Complaint charges cops made racist remarks on housing plan





by BRIAN NADIG

A complaint charging that 31 Chicago police officers made "racially charged" comments regarding a mixed-income housing proposal at 5150 N. Northwest Hwy. has been filed with the Civilian Office of Police Accountability.

Alderman John Arena (45th) said in a statement that his office last month filed the complaint and that the use of social media by these officers may have violated Chicago Police Department rules.

"I have the utmost confidence in the leadership at CPD and COPA investigators to review these complaints and respond justly," Arena said.

The complaints follow last year’s filing by Arena’s office to the Anti-Defamation League. The alderman’s office sent copies of the alleged racist remarks posted on social media by police officers to the civil rights organization, asking it to review the content.

Few details of the complaint filed with the accountability office have been released. The city’s Web site classifies it as a "pending investigation" for alleged "verbal abuse" by the police officers. The names of the officers have not been released.

Arena said that "several police officers made comments on social media about those who would reside in such housing that many members of the community perceived as offensive and dehumanizing." The social media comments submitted to the accountability office have not been released.

"As a private citizen and elected official I have, and always will, stand firmly with our police officers who hold themselves to the high standards they swore to uphold. The dehumanizing comments made by a few officers in a public setting make it harder for all officers to do their job protecting all Chicagoans.

"As such, our office took the appropriate action, as recommended by the Inspector General and the Civilian Office of Police Accountability, to ensure that these potential violations of CPD rules can be addressed," Arena said.

News of the filing with the accountability office was first posted on the "Second City Cop" police oriented-blog.

One poster on the blog called the complaint "a witch-hunt" against free speech, while another poster said that the accused officers should file a defamation lawsuit against those responsible for the complaint. Another poster said that those who expressed concern that the proposal would worsen school overcrowding were wrongly "labeled as racist by Arena" and claimed that threats against project opponents were posted on the alderman’s Facebook page by some supporters of the project.

None of the 31 officers reportedly have been served with the complaint, as the investigation is in its initial stages.

The Fraternal Order of Police Chicago Lodge 7 has issued a statement calling the complaints "baseless" and "politically motivated." It also charged that the complaints, if pursued, would represent a violation of the officers’ civil rights.

"This is very troubling," FOP attorney Tim Grace said. "By opposing a building project off duty on your own time in your own neighborhood, you are being racist? You are then accused of misconduct on your job? This is ridiculous."

The housing proposal has generated controversy on social media, and it is believed that the comments submitted to the accountability office were taken from social media postings that the officers had made. The proposal, which has been delayed due to financing issues, called for 30 Chicago Housing Authority, 50 affordable housing and 20 market-rate units in 2017, but the project was recently revised to include a total of 75 units. The housing developer, Full Circle Communities, said last year that it would seek a grant that would require some of the units to be reserved for veterans.

Project supporters have said that the building would help end what they have described as a "shameful legacy" of segregation in Jefferson Park. Arena, who has voiced support for the housing proposal, has signed a pledge to bring in at least 50 new CHA units to the ward.

The housing proposal came about after Arena had the property downzoned to halt the original plan for a self-storage facility on the entire site.

The new plan calls for the storage warehouse on the northern half of the site and a housing development on the southern half. E-mails released from the city show that Arena enlisted the help of a public relations consultant and housing advocates to help promote the project.

Arena signed a legal document in support of a zoning change for the new plan prior to any community meeting or public hearing being held on the proposal. The document was part of a settlement agreement which the city agreed to after the property owner, LSC Development, sued the city over the downzoning.

The settlement agreement led LSC to drop its lawsuit, but a group of area property owners later filed a lawsuit challenging the settlement agreement. Their lawsuit is pending.