CHICAGO — Bettie Jones was known as a community activist who spent her free time speaking out on issues such as police brutality that affected black Chicagoans on the far West Side, where she lived all her life, and who often attended vigils for people killed in street violence.
But on Sunday, dozens of people kept vigil for her.
Jones, 55, and Quintonio LeGrier, her 19-year-old upstairs neighbor, both were killed by police early Saturday morning. Police said Jones “was accidentally struck and tragically killed” by bullets fired by a police officer responding to a call of a domestic disturbance at her building’s address.
“For her to fall victim to the very thing she fought against — it’s disgusting,” Jones’s cousin, Nikia Glover, 39, told The Washington Post in a telephone interview.
The vigil turned into yet another protest against the Chicago Police Department, already at the center of a controversy that has roiled this city and kept it under harsh national scrutiny following the release last month of a police dashboard-camera video of a police officer repeatedly shooting a black Chicago teenager, Laquan McDonald, to death. The officer, Jason Van Dyke, faces charges of first-degree murder.
The release of that video sent thousands into the streets in protest and helped spark an investigation into the department by the civil rights division of the Justice Department. And it has happened at a time of increased scrutiny of police shootings across the country. A Post investigation published Saturday showed that 965 people were shot and killed by police this year.
On Saturday, a relative told the Chicago Tribune, Antonio LeGrier called police and said his son, a college student home on break, was agitated and wielding a baseball bat. He also reportedly called Jones to ask if she could press her buzzer and allow police in, because both residences in the two-unit building share the same entrance.
As officers arrived, another relative told the Tribune, LeGrier came to the front door downstairs. Relatives of Jones told the Tribune that they think she was behind the 19-year-old and by the entrance to her apartment when the shooting began.
In a statement offering scant detail, Chicago police said they “were confronted by a combative subject” that resulted in “the discharging of the officer’s weapon.”
The medical examiner’s office said Sunday that LeGrier died of multiple gunshot wounds and that Jones died of a shot to the chest, according to the Associated Press. The incident is now under investigation by the Independent Police Review Authority (IPRA), an agency tasked with reviewing police misconduct cases.
There is speculation that mental-health issues played a role in LeGrier’s behavior. His father told the Chicago Sun-Times that his son had “emotional problems.” But at a news conference Sunday, LeGrier’s mother, Janet Cooksey, told reporters that her son was not violent or troubled.
“He ran a marathon last year for a charity,” Cooksey said. She also said that her son was shot in the buttocks, implying that he was turning away from officers when he was shot.
Jones and LeGrier were both black, but police have not revealed the race of the officer, according to the AP. The statement released by the department said the officers involved will be placed on administrative duties for 30 days while “training and fitness for duty requirements can be conducted.”
Under a soft rain and a gray sky, people stood on the steps of the home while others huddled along the sidewalk and the street to listen to different neighborhood pastors lead prayers. Pastor Ira Acree of the Greater St. John Bible Church called for President Obama, a longtime Chicago resident, to “express his outrage” at the police department. “We are under siege and we need help and leadership we can trust,” he said.
In late November, Obama released a brief statement on Facebook saying he was “deeply disturbed” by the McDonald video.
The Rev. Jesse Jackson also spoke, saying that while national media focuses on international terrorism, the frequent violence of Chicago’s streets is often ignored. Rep. Danny K. Davis (D-Ill.) told the crowd that he had already spoken to the Justice Department about the Saturday shooting. He referenced Fred Hampton, the former leader of the Black Panther Party who was killed in a police raid of his apartment in 1969. “This is not a new phenomenon, just one that is raised to a new level,” he said.
Much of the anger was directed to Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who is vacationing with his family in Cuba. Emanuel released a brief statement, in which he said: “anytime an officer uses force, the public deserves answers.” Emanuel also said that IPRA findings will be shared with the Cook County state’s attorney’s office “for additional review in the days ahead,” and that he was directing the IPRA to review training practices that involve responding to mental health crises.
Activists say that they now plan to redirect their protests against major donors to Emanuel’s recent reelection campaign, as well as black pastors who endorsed him in the past. A protest is planned this week outside the office of one of Emanuel’s top backers, Kenneth Griffin, the Chicago billionaire who is the chief executive of the Citadel hedge fund.
“Change is definitely going to happen,” said Ja’Mal Creen, 20, of Chicago.
Across the street, LaRue Evans, 65, watched the vigil from in front of her house. She said gunshots woke her up Saturday, and when she looked out her front window she saw “about 50” police officers lining her street. She said the recent volatility in Chicago, which now has arrived on her street, has her worried.
“It’s scary here in Chicago. You’re not sure what is happening anymore,” she said.
Glover said Jones had planned to move from the apartment, where she held a family Christmas celebration Friday, because it lacked hot water and was unsafe. A mother of five children, Jones lived in the apartment with her fiance and 19-year-old daughter. She was a member of Action Now, a local organization that supports issues such as affordable housing and a higher minimum wage.
Glover added that her family is likely to file a lawsuit against the city. But before that happens, she said, they plan to join marches downtown to demand police accountability.
“It’s very personal now,” she said. “We want to continue what she started.”
Guarino is a freelance writer. Peter Holley in Washington contributed to this report.