Spurred by Ferguson, Chicago families demand reviews of police shootings
The national uproar over a fatal police shooting of an unarmed black teenager near St. Louis has prodded families and activists in the Chicago area to ask for investigations into what they say are similar incidents in the crime-ridden U.S. city.
Since the protests in Ferguson, Missouri, families of victims have held rallies across Chicago, where more than one person a month is shot dead by police. The Ferguson protests started in August when a white police officer shot to death 18-year-old Michael Brown, who witnesses say was trying to surrender.
“People are waking up to the fact that police brutality is alive and well … They need to be made more accountable and they need to be prosecuted,” Joyce Evison-Brown said as she led a small protest in the Chicago suburb of Harvey, where her son, Charles Brown IV, was killed in a police shooting in April.
Chicago police shot dead 100 people between 2008 and 2013. Nearly 80 percent of the victims were African-American males and the vast majority of the shootings were deemed justified because the officer was in reasonable fear for his or her life, according to reports from the Independent Police Review Authority, which investigates every such incident.
Although the figures do not include suburbs, lawyers who specialize in police misconduct and police accountability activists say some, like Harvey, follow a similar pattern.
The Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression wrote to the U.S. Department of Justice shortly after the Ferguson shooting last month, complaining of a pattern of police violence in and around Chicago and demanding a wide-scale investigation into police misconduct.
Alliance co-chair Ted Pearson says he hopes that Chicago will be forced to address the issue in the wake of Ferguson.
“What’s important is that the upsurge in Ferguson has put this more on the public agenda,” he said.
Official investigations into police shootings can take months to conclude and facts are difficult to come by in the interim, experts say.
The police view of the death of Charles Brown, a black man, contrasts radically with his family’s. His mother describes him a high school graduate who was working with kids and planning to be an apprentice plumber. She has filed a $4 million federal lawsuit against Harvey saying the shooting was “unreasonable and unjustifiable.”
The Harvey police say Charles Brown tried to run down police officers with a car as he fled the scene of a crime, that he had a gun and was a person of interest in a recent violent crime.
“This was a clean incident,” said Sean Howard, spokesman for the City of Harvey.
Unlike Ferguson, where the town power structure was mostly white and the Michael Brown shooting had a racial element, Harvey has a black mayor and a black police chief, Howard pointed out.
Cynthia Lane, another mother who has led several large recent rallies, has decried the killing of her son Roshad McIntosh, 19, shot dead by police in Chicago’s Lawndale neighborhood on Aug. 24, two weeks after the Ferguson shooting.
“My son was in a surrender position with his hands up begging for his life,” Lane told reporters at a Sept. 17 protest at Chicago City Hall.
According to police, McIntosh pointed a gun at an officer. The gun was recovered at the scene.
Families of victims complain that Chicago’s Independent Police Review Authority almost always finds fatal officer-involved shootings justified.
“All officer-involved shooting investigations conducted by the IPRA are done in a fair, thorough and timely manner,” the agency said in a statement, adding it posts all results on its website.
IPRA, a civilian body formed seven years ago to address Chicago’s long-standing high level of complaints of police misconduct, frequently recommends officer discipline or changes in procedures. But for parents of young adults killed by the police, it is not enough.
“We need an elected civilian police accountability board,” said Emmett Farmer, who has been marching against police violence since 2011 when his son Flint was killed by an officer in a shooting deemed justified by local prosecutors but still under investigation by the FBI.
Police leaders are increasingly aware they need to communicate better around the potentially explosive issue. The Ferguson protests were fanned by lack of information and the city’s initial reluctance to release the name of the officer involved.
Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy said he is planning to make changes in the post-Ferguson environment, issuing a statement immediately after each police shooting so that people understand the circumstances of each incident.
“Since every single police shooting now is resulting in some sort of protest I think we have an obligation to sit down with our community and fill them in with what’s going on,” McCarthy said on the sidelines of a conference of police chiefs who discussed how to address the issues raised by Ferguson.
(Reporting by Fiona Ortiz; Editing by Dina Kyriakidou and Lisa Shumaker)