Mayor McCarthy? Former CPD Chief, Whose Tenure Was Rocked by Misconduct, Wants Chicago’s Top Job

Aaron Cynic
Jan 12, 2018 · 6 min read

Former Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy has all but made a formal announcement for his candidacy for mayor of Chicago. McCarthy signaled his intentions by announcing a February fundraiser for his exploratory committee, with tickets ranging from $100 to $5,000. While McCarthy told the Sun-Times he’s still “standing by … talking to my family and making decisions about my finances,” a campaign website — — went live on Monday.

McCarthy is an unlikely mayoral candidate. His tenure as police chief in Chicago from 2011 to 2015 was mired in a series of high-profile shootings of people of color, scandals, and an increase in targeted surveillance of activists.

He presided over a large acquisition of military hardware by the Chicago Police Department, thanks in part to a NATO summit that was held at Chicago’s McCormick Place Convention Center in 2012. Ahead of the three-day summit, which thousands of people protested for more than a week, the city received a $54 million grant from the Department of Homeland Security for training, maintenance, and equipment purchases. Through a host of contracts made public after the summit’s announcement, Chicago spent millions of dollars on new equipment, including thousands of new riot helmets and shields for both officers and police horses, Long Range Acoustic Devices (LRAD), a mobile surveillance tower called TerraHawk, and surveillance equipment for police helicopters.

Former Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy during the 2012 NATO summit protests in Chicago. Photo by Rick Majewski

Before the summit, the police department upped its already-extensive surveillance system — the nation’s largest, which included over 10,000 cameras in 2012 — to surveil protesters. “There wasn’t any part of that march that we didn’t have — sometimes multiple — camera views,” Deputy Chief Steve Georgas told CBS news.

In preparation for the summit, the CPD not only trained to make mass arrests, they also established a counter-terrorism unit, similar to one the New York City Police Department created after September 11th while McCarthy was NYPD’s Deputy Commissioner of Operations. Several journalists were harassed, arrested, and assaulted while attempting to cover the demonstrations. Activists accused the Department of various other acts of intimidation, including one incident where a plain clothes officer was photographed wearing a t-shirt which read “NATO Summit 2012: We wake up early… to beat the crowds.”

In what was perhaps the most well-known case involving the suppression of protests during the NATO summit, police officers raided an apartment complex on the city’s near south-side, where activists were staying before the protest. The department arrested a dozen activists during the raid; some of them disappeared into Homan Square, a secretive facility owned by the Chicago Police where more than 7,000 people were detained and interrogated between 2004 and 2015, for more than 24 hours. The Guardian would later go on to compare Homan Square to a CIA “Black Site” in its investigative report on the facility.

Five of those arrested during the raid would come to be known as the “NATO 5.” McCarthy and then- State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez claimed that the men arrested were an “imminent threat,” due to alleged evidence that the men were planning on making Molotov cocktails to bring to demonstrations. “We had to act,” McCarthy told reporters at the time. “We did not want to take this case down as quickly as we did, but we had to because of the imminent threat.” Three of the “NATO 5” were later prosecuted on terrorism charges. But at trial, it became clear that the activists were not a coordinated terror cell but a group of young men heavily influenced by undercover police, who infiltrated the protest groups. In the end, community activists, media, and lawyers for the defendants criticized the state for using them to justify the time and resources it spent on policing the summit.

McCarthy’s tenure also saw a series of high-profile cases where police shot and killed people of color; McCarthy repeatedly failed to seek serious repercussions against officers. In June of 2011, Officer Gilardo Sierra shot Chicagoan Flint Farmer 16 times in the Englewood neighborhood. The Department ruled Farmer’s shooting justified. McCarthy placed the officer on desk duty and acknowledged he shouldn’t have been on the street when he shot Farmer.

Demonstrators rally in the Chicago Loop on April 23, 2015, after a judge throws out charges against former CPD Detective Dante Servin, who shot and killed Rekia Boyd. Photo by Aaron Cynic.

