JFK, the Real Killer of Laquan McDonald

Police unions make it impossible to get rid of bad-apple cops before they kill.

In 1962, two years after he was elected President, John Fitzgerald Kennedy a.k.a. JFK signed Executive Order 10988 which allowed federal employees to join unions.

Public sector unionization had been an issue for decades.  Boston police officers went on strike in 1919 after the police commissioner wouldn't let them form a union.  Calvin Coolidge, governor of Massachusetts at the time, fired more than 1,000 strikers and hired replacements to quell the riots that ensued when there were no police to stop criminals.  Sound familiar?

Breaking the strike gave Coolidge national recognition.  He was candidate for Vice President in 1920 and went on to become president.  Mostly forgotten for decades, modern research is now showing that Coolidge was one of the most effective Republican presidents ever.  He actually shrank the size of government, a goal which has eluded every one of his successors.

Franklin Roosevelt, Big Labor's patron saint, warned against allowing government workers to unionize:

"All Government employees should realize that the process of collective bargaining, as usually understood, cannot be transplanted into the public service. It has its distinct and insurmountable limitations when applied to public personnel management."

Decades later, instead of declaring that government employees had no right to strike as Coolidge had done in Massachusetts and Roosevelt had confirmed at the federal level, the young Democratic president from Camelot encouraged them to join unions.  He wanted to give the union bosses who'd helped him win the election another group of people from whom they could extract dues.

Everybody knows that the cost of public employees is a major contributor to the economic difficulties in states like California, New York, and New Jersey.  Even the New York Times, which reflexively supports unions except when its own economic survival is threatened, lists public sector unions among the special interest groups which control the Albany legislature and keep New York state spending high.

Nobody wants to admit that JFK's innocent-seeming act of political payoff has, over time, let government employees murder American citizens with no possibility of punishment.  The New York Times published "An Inmate Dies, and No One Is Punished" which was introduced:

The 2010 death of Leonard Strickland would have probably been forgotten by all but the officers and inmates at Clinton Correctional Facility. Then a breakout brought attention to the prison's secrets.

The spectacular jailbreak brought reporters to the prison, and the Times obtained a video showing a prisoner being beaten just before he died.

In the inmates' telling, the guards got away with murder, ganging up on Mr. Strickland and beating him so viciously that he could barely move. ...

In a security video obtained by The New York Times, Mr. Strickland is seen in handcuffs, barely conscious and being dragged along the floor by officers, while a prison nurse standing close by does nothing. Even as he lies face down on the floor, near death, guards can be heard shouting, "Stop resisting." ...

Officials with the State Police and the local district attorney's office could not recall the last time charges had been brought against an officer at Clinton for excessive force, if ever, though inmates have filed scores of brutality lawsuits in recent years.

The Times went on to explain why nothing had been done:

Officers rarely speak up about wrongdoing for fear of reprisals from their fellow guards and will lie to protect them, current and former corrections officials said. They are also shielded by a union that even high-ranking members of the corrections department acknowledge holds tremendous sway over what goes on inside the prisons. [emphasis added]

The Times also said:

The same culture of violence infests the sprawling state prison system, where guards batter inmates for sport knowing that their union will protect their jobs ...

Doesn't this sound exactly like what we hear when a civilian is killed by a police officer?  People have always talked about the "blue line of silence," but since Chicago police officer Jason van Dyke shot Laquan McDonald, we've been hearing a lot more about unions protecting bad officers. 

Officer van Dyke is not alone.  The New York Times described another rogue officer:

In 18 years with the Chicago Police Department, the nation's second-largest, [with 12,000 officers] Jerome Finnigan had never been disciplined - although 68 citizen complaints had been lodged against him, including accusations that he used excessive force and regularly conducted illegal searches. ...

Mr. Finnigan is one of thousands of Chicago police officers who have been the subject of citizen complaints over the years but have not been disciplined by the department, ...

Officer Van Dyke has had 18 civilian complaints filed against him, including allegations of using excessive force and racial slurs. In each of the complaints, Officer Van Dyke denied that he had acted improperly and was not punished by either the Police Department or civilian police oversight investigators.

