CHICAGO — Tensions escalated in a Chicago neighborhood Monday, a day after the police department released a video showing officers skirmishing with a black man and then shooting him in the street on Saturday.
A rally late Monday on the spot where the shooting took place attracted about 200 people who chanted in unison. Some onlookers argued in the middle of the street about whether the police had a good reason to shoot. Two police helicopters hovered overhead. Suddenly, a middle-aged man darted up to police officers watching the scene.
“Human beings don’t behave like that!” he screamed at them. An elderly woman from the corner joined in. “You’re hurting people!” she yelled.
“It’s gotten worse since Saturday,” said Kay Thomas, 16, who was carrying groceries home from the corner Walgreen’s. “I never saw my neighborhood this upset.”
To many black and Latino residents on the city’s South and West sides, the Saturday afternoon shooting of Harith Augustus, a barber in the South Shore neighborhood, is unquestionably linked to the 2014 police shooting of Laquan McDonald, an unarmed 17-year-old. The aftermath of that shooting resulted in an incriminating report by the U.S. Department of Justice into practices by the police department, the electoral ouster of State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez, the firing of Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy, and fresh vulnerability for Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who is in the midst of a reelection bid for a third term in February 2019.
Turning up the heat this summer is the pending trial of Jason Van Dyke, the Chicago police officer charged with first-degree murder for shooting McDonald 16 times as he backed slowly away. A police dashboard-camera video in that case was released more than a year after Emanuel narrowly won a second term. Van Dyke’s attorney is trying to move the trial from Chicago because he argues that the officer cannot get a fair trial here.
Many here think the outcome of that trial will be a watershed moment.
“Nobody is taking [violence] seriously. The police aren’t. The alderman isn’t. The mayor don’t give a damn. The community is the only ones taking it seriously,” said Janet, 58, a neighborhood resident who did not want her last name used.
Unlike in the McDonald case, Chicago police released the Augustus tape to the public the next day. It shows two officers approaching Augustus as he stands on a sidewalk calmly talking with another officer. One of the officers grabs his wrist from behind, which causes him to spin around and run. A gun is seen as his shirt flies up, and he is shot as he runs off. There is no audio, and the circumstances related to the shooting are unknown. Police say the officer was placed on desk duty for 30 days; the shooting is under investigation by the Civilian Office of Police Accountability (COPA).
Activists in groups such as Black Lives Matter and the Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression say that is not enough. At the march late Monday, as protesters marched to the barbershop where Augustus worked, activists called for the officer’s name to be released and for the officer’s firing. They also want an all-elected civilian council to replace COPA and have oversight on all matters related to police misconduct. Most of the appointees on COPA, which was created after the McDonald shooting, were named by Emanuel.
Some on Monday said they recognize that the police have a difficult job. But they questioned the decision to shoot to kill and said they want more video with audio released to give a full picture. Bill, 50, who did not want his last name used, said he watched the video and was troubled that the confrontation escalated. “It should have been handled differently,” he said. “I just hope that what comes out of this is something good.”
Since the release of the McDonald video in November 2015, rallies and marches have almost become a way of life in Chicago. Protesters have performed die-ins at City Hall, shut down Christmas shopping along Michigan Avenue, and regularly march in the Loop. The weekend before the Augustus shooting, 3,000 people marched down the Dan Ryan Expressway to protest gun violence.
All of those protests have been nonviolent. But on Saturday night, a five-hour march ended in baton-wielding police officers chasing and striking protesters, some of whom threw rocks and glass bottles in their direction.
Emanuel has not made a public statement about Saturday’s shooting and the street violence that followed.
Emanuel has become a focus of critics who say that his priorities are wrong when it comes to investment in the city, favoring downtown and North Side development over neighborhoods that need jobs and infrastructure. His opponents have been particularly critical of a $95 million police and fire academy Emanuel pushed through for City Council approval in May.
Most of Emanuel’s leading challengers released statements Monday suggesting that they understand the public dismay with police accountability and the need for change. Former federal prosecutor Lori Lightfoot, once an Emanuel appointee to lead the police board, said the police violence toward protesters Saturday night demands an investigation.
“The images I saw from a variety of sources raise serious questions about supervision, use of force and equipment, as well as tactics deployed,” she said.
Another challenger, Troy LaRaviere, a former Chicago Public Schools principal, questioned whether the shooting was justified and why the video lacked audio.
“Our system of policing has been found to unjustly target African American communities for everything from issuing parking tickets, to setting up DUI checkpoints, to the unconstitutional use of force,” he wrote on Facebook. “It is of great concern to know this same disparate system is being used to stop African American men who — like many white Chicagoans — arm themselves for protection.”
However, McCarthy, the former Chicago police superintendent fired by Emanuel after the release of the McDonald video, wrote on Twitter that the shooting “appears to be justified.” He also suggested that Augustus fled from officers because there remains a lingering lack of trust between the community and the police.
“Incidents like this underscore the need for a new mayor who can bring us together, promote understanding, and open dialogue,” he said.
Yet almost as a reminder that the violence problem is urgent, two women were shot by random bullets fired from a car one block north of the rally 45 minutes before it started. Both victims were taken to nearby hospitals.