In July of 2014, McCarthy recommended that Detective Dante Servin, who shot 22-year old Rekia Boyd while off-duty, be fired, but only after a years-long accountability effort by Boyd’s relatives and community activists. In March of 2012, Servin, while off-duty, encountered a group of people in a park, had a verbal altercation, and then fired an unregistered weapon from over his shoulder into the group. Servin alleged that one of Boyd’s companions had a weapon, which was later found to be a cell phone. Both her companion and Boyd were struck and she later died. Records uncovered by the Sun-Times showed a sluggish investigation into conflicting police reports, and community activists mobilized for years to demand accountability. Servin tendered his resignation before he could be fired.

But the most well-known police shooting was that of Laquan McDonald, which sparked a series of intense protests throughout the city and would ultimately lead to McCarthy’s firing.

Protesters calling for the resignations of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez in the wake of the release of the video of the shooting of Laquan McDonald block traffic on in Chicago on Congress Avenue on December 9, 2015. Photo by Aaron Cynic.

McDonald was shot 16 times by officer Jason Van Dyke on October 20, 2014, after police responded to reports of a man slashing tires on the city’s south side. The police department withheld video of the shooting, which contradicted official reports, from the public for more than a year. Van Dyke was charged with first-degree murder, and is currently awaiting trial.

Additionally, three current or former officers are now awaiting trial for falsifying police reports related to McDonald’s death, conspiring to hide “the true facts of the events,” and misrepresenting video evidence of the shooting.

While McCarthy acknowledged “poor judgment” and recommended the firing of a few officers, families of victims and community activists were unimpressed. Neither was the Department of Justice, whose investigation into the CPD was initiated after the McDonald shooting, concluding that “CPD officers engage in a pattern or practice of using force, including deadly force, that is unreasonable.”

Citing McCarthy’s mishandling of McDonald’s shooting and the aftermath, the mayor fired McCarthy in December of 2015. In the aftermath, McCarthy downplayed his role in the shooting, saying he had only seen the video once and that “someone had to take the fall.” While acknowledging that the CPD has a “well-deserved bad reputation in the African-American community,” McCarthy later portrayed himself as a martyr, suggesting that his ousting was related to increases in homicides and crime.

In the lead-up to rumors about his mulling a mayoral run, McCarthy began to increase his public profile, making rounds on local talk shows to discuss Chicago’s crime problem, which he blamed in part on movements like Black Lives Matter that were pushing for police accountability. “What’s happening, and this is ironic, is that a movement with the goal of saving black lives at this point is getting black lives taken,” McCarthy told AM 970 in New York on January 1, 2017. “Because 80 percent of our murder victims here in Chicago are male blacks.” That same month McCarthy told 60 Minutes that officers felt “under attack,” and that “noncompliance with the law is becoming legitimized.”

This wasn’t the first time that McCarthy cited the widely debunked “Ferguson effect,” which is the idea that protests for police accountability contribute to rising crime. Speaking at a police chiefs conference in June of 2015, McCarthy said, “Everybody has a sense — and sometimes you can’t put your finger on it to prove it empirically — that there is a little bit less proactive policing going on, and officers are less likely to get out of their cars based upon being concerned about things like civil liability and whether or not their actions are going to be criticized.”

Despite such comments — which essentially blame crime increases and the CPD’s history of misconduct on Black Lives Matter and other police accountability movements — McCarthy had, as Superintendent, co-chaired a prominent criminal justice reform group called Law Enforcement Leaders to Reduce Crime and Incarceration. “We know firsthand that more incarceration does not keep our country safe,” McCarthy once wrote on behalf of the group in an op-ed for USA Today.

It’s unclear whether or not McCarthy might try to play the role of “criminal justice reformer” in Chicago’s next mayoral election. But when he does publicly commit to running for the role, one thing is clear — such a portrayal would be deeply at odds with his record as Superintendent.



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Aaron Cynic

Written by

Aspiring coot, mithrandir, political afficianado. Wandering indie journalist. Chicagoist alum. Will write/shoot photos for money/food/beer. Twitter: @aaroncynic


In Justice Today is a national criminal justice news outlet, which produces compelling, original journalism and commentary.