The data suggest that official violence is concentrated in relatively few officers:

...the department's early intervention system had identified only 6 percent of officers who received 11 or more civilian complaints.

If relatively few officers are violent, why haven't they been dismissed?  That would be an obvious solution which would let the remaining 94% of honest police officers do their job more easily.

The reason, of course, is because the union contract between the city and the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) makes it very hard to dismiss an officer.  The Chicago Reporter documented some provisions of the contract between the union and the city:

Ald[erman]. Howard Brookins (21st) said the contract makes it harder to cut ties with cops like Van Dyke who had numerous citizen complaints against him and had reportedly cost the city more than $500,000 in legal settlements and fees. And critics said the evidence against Van Dyke was damning enough for him to be fired immediately.

"We have to be able to get rid of bad police officers," Brookins said. "Maybe that's something we shouldn't have to bargain for."

The union contends that changes to the contract would discourage people from becoming cops.

FOP President Dean Angelo said the contract contains fair and necessary protections for cops and doesn't tie authorities' hands in misconduct cases such as Van Dyke's as much as some people think. He cast the aldermen as opportunists riding the wave of public outrage over a white cop shooting a black youth.

Another union protection came into play in McDonald's death. Experts suggested the officers who saw the shooting - whose accounts clash with the video - should have been subject to lie detector tests, but the police bill of rights in the contract gives them the right to refuse the tests. In addition, police complaint and disciplinary records must be destroyed in five or seven years based on the type of alleged offense, making it harder to show a pattern of misconduct.

... if the Independent Police Review Authority recommends suspending an officer, the contract lets him appeal the decision through arbitration, a process that experts characterize as heavily stacked in favor of cops.

One such case involved a cop who was accused of raping a woman in the back of his car. The physical evidence, Piers said, left little doubt that non-consensual sex had occurred, so he declined to represent the officer. But the FOP, which blasted him as anti-police for his stance, took the case to arbitration, citing the union contract. The arbitrator ordered the city to pay legal bills for the officer, who Piers said kept his job.

Keeping violent officers on the streets is very costly.  The $500,000 which Alderman Brookins said Officer Van Dyke had cost the city is a drop in the bucket.  The Times reports that Chicago "spent more than $500 million settling police cases since 2004."  If the Times' figure is complete, Officer Van Dyke accounted for 1/1000 of the total.

It's not clear how many "bad apples" there are.  NBC released some statistics:

She [Alison Flowers] notes that in actuality, most police officers, as many as 80 percent, have zero to four complaints for the entirety of their careers. But with the remaining 20 percent making up the majority of the misconduct reports, Flowers argues that an analysis of the data dispels the notion of a "few bad apples."

"There are barrels of bad apples," she says.

Kalven, who won the court case freeing up the reports, is also quick to point out that most officers serve long careers with relatively few complaints.  "The lion's share of complaints is accounted for with a relatively small number of officers," he says.

Yet even now, nobody is talking about changing union contracts; they're focusing on training instead.  The Washington Post notes that even some advocates place their emphasis on training:

A presidential task force and the Police Executive Research Forum, a law enforcement think tank, have urged police officials to rethink training so that officers can learn to avoid the use of deadly force.

Training officers how to avoid violence may help a bit at the margin, but it won't cure "bad apple" officers who're inclined to be violent.  As the Chicago Alderman said, any city has to be able to get rid of officers who rack up millions of dollars worth of settlements when they murder.

Black Lives Matter is correct in pointing out that police management must change.  Training may help a bit, but breaking police unions and prison guard unions is the only way to reduce this form of violence.

Nothing less will undo the poison fruit of JFK's political debt, but given Democrat's need for union cash and union support, we doubt that they'll do anything substantial, despite even the fever-swamps of the left beginning to recognize that union corruption leads directly to the deaths of people who don't deserve capital punishment.  The only cure for Democrat Disaster Cities is electing Republicans.

This is not to say that Republicans are paragons of virtue - they obviously aren't - but single-party rule corrupts over time regardless of party.  Both politicians and political parties, like diapers, should be changed frequently.

