By Erick Johnson, Chicago Crusader
Chicago police has shot another teenager, while gangs are allegedly planning to retaliate for his death. Murders are out of control everywhere in Black neighborhoods. For years, racial tensions and gun-violence in Chicago have been brewing, but this summer, the city is on the verge of boiling over with police shootings, homicides and rising discontent with a justice system that has failed many Blacks for decades.
For thousands of Blacks, Chicago is bursting at the seams. Emotions are heating up as the mercury climbs. The nation’s third largest city, once known as the Black mecca for nearly a million Blacks, is in deep trouble. The city that was once the home of numerous Black pioneers, leaders and president Barack Obama and his wife, is losing its Black population and professionals to southern cities.
From rising unemployment to a school system teetering on bankruptcy, Chicago has had its share of problems in recent years. But on Thursday, July 28 amid the sweltering heat of summer, a Chicago police officer shot and killed 18-year-old Paul O’Neal, triggering a wave of protests and anger from Blacks who are still reeling from the brutal police killing of another teenager nearly two years ago.
It happened in the South Shore neighborhood, a predominately Black middle-class community where first lady Michelle Obama grew up. About 10 minutes away from her home, O’Neal died a violent death. Police said he was driving a Jaguar that was stolen from Bolingbrook, a suburb west of Chicago. During a high-speed chase police officers fired 15 shots at O’Neal as he sped through the South Shore neighborhood. He crashed into two police cars before he got out and fled on foot. According to accounts, a third officer chased O’Neal behind a home where he fatally shot him in the back. While he laid face down bleeding from his gunshot wound, O’Neal was violently handcuffed.
The city’s Independent Police Review Authority (IPRA) on Friday, August 5 released 9 videos from the officers’ body cameras. The videos can be seen on YouTube. While the recordings show what happened before and after the shootings, none of the videos showed the actual shooting of O’Neal. The body camera of the officer who shot and killed O’Neal was not turned on, stirring suspicions among many Blacks who believe the act was again part of an effort to protect officers involved in controversial shootings.
Body cameras are part of the reforms Mayor Rahm Emanuel implemented after a video was released in November 2015, showing Officer Jason Van Dyke shooting 17-year-old Laquan McDonald 16 times. With the pretrial moving along in that case, many Blacks were already struggling to heal and move on with their lives.
But deep wounds in the Black community were reopened nearly a week ago when numerous videos were released in the police shooting involving O’Neal. In one video that shows O’Neal being handcuffed, an officer is heard saying “Black a—- mother——-.” Afterwards, another officer can be heard saying “F——— shooting at us.”
IPRA called the video footage “shocking and disturbing.”
Legal analysts say without the video of the actual shooting of O’Neal, it will be difficult to bring charges against the officers involved in the teenager’s death. The officers who were videotaped before O’Neal died have a greater chance of being charged with a crime, legal analysts say.
Chicago Police have not released the names of the officers, fearing they would be targets of retaliation similar to police officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge, Louisiana. But within three days of the shooting, the three officers were relieved of their police powers and given administrative duties, pending an investigation by IPRA, the agency in charge of investigating police shootings. The department’s top brass say the three officers violated departmental policy by shooting at a fleeing vehicle when it is the lone threat.
The swift move was not enough to stop numerous protests that erupted in Chicago hours after the videos were released August 5. Heavy crowds of angry protestors filled the streets of the city’s ritzy Michigan Avenue during Chicago’s busiest tour-ism season.
While police supporters say O’Neal caused his own death by resisting arrest, activists say police used unnecessary forced in killing an unarmed man who was not a threat to anyone. They say the incident shows that when it comes to apprehending Black suspects, police officers are also the judge, jury and executioner.
“No one should go through anything like this,” said Ja’Mal Green, an activist and spokesman for O’Neal’s family. “It’s always these procedures that we have to wait on for answers. We need more radical people to say ‘Look, I just saw the video and the officer is wrong and should be disciplined immediately’.”
Cook County Commissioner Richard Boykin said the problem lies with not only the police department, but with Mayor Emanuel as well.
“The execution of Paul O’Neal at the hands of Chicago Police Officers should prompt outrage and deep shame at the highest levels of government,” he said in a statement. “The Mayor, the Superintendent of Police, and those charged with administering justice in our city have quite simply failed at every level.”
Two hours after the videos were released, protestors shut down a press conference that Johnson organized outside the police headquarters at 35th and Michigan Avenue.
In a statement, Frank Chapman of the Chicago Alliance Against Racist & Political Oppression, said “Now, the notorious IPRA investigation has begun. Such investigations have proven to be ineffective in holding police accountable for killing Black people in Chicago.”