Two years ago federal prosecutors turned over to the Chicago Police Department a racist picture featuring two white cops posing with rifles over a black man wearing antlers. The department has fought to bar the public from seeing the image ever since, claiming it wants to protect the unidentified black man’s privacy. But a federal judge has finally ordered the photograph released—and it’s a startling indictment of a police force already under fire for its systemic racism and brutality.
The two officers in the picture, Jerome Finnigan (left) and Timothy McDermott (right), have less-than-sterling records already. As the Chicago Sun-Times explains, Finnigan was convicted of robbery in 2013 and sentenced to 12 years in prison. (He led a group of corrupt cops that made extra money breaking into houses and burglarizing them.) McDermott was a defendant in four federal lawsuits accusing him of misconduct, costing the city hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages and attorneys’ fees. But he wasn’t fired until federal agents, who uncovered the picture while investigating Finnigan, gave it to the Police Department in 2013. And even then the police board vote was a close 5-to-4 split. McDermott’s attorney, Daniel Herbert, fiercely defended the picture, noting that nobody knows precisely when or why the photo was taken. (Finnigan previously told federal officers that he and McDermott arrested the man for carrying “20 bags of weed.”) Herbert also imagined a few innocent explanations for the scene:
“What’s to say this individual wasn’t performing at a Christmas pageant in the district and was dressed as a reindeer and had taken the reindeer suit off? Again, I don’t mean to make preposterous arguments, but the charges in this case, they warrant that,” he said.
Herbert also compared the photo to an episode of “Seinfeld” in which Jerry is wrongly accused of picking his nose.
Herbert said there was strong evidence in the photo that the African-American man was a “willing participant” and was not coerced to pose with antlers. He even questioned whether the guns were really broomsticks carved to look like weapons.
The board ruled that “appearing to treat an African-American man not as a human being but as a hunted animal is disgraceful and shocks the conscience.” McDermott is now appealing his dismissal in court.