Will Offensicht is a staff writer for Scragged.com and an internationally published author by a different name.  Read other Scragged.com articles by Will Offensicht or other articles on Law.
Reader Comments

1. When Governor Walker basically ended compulsory unionism in Wisconsin, he made an exception for police and firefighters. And I suspect that a lot of Republicans who would otherwise buy into a right-to-work agenda would do the same, even though there are good arguments (as above) that it is especially the police whose unionization is problematic. Wile the Democrats are certainly beholden to Black Lives Matter about firing specific cops even when unwarranted (Ferguson), they will never vote against public sector unionism. So I don't see it happening with the police.

2. I agree that it should be easier to fire rogue cops, and people in general. When hiring a person amounts to granting him a "right" to a job working for you, forever or until expensive and difficult hoops are jumped through, then people are reluctant to hire anyone. That is why employment at will is better for employers and usually (not always) better for workers as well.

3. The complaints statistics are interesting, but as with most social science statistics, when you make a measure important to someone, you destroy the accuracy of the measure. If criminals learn that police will be punished based just on numbers of complaints, they will file more complaints against police they consider effective, such as those who are arresting them. Already, some of the variation in complaint numbers is due to whether the police are doing their job -- running toward trouble, or avoiding trouble. We don't want to punish police for doing their jobs well. I think that car- and body-cameras, and a policy of transparency related to complaints or shootings, is the closest thing we have to a solution to these problems.

April 27, 2016 5:09 PM

....In 1960, John Fitzgerald Kennedy ... was elected President ....

Not true. He never was!

The Mob, with which, until his death, he remained close, with which his father was intimately involved -- and which effectively "owned" many of America's unions, stole it from the actual winner: Richard Milhous Nixon.

Brian Richard Allen

May 12, 2016 1:20 AM

And the beat goes on, literally:

A day after five corrections officers were convicted in the beating of an inmate, the leader of their union was arrested on fraud charges.


The effort to root out the corruption and violence that have long plagued the Rikers Island jail complex in New York City entered a new phase on Wednesday when Norman Seabrook, the politically powerful leader of the 9,000-member corrections officers union, was arrested on federal fraud charges.

Mr. Seabrook, who wields enormous influence in both city and state politics, is charged with channeling $20 million of union retirement and operating money into a hedge fund — in exchange for bribes that were expected to total hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Federal prosecutors say that Mr. Seabrook placed the union’s money in a high-risk hedge fund, just as other investors were getting out if it. In exchange, they say, he received a $60,000 kickback delivered in a bag from Ferragamo, one of his favorite luxury goods stores. When F.B.I. agents searched his house on Wednesday morning, they found a Ferragamo bag along with 10 pairs of Ferragamo shoes.

The case will no doubt bring further scrutiny to the inner workings of the union, which has long exerted an unhealthy level of control over the city’s corrections system.

The union president’s arrest came just one day after five corrections officers were convicted of assault charges for the savage beating of a Rikers Island inmate named Jahmal Lightfoot in 2012. Mr. Lightfoot testified that he had been singled out for a beating by officers who believed that he thought himself “tough.”

According to prosecutors, five corrections officers punched and kicked him in a cell covered by a drapery, away from video cameras, while three other guards stood outside the cell. Mr. Lightfoot, who suffered fractures of both eye sockets, says that he suffered headaches and blurred vision for months after the attack. The officers face up to 15 years in prison for the most serious count alone.

This ghastly episode is an example of the “deep-seated culture of violence” at Rikers Island documented in a 2014 report from the Justice Department. The report describes guards severely beating and injuring inmates, whom they accused of minor misconduct or perceived acts of disrespect.

Mr. Seabrook on Tuesday tried to explain away the beating, saying that corrections officers were merely doing their jobs. This response comes as no surprise, given his efforts to obstruct reforms and investigations meant to hold guards accountable for crimes against inmates.

Corrections officers have been loyal to Mr. Seabrook, who has controlled the union for more than two decades. But they could well change their minds once they learn that he placed their retirement money at risk.

June 9, 2016 10:27 AM

how much wasted money and wasted lives can be attributed to dumocratic ideas and positions? reminds me of the phrase, the inmates running the asylum.harry reid it would be a shame to stop funding 'cowboy'poetry, nancy pelosi, you have to vote for it to read it. these people are insane!

July 14, 2016 7:33 PM
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