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Press Release

Remarks by U.S. Attorney Zachary T. Fardon at City Club of Chicago, Sept. 26, 2016

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Northern District of Illinois

The following are remarks by Zachary T. Fardon, United States Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, as prepared for delivery to the City Club of Chicago on September 26, 2016:

Good afternoon. Thank you for having me.  I’m honored to be here and grateful to all of you for coming.

No different than the first two times I was here, despite the mission-critical work my Office does in areas like public corruption, counter-terrorism, cybercrime, major frauds, and narcotics trafficking, I am going to focus my comments today on violent crime in Chicago.

But I am going to talk not just about violence and law enforcement today.  I am going to talk about trust.  I am going to talk about civil rights.  I’m going to talk about the aspiration of bringing together all of the good and wonderful people who are fully committed to fixing what pains us in Chicago.  About breaking barriers and finding pathways to change.    

Everyone in this room knows that we’re in the midst of a brutal year.  Homicides are up over 40%.  Shootings are up 50%.  There is civil unrest.  Our police are under a constant microscope.  Our streets are teeming in protest.  There is anger, there is fear, there is distrust.  And with the constant drumbeat of bad news, for some there is even a sense of depression, of hopelessness. 

And yet, for all of that, let me tell you what breaks my heart, because my heart does break every single day in this job, but it’s not on account of what is happening this year.  It’s deeper and wider than that.  My heart breaks for reasons that I talked about in this room in 2014 and 2015 -- reasons that were just as real in 1996 and 2006 as they are today in 2016. 

We have kids – babies, toddlers, adolescents, tweens and teens – shot as a matter of routine in this city.  Thirty kids under 13 years old hit with bullets so far this year alone.  These are just some of those kids. 

Since 2010, over 2,800 kids shot, and 369 kids killed in the city of Chicago.

And that isn’t happening here in River North.  It’s happening in a handful of neighborhoods -- otherwise great neighborhoods on the South and West Sides of Chicago.  Neighborhoods that are isolated, traumatized and terrorized by gun violence. 

This is our reality today.  This was our reality last year, and the year before that. This has been our reality now for decades. 

In my three years as United States Attorney, I’ve been asked more than a dozen times what I think of the term Chiraq.  I usually take a pass on that question.  The word itself is not important to me.  But, in truth, Chiraq -- whatever else it may evoke -- is now a verbal symbol of the hard reality that Chicago is a tale of two cities – one safe and bucolic, the other dangerous and volatile. 

Our challenge in Chicago isn’t measuring today’s violence statistics against yesterday’s.  We’ve been doing that for decades, and fundamentally nothing has changed.  The challenge we need to be talking about is the decades-old social justice concern of these neighborhoods set apart, and children put at risk. 

That is a “right-versus-wrong” challenge.  It is a “who do we want to be as a city, a community, a society” challenge.  It’s a big challenge, but it’s ours.  We need to be honest about it, own it, and start coming up with better ideas for long-term sustainable solutions.

I’m going to spend the next twenty minutes or so talking about two major moving parts, from my perspective, important to those solutions.  First, I’m going to talk about civil rights and policing.  Second, I’m going to talk about not-for-profit organizations operating in those most violence-afflicted neighborhoods. 

Civil Rights Investigations

Starting with Civil Rights.  Two years ago, in August 2014, 18-year-old Michael Brown was shot and killed by a police officer in Ferguson, Mo.  That incident ignited a powder keg of pent-up anger.  Issues of force, race and racism in policing were thrust onto the national stage in a way that had not happened since the Rodney King beating in the 1990s. 

Unlike the era of Rodney King, we now live in a time when video cameras are ubiquitous; each of you has one in your pocket.  And so we started seeing viral videos posted in a near constant stream:

  • Eric Garner dying from a choke hold in Staten Island
  • Tamir Rice, the 12-year-old shot and killed in Ohio
  • Freddie Gray dying in the back of a police van in Baltimore
  • Laquan McDonald shot 16 times, mostly on the ground
  • And, more recently, Paul O’Neal shot in the back here in Chicago.

