At least a dozen West and South Side activists and clergymen gathered in front of the 11th District police headquarters, 3151 W. Harrison St., on Dec. 30 to demand for the immediate termination of any officers who were involved in the murders of Bettie Jones, 55, and Quintonio LeGrier, 19. The demonstrators also called for Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s resignation and a series of comprehensive police reforms.
Jones and LeGrier were shot by 11th District police officers in the early morning hours of Dec. 26 after LeGrier’s father, Antonio LeGrier, had called them in response to his son’s volatile behavior. The teenager, who had spent much of his life in foster care and whose parents said had emotional problems, was reportedly wielding a baseball bat and threatening his father.
Antonio, who lived on the top floor and of the apartment building, said he called down to Jones to warn her of his son’s behavior and to be on the lookout for the police. The details of what happened between then and the time the elder LeGrier heard gunshots, slowly walked downstairs toward the scene with his hands up and saw his son and downstairs neighbor lying on the ground are murky.
The only witnesses to the actual shooting are the Chicago police officers who were on the scene, but people who were within hearing distance of the shooting say Jones yelled, ‘Whoa, whoa, whoa,’ before shots were fired. LeGrier’s father said his son had to have been at least 20 feet away from officers before he was shot and did not present an immediate threat. Earlier this week, he filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the city.
Autopsy results revealed that Jones was shot in the chest and LeGrier was shot multiple times. Larry Rogers, Sr., the attorney for the Jones family, said he believes Bettie Jones may have been shot at least three times.
Since the shooting, the Chicago police have called Jones’s death an “accident” and, along with Mayor Emanuel, have publicly apologized to the familiy. Department officials said that the officers involved were placed on 30-day administrative duty.
The Independent Police Review Authority (IPRA) has launched an investigation, but Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez — who has been under considerable pressure herself for what many residents say is her unwillingess to aggressively prosecute rogue cops even as she’s developed a reputation as being tough on crime — has requested that the FBI assist with the probe.
Earlier this week, Emanuel announced a plan for all Chicago street officers to be equipped with Tasers by the summer and for the implementation of new training for officers in conflict de-escalation that doesn’t involve lethal weapons.
“There’s a difference between whether someone can use a gun and when they should use a gun. And we as a city must train for that difference,” Emanuel said.
But Rob Wimberly, who was at Wednesday’s demonstration with his son Evan — the son said he’s often profiled by Chicago police — noted that the Tasers have been available to officers since 2004. Wimberly said he nonetheless supports the measure if it helps save lives.
According to a Chicago Tribune analysis of city data, about 200 Chicago police officers had Tasers in 2004. In 2010, the non-lethal weapons were expanded to about 600.
“The U.S. Justice Department did some research on the Tasers and I don’t think that’s going to help us,” said Marseil Jackson, chairman of the youth division for the Leaders Network and the founder of the Jackson Action Coalition.
“I think it’s going to hurt us, because now our young people are going to be tased and [the affects of Tasers] can kill people as well. Beyond Tasers, officers need to be properly trained on how to detain and handle people.”
The Tribune found that the presence of Tasers may not automatically translate into the absence of shootings.
“Tasers jumped from about 200 in 2009 to nearly 900 the next year, and then remained above 700 in the two following years. Meanwhile, shootings — including those in which a person was hit and ones in which the rounds missed — hovereed around 100 per year in the years just before and after the expansion, according to IPRA’s numbers,” the Tribune wrote. “Both shootings and Taser incidents dropped together, however, beginning in 2012.”
A department order issued last October already required all Taser-certified officers to have the weapons while on duty. Acting Chicago Police Superintendent John Escalante reissued that order earlier this week and said he hopes the department can train about 40 percent of officers on how to operate what he hopes will be around 1,400 Tasers. Currently, about 20 percent of Chicago police officers are certified to operate the 700 devices the department currently has on hand.
Emanuel said that no squad cars responding to Lequan McDonald in October 2014 had a Taser. The Tribune reported that it isn’t clear whether any officers responding to Jones and LeGrier were equipped with Tasers.
Pierre Keys of We Charge Genocide said that Emanuel’s and the police department’s reforms, however, don’t go far enough.
“Why did the police shoot knowing that someone unrelated to the incident was in close proximity to LeGrier and why did they shoot at all? Aren’t there other ways to disarm someone with a bat? We want 100 percent of the force to be trained on how to deal with people with mental challenges. We want the gun to be the last resort,” he said.
Many people, particularly African Americans, say that Emanuel’s reforms, besides being inadequate, make up a shallow approach to the deeper problem of how black people are policed in general.
“It’s hard for me to believe that the police in the City of Chicago could get away with the shootings and executions of young black and brown men if the victims of those shootings and executions were white,” Cook County Board President Toni Preckwrinkle told the Tribune. “There’s a culture in the police department, I think, and in our larger society that black and brown lives don’t matter in the same way that the lives of white people matter.”
“Laquan McDonald did not get a chance to apologize,” said anti-violence advocate Tio Hardiman. “He did not get a chance to say, ‘Look, I’m sorry for running away from the police.’ He did not deserve to be shot 16 times. There’s no evidence that dictates that African American youth are a threat to the police department, so why are police so trigger happy to shoot them?”
Gerald Frazier of Dreamz and Visionz said, along with changing the city’s practice of blocking FOIA requests for information about police misconduct cases, the mayor should address the city’s practice of spending money on police abuse settlements while simultaneously cutting funding for mental health centers and anti-violence organizations like CeaseFire.
“There’s no way you can pay a half-billion dollars in police settlements and not build one community center on the West and South Sides of Chicago,” he said.