Crooked City

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What Can The Caucus Do?

The rumors started about four days before the actual event. 

But no one, not even the police officers who were shot that night, believed them. 

Besides, it was an impossible level of corruption, even for Chicago and Illinois. 

But the rumors kept flying, from more and more sources. The officers started to get nervous. 

Could the inmate in prison, Howard Morgan, who shot three police officers in 2005 during a traffic stop actually be set free by Governor Quinn right as the governor left office? And could the governor do so without even providing a piece of evidence in the case justifying his decision?

It wasn’t possible.

The officers had figured the ordeal was finally over, though there were still rumblings in the media repeating ludicrous theories that the four officers somehow conspired to rob or execute Morgan. 

But Morgan had been convicted on four counts of attempted murder in his second trial, nine years after he pulled out his pistol and fired at the officers 15 times, wounding three.  

Those nine years had been a nightmare for the four cops, as a merging of media, religious groups and activists, mostly within the African American community, unleashed a vicious campaign to smear the cops, poison the jury, and pressure prosecutors and judges. A documentary and statements from supporters of Morgan claimed that the cops were racist executioners. Journalists stepped forward, making the most outlandish claims without any evidence. 

It worked, at first. The first trial ended up with a hung jury, as the lawyer for Morgan played the race card against the officers. But by the second trial, prosecutors were ready for anything, including the regular disruptions in the gallery of the trial by supporters of Morgan. Morgan was found guilty on all four counts of attempted murder. 

One of the officers who was shot that night said this in a victim statement: 

The night I crossed your path I was only doing what I have done a thousand times before.  Then you made a choice...  You shot me, Mr. Morgan.  I don't think we will ever know how you came to that choice, but you have shown me what type of person you are in the events following that night.

What is so reprehensible, Mr. Morgan, is you have shown no remorse or even an ounce of accountability in regards to your actions and choices that night.  In fact, you have done exactly the opposite.  You have attempted to lead, and you have allowed people of our community to believe you did nothing wrong.  You have attempted to hide behind the racial fears of our community, and manipulated organizations into believing that Police corruption was the cause of me being shot that night.  The very idea goes beyond reason.   You preyed upon fears and emotions, hoping to serve your own selfish agenda.  In doing so, you have further damaged the trust between our community and the Police.  But, you couldn't hide from the facts, and the truth of this case.  You are a fraud, Mr. Morgan... that's also the truth. 

Morgan was sentenced to 40 years. During the final hearing before being sent to prison, Jessie Jackson, perhaps the most familiar face when one thinks of an activist black caucus in Chicago, showed up and testified about what a great guy Morgan was and that he should be set free on bond pending his appeals. Then Jackson arrogantly and insolently walked over to the officers and stuck out his hand, taunting them. Ever the professionals, the officers shook his hand, despite the fact that members of his constituency had accused them of the worst crimes imaginable, without any evidence.  

And after the conviction, all Morgan’s appeals failed. 

Then the rumors about Quinn commuting the sentence of Morgan started spinning. 

The FOP, the union that represents the officers, knew nothing about it. In fact, so irrelevant has the Dean Angelo administration become in city affairs that no one at Quinn’s office even bothered to notify the union what was about to take place. No heads up was given. No one in the union fielded the rumors and began preparing a statement about what a grave injustice such a decision would be. And then after Quinn made the decision, no press conference was convened by Angelo to condemn it, to call for an investigation. Angelo did not call on the mayor and superintendent to condemn it. There was no guest column in the papers, not even a letter to the editor. 

And so Morgan was set free, the complex media and political campaign by a slew of African American activists and organizations in the city, culminating in a visit by Jesse Jackson himself, undermining an open-and-shut case and conviction of quadruple attempted murder of four Chicago police officers. 

The entire affair is a testament to the vast power the consortium ofpolitical, religious and media reps hold in the city, one intimately tied to the black caucus, for this consortium arose almost exclusively from the African American wards represented by the caucus. Their seemingly invisible hands were somehow able to pull strings all the way up to the governor’s office and free a man who shot three cops. It was an impressive display of power.

Another impressive display of power in the African American community took place last week during a hearing in which members of the black caucus grilled Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy. The grilling took place one day after caucus members announced they wanted McCarthy fired in the wake increased violence around the city, particularly in their own neighborhoods. 

“What else can you tell me we can do?” Alderman Carrie Austin shouted at McCarthy during the hearing. “Don't tell me about no legislation. We don't control them. What we control is here."

But Austin asked the question, and perhaps it’s time someone answered her. 