There are dozens and dozens more examples over these past two years.  Two new examples in the past two weeks — one in Tulsa and one in North Carolina.  One or more of these events a week, across the nation, it seems.  And because of technology, those events are no longer just local concerns; they are national concerns -- they belong to us all. 

Which brings me to today.  We are now in the midst of a national reform movement around policing and trust.  It’s a movement with no less at stake than public safety, effective self-governance, and belief in our systems of justice.

And nowhere is that more true, with more at stake, than right here in Chicago.  In December of last year, United States Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced a “pattern and practice” investigation of the Chicago Police Department.  I was by her side in Washington when that announcement was made.  And since that announcement, our Office here in Chicago has been working hand-in-hand with DOJ’s Civil Rights Division in Washington, D.C., to conduct the investigation of CPD.

Our “pattern and practice” investigation is not a criminal investigation.  I will say something in a moment about our federal criminal civil rights cases.  The “pattern and practice” investigation is a sweeping civil review to determine if there have been repeated Constitutional violations by Chicago police over the years, particularly in two key areas: (i) use of force, including deadly force; and (ii) accountability mechanisms, meaning essentially what happens when bad cops do bad things.

For the past nine months our DOJ team -- my office and Main Justice working together – has done a deep dive on those areas.  The team has analyzed tons of data, interviewed hundreds of people, held public forums, conducted ride-alongs with patrol officers, reviewed policies and procedures, scrutinized training, and conferred with top experts across the country.  This is the largest “pattern and practice” investigation in the history of the Department of Justice.  And this is the first time in Chicago’s history there has been this kind of review of the police department.  So this is hugely important stuff. 

We are not done yet with the review, but we are, I believe, moving at record pace.  I won’t make predictions because I don’t want to create expectations where there is no certainty.  But we are approaching this with a tremendous sense of urgency, and I believe we’re on an unprecedented pace to get this review done. 

Our urgency has to be balanced with efficacy.  We’ve got one shot at this thing, and so we have to get it right.  Assuming we find problems, our goal is not quick fixes; it is long-term, sustainable change. That is what we are about.  Sustainable change takes time, care, and enormous effort.  So that’s how we’re approaching this historic opportunity. 

That’s on the civil side.  Let me, as promised, say something about our federal criminal civil rights prosecutions.  Where appropriate, our U.S. Attorney’s Office here in Chicago prosecutes police officers criminally.  To do that, we have a limited number of options.  Federally, there are no general murder, manslaughter, or assault type crimes; those are state crimes, and only the State can bring those kinds of charges. 

Our principal tool for federal prosecution is known as the deprivation of rights law, which essentially gives us authority to bring federal charges where we can prove that an officer willfully violated someone’s civil rights.  To prosecute under that law, we have to be able to prove beyond a reasonable doubt both that the officer’s use of force was objectively unreasonable, and that the officer acted willfully -- knowing that the force used was excessive.  Proving that willful state of mind -- getting inside the officer’s head at the moment force was used and proving willfulness beyond a reasonable doubt -- is a high bar. 

Despite those challenges, our Office has dedicated resources to this area and has historically brought impactful criminal charges against officers using excessive force in Chicago and across the Northern District of Illinois.  In the past two weeks we charged two excessive force cases – one against a Joliet police officer, and one against a Chicago police officer.  And beyond excessive use of force cases, we also have held dozens of officers accountable for other forms of corruption, like stealing from drug dealers, selling drugs, selling weapons, theft, and other crimes.    

We sometimes investigate police officer cases that are charged by the State and not by us.  Let me say something about that interplay between State and Federal prosecutions when it comes to police officer misconduct.  In some cases, even if our Office finds sufficient evidence to prosecute an officer federally, we will defer to the State when it moves forward with charges.  There are a couple important reasons for that.

First, as I mentioned, the State has the ability to charge crimes – like murder or manslaughter – that carry heavier penalties than our federal statute.  In other words, excessive use of force by police officers is a context in which the State often carries a bigger criminal stick than the feds.  Whether we like it or not, that’s the reality.

Second, in Illinois, there is a State double jeopardy law that specifically can preclude the State from prosecuting if we, the feds, charge first.  In light of that, when the State decides to charge an officer, my Office often will wait rather than risk jamming up the State’s prosecution.  When we make that decision to wait, we monitor the State case to see how it is resolved, and once the State case is done, we make a decision whether or not to charge federally.  In making that decision, the key factor is whether we the think the State result, including any prison sentence, has rendered justice. 

