From [ThinkProgress] What can Chicago afford?
The city couldn’t afford to keep 50 of its public schools open in 2013, Mayor Rahm Emanuel (D) decided. The previous year, he deemed six of the city’s 12 mental health clinics didn’t have a seat at the table either, pushing thousands closer to the prison system one local sheriff has described as the city’s new last-resort clearinghouse for people who belong in treatment.
Emanuel’s schools raid shaved about $800 million off the city’s expenses. Shoving the clinic patients into a chaotic transition of delicate care regimens saved another $3 million.
But now he’s getting a green light to build a brand new $95 million police training facility. City aldermen voted 48-1 in favor of the plan Wednesday, after hours of angry public comments from citizens who attended the hearing.
The city will finance the new project in part by selling existing public properties. Even after those conversions, the project will need close to $40 million in cash from the same budget Emanuel insisted could not bear the demands of educating kids in his city’s blackest neighborhoods or maintaining mental health care for more than 5,000 people. He has continued to privatize mental health facilities around the city in the years since.
Emanuel’s preference for police resources over other public services is consistent with his longstanding approach to leading his city. The man who once advised then-President Barack Obama to “never waste a crisis” has repeatedly toggled budget math around to justify pushing money away from one policy space and toward another. He has pleaded poverty on city worker pensions only to turn around and find a surplus to fund teacher salaries. Up until that reversal, he’d insisted the money wasn’t there throughout teacher contract negotiations — all while promising to expand the Chicago Police Department by 1,000 officers, at a cost of approximately $135 million per year.
In Emanuel’s partial defense, the crisis his police policies aim to address isn’t invented. Last year, 762 people were murdered in Chicago, an alarming 58 percent jump from 2015 according to the University of Chicago Crime Center. The policing staff-up, which is contributing to the mayor’s arguments for spending millions on a new training academy, follows years of news coverage that made Chicago a punching bag for political rhetoric about crime across the country.
The press focus on Chicago’s gun crimes has treated the city as an avatar for dubious claims of a national surge in violent crime. Coverage of the city’s spiking murder rate and frequent non-fatal shootings has often implied that something recent, sudden, and dramatic has changed between Chicago citizens and their police force.
But the truth is that the department destroyed its own relationship to the communities it is meant to serve long before Emanuel took office — and continued, with his help at times, to shred opportunities for repairing the breach.
Police now solve less than one murder in four across Chicago — a damning statistic driven in part by the stonewalling that greets detectives who go seek out witness testimony from communities their uniformed colleagues have terrorized for years. Chicago’s police department has made dark headlines for episodes like the Homan Square illicit detention facility exposed by reporters in 2015, itself an echo of former Lieutenant Jon Burge’s “midnight crew” of racist torturers who ran the city for two decades.
Today, the department floods city streets with reckless officers who federal investigators described as bringing a “cowboy” mentality to public safety work. Police shot at civilians once every five days on average over a recent six-year span. About 80 percent of those struck by a police bullet in that time period was a black man, according to the Chicago Tribune’s study of the shootings.