The caucus can do a lot. First, it can explain what happened in the Morgan case, and then it can help undo it.

After all, these four officers were engaged in exactly the kind of patrol the caucus was demanding in their neighborhoods from Superintendent McCarthy at the recent hearing. 

The officers were responding to what they believed were gunshots when they encountered Morgan’s van driving away from the direction of the shots without his headlights on and driving the wrong direction on a one-way street.  

If the caucus is so concerned about police getting better control of crime patrolling in their neighborhoods, why didn’t they speak up for these cops when their own people were vilifying them? Why did they leave the cops hung out to dry? 

The release of Morgan was less than a year ago. Nevertheless, the caucus comes forward and demands more accountability from the police. But, in the wake of the Morgan scandal, isn’t it the caucus that needs to demonstrate some accountability? 

Not necessarily. 

In Chicago, factions that gain a certain level of political power are immune from the requirements not only of integrity, but even any consistency. This is why the constituents of the caucus can be advocating the freeing of a police shooter one day, then calling on the police for more accountability and asking “What can we do?” the next day. 

It raises the question as to whether the caucus is really concerned about public safety in their districts or just engaged in a political power play against the police. 

But the question was asked by Alderman Austin, and it should be answered. 

What can the caucus do?  

The caucus could get to the bottom of the religious institutions that immediately organized behind Morgan and helped him obtain bond, when he should have been awaiting trial in the county jail. It could ask how the freeing of Morgan and their support of his case, despite all the evidence he was guilty, was an expression of some religious sentiments, and how such actions would increase the trust and cooperation between the police and the members of their own community. 

It would also be great if the caucus could confront several prominentjournalists who wrote about the case. 

One in particular would be Sun Times columnist Mary Mitchell, a columnist whose writings are more PR memos for the black caucus and its constituents than actual journalism, a columnist whose willingness to vilify Chicago police officers on flimsy claims of racism with little or no evidence is unparalleled. True to form in the Morgan case, Mitchell unleashed one falsehood after another in her coverage of the case, including, incredibly, claiming the Morgan case was Chicago’s own Trayvon Martin case. 

At a time when the shooting in Florida of Trayvon Martin is drawing supporters from across the country, Chicago has its own shooting scandal.

What shooting scandal? The Morgan incident was reviewed time and again and shown that it was obviously justified, based on the evidence. 

One wonders: Did Trayvon Martin fire a pistol 15 times at four cops from a distance of a few feet? 

One aspect of the Morgan shooting never mentioned by Mitchell and many other journalists was the fact that two of the cops pulled Morgan over for traffic violations. Two other cops from another unit joined them. How did these four cops, who didn’t even know each other, hatch a plan to execute Morgan, or rob him, in the few seconds before the shooting began? 

And then why did the cops cease firing when Morgan ran out of bullets? If they shot him 18 times for no legal reason, what’s one more shot that would kill him and eliminate him from telling authorities what they did to him? 

And finally, how did all the cops come up with an identical story in the seconds after the shooting when three of them lay wounded and were taken to different hospitals? How was it that their trumped-up story held up to all the forensic evidence?

Mitchell’s entire column is one of the most crooked pieces ever to appear in a Chicago newspaper. If she were truly concerned about public safety, particularly for her own people, she would be grateful to have such courageous, disciplined cops patrolling their neighborhood. Instead, she tosses them onto the dung heap of race baiting and scaremongering as if they were nothing but pawns in a larger, far more sinister plot. 

So what can the caucus do, Alderman Austin? 

The caucus could call Mitchell to a hearing and have her go through a thorough grilling on the evidence of the Morgan case, and then have her explain her column. Then, if the caucus concludes that Morgan is guilty the way the jury did, the caucus should demand that she be fired. 

And what are the chances of that happening? 

And then there is the governor himself. If only the caucus would call Quinn to a hearing and have him explain the evidence of clear backroom dealing that took place in his decision to release Morgan.  

If one were truly interested in forging a working relationship with the police to combat crime and protect the innocent members of their districts, that might be a good starting point. 

Who knows what could come of it? Maybe in the end Howard Morgan would be back in prison serving the 40-year sentence he so justly deserves.

Now that would be an impressive display of power in the Crooked City. 

Martin Preib is a Chicago Police Officer and writer. His first book, The Wagon and Other Stories From the City, was published by the University of Chicago Press. His second book, Crooked City, is available on Amazon. His articles have appeared in Playboy, The Chicagoan, Virginia Quarterly Review, Tin House, and New City. He is currently working on his third book about former Chicago Police Commander Jon Burge and an arson in 1987, titled Burn Patterns.