So, a lot of layers there.  Our criminal justice world is sometimes complicated, and that’s okay.  The most important thing I want you to know is this: Our U.S. Attorney’s Office has and will continue to independently and vigorously pursue federal civil rights prosecutions of police officers, where appropriate. 

And let me tell you why.  When officers break the law, it hurts us all.  It hurts the immediate victims, it hurts the public -- who lose faith and confidence in law enforcement -- and it hurts all of the good officers who suffer from that loss of public faith and confidence.  Those good officers can no longer do their jobs effectively without the support and trust of the people they serve and protect.   

Let me put a finer point on it.  I am someone who believes that police officers are by and large the noblest of our public servants.  They’re the ones, women and men, who’ve taken a job at modest pay, where every day they wake up not knowing if they may get hurt or even killed.  And damn near all of them do that, and wear that risk, because they are good people.  They are people who risk their lives to serve and protect us.

To succeed, those good officers need credibility with the public they serve.  And when bad cops are able to do bad things and there’s no accountability, that hurts all of those good officers.  Among other things, in my opinion, that paradigm can create and foster the exact kind of “don’t snitch” culture we have seen for decades now in our neighborhoods – South Side and West Side -- that most desperately need the police to be able to solve crimes, to catch the murderers. 

It’s time to fix that.  It’s time to change that paradigm.  It’s time to win back the respect our police officers have earned.  By doing that, we help CPD, we help our afflicted neighborhoods, and we help make this city safer and stronger. 

As I said at the outset, for me, this is not about statistics.  It is about fairness – fairness to all our neighbors across Chicago.  For us to have any chance of succeeding in the long-term goal of correcting the injustice of those neighborhoods set apart, I believe what we are going through with CPD right now was inevitable, and is essential. 

At the moment we are in pain.  In life, you sometimes have to go through pain to get to a better place.

Spike in gun violence

Let me talk more directly about that pain.  A 40+% increase this year in homicides.  A nearly 50% increase in shootings.  In 2014 and 2015, we saw some of our lowest homicide rates in Chicago since the 1960s.  And now suddenly, in 2016, the pendulum whips away from us.  Why is that?

No one can say for sure, but I think it is worth noting that the current spike in violence followed 4 quick successive events late last year:

  • The city released the Laquan McDonald video
  • DOJ announced its pattern & practice investigation
  • CPD’s Superintendent of 4.5 years was let go
  • Coincidental to those first 3 things, on January 1 of this year, a contract went into effect between the City and the ACLU mandating that officers fill out lengthy contact cards for every street encounter.  That agreement was negotiated between the city, CPD and the ACLU last year.  It just happened to go into effect on January 1 of this year.

After those 4 events, all of which came within a six-week period leading up to January 1, 2016, I believe there was a hit on CPD morale, and a drag on officer willingness to conduct stops.  There has in fact been a major drop this year in the number of street stops officers are conducting. 

I also think that the fallout in public confidence – the apparent embattlement of police on all fronts -- created a sense of emboldenment among gang members, especially in Chicago’s most violence-afflicted neighborhoods.  Some gang members apparently felt they could get away with more, and so more bullets starting flying. 

Those perceptions are wrong, and I think they are changing and will change with time and because of the great efforts our Chicago police officers are making right now -- to push back against that violence and to ensure change that will restore credibility. 

What We’re Doing at the USAO

Let me say something about what federal law enforcement, including the U.S. Attorney’s Office, has been doing to help CPD and our State partners in this crisis. 

In addition to the civil rights work I already mentioned, we are busier than ever at 219 South Dearborn prosecuting gangs and violent offenders.  In late July, we announced racketeering indictments against 34 ranking leaders of the Latin King Street gang on the South and West Sides for widespread and recurring violence.  Separate from that, starting earlier this month, we are trying a federal racketeering case against members of a Gangster Disciples/Black Disciples hybrid gang faction, who are alleged to have committed multiple murders and other brutal acts of violence over years.  That federal trial is taking place as I speak.

