguish between its spending on police settlements and judgments compared to other settlements and judgments.

​To pinpoint how much of the 2017 settlement budget went to police related settlements, Goodwin went through Law Department documents and isolated incidents that involved police misconduct or neglect. Her findings showed that ninety percent of settlements and judgments were police related.

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​ACRE did case studies on five cities who had rampant police brutality. Of these five, Chicago was the only city not to distinguish between police settlements and other settlements. After doing careful analysis, research analyst Alyxandra Goodwin came up with these estimations. (Javanna Plummer / Rwebel)
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​ACRE did case studies on five cities who had rampant police brutality. Of these five, Chicago was the only city not to distinguish between police settlements and other settlements. After doing careful analysis, research analyst Alyxandra Goodwin came up with these estimations. (Javanna Plummer / Rwebel)
In their Chicago case study, ACRE wrote: “Chicago is habitually relying on bond borrowing to fund its legal settlements and judgments, as well as other litigation costs.”

This, in turn, affects taxpayers because one of the funding sources for bonds are property taxes. Over the course of these bonds’ lives, ACRE estimates that taxpayers will pay $1 B in interest for all of Chicago’s settlements.

While these bonds are a burden to taxpayers,  they are an incentive for investors and firms on Wall Street.

We call the bonds used to cover
police related settlement and judgment costs
‘police brutality bonds,’
because they quite literally
allow banks and wealthy investors
to profit from police violence.
This is a transfer of wealth
from communities–
especially over-policed communities of color–
to Wall Street and wealthy investors.

“Police Brutality Bonds: How Wall Street Profits from Police Violence”, Action Center for Race and the Economy

In an in-depth report by ACRE, Sloan, Goodwin, and Whitney Shepard wrote about how Wall Street profits off police misconduct in cities across America, especially in Chicago. 

This results in what ACRE called a “transfer of wealth” from “over-policed communities of color.” These are the same communities that have been plagued by income inequality and police brutality  for years.

While advocating for racial equity, the late Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. denounced capitalism and police brutality.

In his famed “I Have a Dream” speech, he addressed the latter when he said: “We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality. We can never be satisfied.”

Police brutality bonds can be classified as one of these “unspeakable horrors” because they monetize violence against civilians. In Chicago, many of these civilians live in Black and Hispanic neighborhoods. 

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These findings show that all neighborhoods with 20 or more misconduct cases in Chicago were predominantly Black or Hispanic. (Javanna Plummer / Rwebel)
According to Chicago Reporter’s “Settling for Misconduct” database, Chicago has settled 1,112 police misconduct cases beginning in 2011, and these settlements stem from cases dating back to 1981. Of cases where the neighborhood was known, which was approximately 935 cases, or 84 percent, misconduct settlements were more often in Black and Hispanic communities (shown in the chart above).

Jonah Newman, a data reporter for Chicago Reporter, shared spreadsheets revealing that the two most frequent tags for misconduct cases were false arrests or reports and excessive force. So, recipients of misconduct settlements are more likely to come from Black and Hispanic neighborhoods, and they are more likely to accuse officers of false arrest/reports and excessive force.

Several high-profile police killings highlight these findings.

In 2012, Rekia Boyd, who was 22 at the time, was killed when she was shot in the head by an off-duty police officer. Two years later, Laquan McDonald, who was 17 at the time, died after being shot 16 times.

One of the cases ended in an acquittal; the other one ended in a historic verdict. Both families were paid millions in settlements, and this is a problem, Goodwin said. She added that, while settlements render a small form of justice, the underlying issue remains: police violence without financial or legal accountability.

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To take an even deeper look at police misconduct, Rwebel consulted Invisible Institute’s “Citizens Police Data Project,” a database that compiles complaints against Chicago Police Officers. According to Alison Flowers, Invisible Institute Director of Investigations, police officers are some of the primary database users, and they may check to see if there are any complaints against them.

Although there is no data on the website about the intersections of race and gender, statistics reported by the Invisible Institute reveal that accused officers are primarily White and primarily male (studying race and gender alone).

According to the data, 55% of the officers accused of misconduct were White and 86% were male. (Javanna Plummer / Rwebel)
When studying the Invisible Institute’s data, which spans 2008 to 2018, in conjunction with the Chicago Police Department demographics from 2008 to 2018, one can infer that the officers perpetuating violence in these communities are more often White men, who made up the largest demographic of the force during this time.

Despite these findings, the CPD has done little to diversify its force. So, while Wall Street, Emanuel, and City Council are complicit in enabling this system of abuse, they rely on the CPD to ignite it.

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Patch of the Chicago Police Department. (City of Chicago)
When Rahm Emanuel and City Council issue settlements instead of addressing the deeper issues that lead to police brutality, they are complicit. When Wall Street issues police brutality bonds so that they may profit from police violence, they are complicit. 

When they are complicit, Black and Hispanic individuals are paying with our lives. And that is too steep a price to pay.  ~ℝ

Correction: An earlier version of this article said, “According to Chicago Reporter’s ‘Settling for Misconduct’ database, Chicago has settled 1,112 cases since 1981.” However, the database shows police-related legal settlements that Chicago has paid from 2011 to 2017, and the cases that led to these settlements data back as far as 1981.

Javanna Plummer, Rwebel in Chief

Javanna is the editor of “Rwebel Magazine,” the architect behind “Rwebel Radio,” and the pioneering force of “Xscape.” Through her words, Javanna hopes to inspire creativity, passion and forward-thinking.


Related Links

Thanks for reading! To continue engaging with this topic, check out these related resources. And be sure to share your reaction to this investigative piece in the comment section!

Rwebel Resources

Videos

Debate about the bait

Which side are you on? The conviction of Jason Van Dyke progressed many ongoing conversations about the CPD’s “abusive” behavior, per a report the DOJ conducted following the Laquan McDonald shooting. In this video, I connect that shooting to other controversial incidents over the summer. Enjoy!

Data 
Most of these are charts used in video and article, but some charts that went beyond the scope of this article are only included here as a reference.

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Other Resources

Settling for misconduct

Settling for Misconduct, an interactive database created by The Chicago Reporter, tracks how much the city spends to settle civil rights lawsuits against Chicago police officers and which officers cost the city the most. Chicago has paid more than half a billion dollars since 2005 to settle lawsuits against police officers – money the city cannot afford.

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