Jahmal Cole, the nephew of Bettie Jones — who, along with 19-year-old engineering student Quintonio LeGrier, was shot and killed by Chicago Police officers in an apartment building on the city's West Side on Dec. 26 — has recently formed a petition that he hopes will keep the murder cases from going to a criminal grand jury.
"I want to see justice for my family and for the LeGrier family," said Cole, who noted that he's less than 5,000 petition signatures away from his goal of 50,000. When he reaches his mark, he said he plans on showing the signatures to a range of lawmakers, such as U.S. Senators Dick Durbin and Mark Kirk, U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush (1st) and Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez. He also said he'll also travel to Springfield to show the petitions to state lawmakers.
Alvarez, who has been under fire since the release of the Laquan McDonald murder tapes last November, is the lawmaker who will have perhaps the most influence on whatever litigation happens with respect to the murders of Jones and LeGrier, neither of whom, relatives and supporters say, presented an immediate threat to the police when they were shot.
Jones, whose death the department has described as an "accident," was unarmed and had simply opened the door when police fired on her. LeGrier was holding a baseball bat, but his father, who has since filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the city, has told media that his son was at least 20 feet away from officers.
"They have to respect the opinions of 50,000 people. This is something that's going to bring about institutional change," Cole said. "I owe it to those people who signed the petition to go and represent them and their voices down in Springfield, and I will. We're going to be heard."
Cole said he hopes to educate the public on the difference between a criminal grand jury and a traditional trial.
"In a grand jury, there's no judge, no cross examination, no defense attorneys, no objections and it's all done in secrecy to protect the officers," he said. "Even how the prosecutors explain the law to jurors and what prosecutors say about the evidence is not subject to any oversight."
The 32-year-old Chatham resident is the founder of the nonprofit organization My Block, My Hood, My City. He's also an author and public speaker.
He said the criminal grand jury process continues to fail society and that grand juries should be banned from cases on police shootings.
Grand juries were used in the cases of Tamir Rice, Freddie Gray and Michael Brown — all black males who were gunned down by police officers since 2014. The officers involved in those murders still haven't been convicted of crimes.
"Tamir Rice got shot down in two seconds and the officer didn't get any charges. My aunt was shot opening the door and the CPD admitted it was an accident. Cases like these get postponed for months when they are sent to a grand jury and ultimately the jury decides not to indict or bring any charges against the officer."
Cole said criminal charges against cops are necessary to create trust and equality in communities.
"Nobody is above the law," he said.
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