Those two major cases are exemplary; we have many more federal gang and violent-offender cases charged and in the investigative pipeline.  We have not and will not take our foot off the criminal enforcement pedal.

In addition, this year our Office has increased its intake of gun cases across the board.  We continue to work with the State’s Attorney’s Office, who are a great partner to us, to determine which sovereign is in a better position to charge putative gun defendants.  This year, through that cooperative screening process, we’ve decided to take on more water federally, specifically in reaction to the current crisis and to make sure that during this challenging time we’re doing everything we can to aid our local and state partners.    

And to be clear, it’s not just the U.S. Attorney’s Office leaning in to this crisis.  It’s the entire federal law enforcement family here in Chicago.  The FBI, DEA, ATF, USMS and other federal agencies have ramped up their resources to help tamp down this spike in violence.  There are some very specific initiatives we’ve launched this year, along with our State and local partners, and I’m not going to reveal details because I do not want to compromise those ongoing initiatives.  But suffice it to say all oars from those agencies, including the FBI, are in the water right now.  We are committed, along with CPD and our State partners, to doing everything we can to address the current increase in gun violence as quickly and effectively as possible.

Prevention Efforts  

That’s all on the criminal enforcement side.  Complementary to those efforts, we’re also right now working closely and constantly with CPD and others on preventing violence before it happens.  My Office this year has led or participated in reentry forums, youth outreach forums, violence-reduction gang call-in meetings, and community trust roundtables, on a routine basis.  We’ve had dozens of such events already this year. 

Last time I was here I spoke about our Youth Outreach Forums, where we are working with at-risk kids, 13-17 years of age, to help them identify a path other than gang membership and violence.  I won’t rehash that now, but that program continues.  And while no one program is a panacea for our gun violence problem, I am proud that our U.S. Attorney’s Office here continues to invest resources and lead the way forward on many of those initiatives.

Prevention efforts are a critical part of our long-term success against gun violence.  I don’t want to prosecute gun criminals if we can stop the crimes from happening in the first instance.

Not-For-Profit Community Conversations

I’m going to pivot now and say a few words about another concern I think is important to this overall discussion -- specifically, some challenges facing not-for-profit organizations operating in our most violence-afflicted neighborhoods. 

When I was here last, about a year ago, I mentioned that my Office had launched a series of community trust roundtables focused on violence and policing issues.  We have continued to hold those roundtables, which I’ve hosted roughly quarterly over the past almost two years.  After one in Englewood earlier this year, I spoke with CPD Superintendent Eddie Johnson about doing a separate series of smaller roundtable discussions with a very specific and discrete purpose: to gather leaders of not-for-profits operating in the neighborhoods that are suffering this year’s worst gun violence, and find out from those not-for-profit leaders their views and concerns about trying to make those neighborhoods safer.

Over the past three months, my Office and CPD have hosted 4 of those not-for-profit roundtable discussions.  We held one in Englewood, one in Garfield Park, one in Austin, and one in Back of the Yards.  Each meeting has included about 20 to 30 leaders from different not-for-profit organizations providing a wide spectrum of services in their respective neighborhoods. Things like:

  • healthcare for the indigent
  • housing and food for the homeless
  • mental health services
  • substance abuse aid
  • domestic violence assistance
  • workforce development
  • educational programs
  • youth programs
  • tutoring for kids

The roundtables have been non-public, so as to foster candor and honesty.  This is the first time I’ve mentioned these meetings publicly.

And to be clear, the meetings are not part of the DOJ “pattern and practice” investigation or any larger DOJ initiative.  This is the U.S. Attorney’s Office and me, as the U.S. Attorney, trying to better understand some of the other pieces of the puzzle in Chicago -- beyond law enforcement’s role -- when it comes to combatting gun violence, so that we can do everything in our power to complement those other critical efforts. 

So, here are two key takeaways from the roundtable discussions:

First, there is an amazing number of super smart, committed, passionate, hard-working, altruistic people providing not-for-profit services in these neighborhoods.  And I don’t say that lightly, or to pander, or for hyperbole.  I say it because it’s true, and I didn’t really know it until I went and saw it for myself.  There is no shortage of good and smart people trying to help in these neighborhoods.

