Garry McCarthy: “recognition is the first step.”

“There are no classes or races, But one human brotherhood./There are no creeds to outlaw, No colors of skin debarred./Mankind is one in its rights and wrongs. One right, one hope, one guard./The right to be free, the hope to be just, and the guard against selfish greed.” — John Boyle O’Reilly, in a poem in memory of Wendell Phillips.

My own little early St. Patrick’s Day observance.

I have a special place in my heart for Irish-American men who are genuine and courageous on race. Perhaps it’s because, as I was discovering as an adolescent the hypocrisy and contradictions in what I had learned about my religion and my country, such men were as rare in my world as kindly priests and Protestants.

Much later, Mickey Roache in the late 1970’s and early 80’s was one such man, as he bravely served as a one-man justice system for victims of racial violence, as head of the Boston Police Department’s anti-bias unit.  Billy Johnston came along to succeed Mickey. I fell the hardest for Ray Flynn in the 80’s as he moved from anti-busing leader to racial bridge-builder, healing a divided city and courageously desegregating housing developments in Charlestown and South Boston. I was lucky enough to work for Commissioner Roache and Mayor Flynn and work with Deputy Superintendent Johnston.

The latest in this line is Garry Francis McCarthy, a Bronx kid who serves as superintendent and chief of the Chicago Police Department.  I have not heard anyone speak more candidly and forthrightly on questions of race and police legitimacy.  Consider the following comments Supt. McCarthy made on public radio in Chicago.

“I understand the historical divide between police and communities of color. It’s rooted in the history of this country. The most visible arm of government is a police force. And the institutionalized governmental programs that promoted racist policies that were enforced by police departments in this country are part of the African-American history in this country. And we have to recognize it, because recognition is the first step toward finding a cure towards what is ailing us.

 Over the  years, we’ve actually done a lot of things wrong, and I’m willing to admit that. A lot of police executives are defensive. We’ve done a lot wrong in reducing crime. There are unintended consequences in the community that result from policies like “stop, question and frisk” that we have to recognize. That maybe it’s not even what we’re doing but it’s how we’re doing it that’s affecting the public trust. 

I’m not going to say that “stop, question and frisk” is wrong. I think it’s the way that some agencies use it that’s wrong. We infuse police officers into high-crime areas based on crime trends. Based upon that, we take police actions, whether it’s arrests, or stops, or motor-vehicle citations, or administrative notices of violation. 

All of those results in contact with minority communities. Because the highest crime neighborhoods are generally low-income minority neighborhoods. This causes animosity when we’re stopping the wrong people. 

That’s why zero tolerance is not a good idea. I do not believe in zero tolerance.

We want to do enforcement against the right people at the right places for the right things. And when you stop somebody and they are the wrong person once you’re done with that encounter, we should be explaining to them, why we stopped them and perhaps giving them alternatives to standing on that corner at that time.

I created something in Newark, a community engagement strategy, which really revolved around something called “sell the stop”. Sell to the person why it is that you stopped them at that place and at that time. But that’s a smaller subset of a bigger construct. 

I mentioned police legitimacy and procedural justice. Police legitimacy is something that’s championed by a woman named Tracy Meares who is a law professor at Yale.

What it boils down to is when the police are viewed as legitimate, when they’re treating people in a fair fashion, people will, in fact, comply with the law as a result of police legitimacy. 

The second thing is procedural justice, which has it that fairness, in an encounter with a police officer, is more important than the results of whether or not you get a ticket, for instance.”

I’ll bet Stephen James O’Meara would have liked this gentleman.


About stephenomeara

My name is Jim Jordan. I have had the privilege of working with the Boston Police Department and hundreds more departments over my nearly 30-year career in police administration and city government. I am now teaching and consulting independently at I have learned the best of what I know from the thousands of smart, dedicated and ethical police personnel and scholars who have guided me along the way. My address is named for the great Reform commissioner of the Boston Police at the turn of the 20th century. Commissioner O'Meara died just a short while before the Strike in 1919. He was replaced by a vicious puppet (of Gov. Coolidge) named Edwin U. Curtis. Had O'Meara lived events may have turned out quite differently.
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