The Chicago Police Department killed again on July 29 — the sixth time this year.
A set of bodycam videos released eight days later depicts in harrowing detail the wanton and reckless murder of unarmed black eighteen-year-old Paul O’Neal, adding another chapter to the lengthy tome of the Chicago Police Department’s (CPD) record of abuse, torture and murder.
In addition to providing evidence of lethal police misconduct, the video also offers a window into the depraved reaction of the officers involved, revealing the ugliness of a police culture that has no concern for those who meet violence at their hands — and the total lack of accountability for their actions.
The video shows the police, who were pursuing O’Neal in response to a call about the theft of a car, leap out of their vehicles and fire repeatedly at the car. The rashness of their behavior is shocking — the video shows the cops, with no plan for stopping the vehicle, immediately pull out their guns and fire randomly at the fleeing car.
This all happens in the middle of the day in a residential neighborhood. The police even put fellow officers in the line of fire.
O’Neal — most likely terrified for his life because of the barrage of bullets — can then be seen attempting to run away from the car on foot. This is when O’Neal is fatally shot — while he’s running away, unarmed, not posing a threat to anyone.
While there are multiple camera angles from multiple officers in the video that has been released, the CPD reports that the one body camera of the officer who in the end murdered O’Neal is unavailable. Police superintendent Eddie Johnson stated that the camera was not turned on properly due to “training.”
Of course, there’s no reason to trust Chicago police. The last time there was a high-profile video showing Chicago police killing a young Black man — seventeen-year-old Laquan McDonald — the video was suppressed for over a year, only seeing the light of day after the threat of legal action.
And there’s no reason to trust that Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel will seek justice — not after internal e-mails and other documents released in January in response to open records requests revealed that the mayor’s office may have known more about the McDonald case than it previously admitted, likely in order to prevent protest which might have disrupted Emanuel’s reelection campaign.
After the police shot McDonald in the middle of the street in October 2014, officers tampered with and deleted eighty-six minutes of surveillance footage from a local fast-food restaurant that would have incriminated the cops.
In any other case, the absence of obviously important evidence in such circumstances would raise heightened suspicion. But the line of the CPD is — despite the seriousness of their officers ending the life of this young man — nothing more than: Whoops.
Although the videos are missing one key element — the final shot that killed Paul O’Neal — what we have seen speaks volumes about how CPD views the people they come in contact with every day. A case in point is the officers’ behavior after the killing.
While the defenseless unarmed teenager is dying on the ground, one cop approaches to handcuff him. As he does, he pushes the victim’s head into the ground and says, “bitch ass motherfucker.”
Then, with O’Neal handcuffed and left to die, the cops turn to their real concern: getting their story straight to escape responsibility. “They shot at us, too, right?” asks one officer to the group, appearing to try to create a story to justify the shooting of an unarmed, fleeing, defenseless young man.
Another officer complains that he will now “be on goddamn desk duty for thirty days.” He bemoans this fact over and over to all those around him.
As he leaves the site of the killing, the cop passes by another officer and says, “We got one over here,” giving him a high-five and a quick hug. This is the attitude of victorious hunters who have killed an animal — not that of someone who feels the least remorse about taking a human life, nor any fear about the consequences.
The police fire wildly in a residential neighborhood, shoot someone in the back who is running from them, verbally abuse and handcuff the victim as he dies, then begin constructing their alibis, complain about official procedure, and celebrate with a high-five. Such is the behavior of the Chicago Police Department.
The killing of Paul O’Neal comes less than a year after large protests shook Chicago following the release of the video that showed Laquan McDonald’s murder. Since that time, however, the police continue to kill.
At the end of December, they killed Bettie Jones, a bystander accidentally shot by police in front of her house. They killed Quintonio LeGrier, a man suffering from a mental health crisis who called 911. In April, they killed a sixteen-year-old Pierre Loury, who was running away from officers. Meanwhile, Laquan McDonald’s killer, Officer Jason Van Dyke, still awaits trial.
Chicago is also the home of the notorious “black site” in Homan Square where the CPD has “disappeared” more than seven thousand individuals, many of whom later describe a pattern of abuse and torture.
A small group of protesters have been camping next to Homan Square to bring attention to the “black site.” But even though Homan Square was international news, thanks in large part to reports by Britain’s Guardian newspaper, there’s been a curious silence about it at the mayor’s office.
In the face of protests about the Laquan McDonald video, Emanuel fired former police superintendent Garry McCarthy and replaced him with Eddie Johnson. Endorsed by both the Black and Latino Caucuses, the city council approved Johnson’s appointment unanimously.
It was fitting that at the same meeting where Johnson was voted in, the city council had to approve $6.5 million in payments for lawsuits against the police — including one for a man who died in police custody in 2014 and another for a man who was struck by a taser before he died while he was having a mental breakdown in lockup in 2012.
This is business as usual in Chicago — the police department has paid out half a billion dollars to settle lawsuits over the past decade.
Yet Johnson — whose appointment is supposed to be an answer to the systemic racism, abuse, and violence of the CPD — has claimed that he has never witnessed police misconduct in the twenty-seven years he’s been a police officer.
One of Johnson’s first acts as the new police superintendent was to reinstate Glenn Evans, a former Eleventh District commander who faced charges for sticking a gun down the throat of suspect. Johnson reinstated Evans — a cop distinguished only by the number of complaints against him — despite the fact that the Independent Police Review Board recommended his firing.
Possible and Necessary
If this is what is meant by police “reform” — shuffling police officials into different positions, interspersed with cosmetic task forces that offer “recommendations” which are never implemented — it’s unsurprising that cops in Chicago and around the country continue to murder Black people.
Continuing to fight and protest is the only way forward. Protests by the Movement for Black Lives around the country are the only reason why police murder cases are getting attention and forcing the political establishment to at least give the appearance of making a response.
Two hours after the release of the videos of O’Neal’s killing, protesters and family members shut down a CPD press conference. Demanding “convictions for killer cops,” the demonstrators challenged city officials to take real action. Several days later, some three hundred people marched through downtown Chicago to protest O’Neal’s murder.
Winning justice for Paul O’Neal and all those murdered by the police in Chicago and around the country will take protests like this, and on a larger and broader scale than what has taken place so far.
This latest police outrage comes at the same time that Rahm Emanuel is taking aim at Chicago teachers with the announcement of some five hundred layoffs this month. The city of Chicago has money for police who kill our young people — but nothing in its coffers to pay for schools and teachers.
This is an opportunity for working-class Chicago, which is bearing the brunt of police attacks and Emanuel’s austerity budget, to join together and protest these injustices. This is not only possible, but necessary.