And so what?  Why does it matter that there is this critical mass of capable leaders working to improve those neighborhoods?

Because of my second key point -- they don’t have what they need to succeed.  At each and every one of these meetings – each with different participants operating in different neighborhoods – there was a single, resounding, common complaint: the absence of a Marshall plan or unified vision for working together and cooperating to improve the neighborhoods.  In fact, repeatedly we heard how these leaders and their organizations are often working apart from each other and often even in competition. 

Why is that?  What I heard first and foremost is that the funding mechanisms -- whether state, federal or philanthropic -- are mostly annualized, are hyper competitive, and are data driven.  And so many of these organizations compete -- all year, every year -- to protect their numbers and bring in funding dollars just so they can survive.  That paradigm leaves little room or incentive for them to stop the music and work together to come up with a comprehensive plan for attacking gun violence.

They want to do that.  All of them want to do that.  Many feel like they can’t. 

That paradigm has to change as well.  Those great people need to be able to work together, to complement each other, to share a vision and plan for success in helping their respective neighborhoods.  And so I ask all of you, whether you are in business, or government, or part of the great philanthropic community in Chicago, to give that issue some thought.  Let’s have a conversation and find a way to change that paradigm such that all these talented people -- already operating full time in these neighborhoods -- can have a greater impact. 

Schools and Jobs

Of course beyond not-for-profits and law enforcement, there are other major moving parts that we have to address to resolve our gun violence dilemma.  And like not-for-profits those major moving parts are outside my Office’s authority. 

Equal education is one.  We have to find ways to ensure that the schools operating in our violence-afflicted neighborhoods are providing the same quality and continuity of services as others across the city. 

Jobs is another.  We need more businesses to stake ground in these neighborhoods and create work opportunities, particularly for young adults coming up and for Illinois citizens returning from incarceration, a large percentage of whom return to these violence-afflicted neighborhoods.

Those are all significant challenges.  But there are a lot of good people – in city government, in state government, in the private sector – who working hard and earnestly on those challenges.  And we have success stories -- discreet but real stories -- where schools have improved, and new businesses have staked ground in these neighborhoods.  We need to study and build upon those successes, and come up with a template for every neighborhood to succeed. 


Chicago’s gun violence problem is multi-faceted.  It is not rooted in any one thing.  It has roots in poverty, joblessness, and educational inequality, which over decades has fostered cultural issues, parenting problems, fear, cynicism, and a tragic strain of low expectations, complacency, hopelessness.

Our institutions must do better.  Law enforcement.  Government. Schools.  Businesses.  Not-for-Profits.  We all have to do better.

I’d submit to you that across those institutions, we too are too often operating in silos.  For all of the good will and work of folks in the public, private and philanthropic sectors, we don’t communicate as much and effectively as we need to.  We are each trying hard to do our jobs, to do our parts.  But that is not good enough in the face of this kind of challenge.  We have to be better at knowing each other, at communicating, at coming together around a common, comprehensive plan where we are coordinated and complementing each other.  That is the only way to win this particular fight. 

In some small measure, through our roundtables and outreach initiatives, my Office is trying to chip away at that challenge.  And I commit to you we will not stop.  The fantastic women and men of this U.S. Attorney’s Office will keep pushing.  We’ll keep prosecuting violent offenders.  We’ll keep looking for new ways to stop crime before it occurs.  And we’ll keep listening, learning, and striving to find long-term solutions to this complex problem.  We never lose hope.  Giving up is not part of our DNA. 

Institutions matter. But at the end of the day, to save innocent kids and restore neglected parts of this city, the solution lies not in institutions; it lies in people.  I’m from Tennessee.  Chicago is my adoptive home.  And every year I have lived here I have fallen further in love with this place and its people.  I am in awe of the fundamental goodness I witness from people each and every day across this city -- the profound strength and love citizens here hold for the city and each other.  That strength and love is the fuel that will drive our change.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office is honored to be a part of it.  We’re going to keep working hard every single day. 

Thank you for being here and for listening.

Updated September 26, 2016

Civil Rights
Community Outreach
Firearms Offenses
Violent Crime