Activists demand, denied police meeting over last weekend’s shootings

December 31, 2015
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Hoping to get answers about the fatal shootings of a West Side man and woman this past weekend, community activists Wednesday demanded a meeting with the local district commander but were denied.

Following a noon press conference outside the 11th District Station at Harrison and Kedzie, activists went inside for an unscheduled, impromptu meeting with Commander James Jones but were told by officers to leave a phone number instead.

About a dozen people went inside, led by Tio Hardiman, executive director of the nonprofit Violence Interrupters Inc.

“It just shows a lack of respect. This is a community station, and the community couldn’t get a meeting,” Hardiman said.

The group is demanding answers into the deaths of Bettie Jones, 55, and Quintonio LeGrier, 19, by an officer on Dec. 26.

Jones, a mother of five adult children, was shot by accident after officers responded to a domestic disturbance call involving LeGrier and his father.

The officer’s name has not been released publicly.

Activists and residents at Wednesday’s press conference said they want the officer’s name released, and they also reiterated calls for Mayor Rahm Emanuel to resign.

“We have a lot of qualified people in Chicago that can become the mayor,” Hardiman said.

Later that afternoon, Emanuel held his own press conference to announce a new de-escalation policy and additional training requirements for officers.

Flanked by interim Police Supt. John Escalante and other high-ranking officers and city officials, Emanuel also said the city will double the number of tasers, currently at 700, issued to officers.

Hardiman and his group urged the public to support the mayoral recall legislation filed Dec. 9 by state Rep. La Shawn Ford (8th), who also attended the noon press conference.

The bill, which is currently before the Illinois House Rule’s Committee, would establish a special election for mayor next March via a voters petition.

“I’m going to push it very hard,” Ford said. “All the people here today at this press conference, and all over the city of Chicago, believe that we should have a mechanism to recall the mayor. It’s nothing personal. It’s good public policy and it’s the right thing to do.”

The mayor initially called for changes to police procedures a day after the Jones and LeGrier shootings.

Emanuel said Wednesday that officers will undergo training on how to de-escalate encounters before having to draw their weapon.

“The goal first is to create a situation where everybody goes home safely. Everybody from every encounter. That’s what what we’re trying to do,” Emanuel said.

The mayor added that officers who are certified to carry a taser are issued one. The additional 700 to be issued, the mayor acknowledged, might be increased.

Hardiman, however, said more tasers and new policies are not the answer.

“Tasers, rubber bullets, it doesn’t make a difference. Mayor Rahm Emanuel needs to step down.”

This latest uproar comes in the wake of police shooting videos released in the last month involving officers killing young black men, videos that have sparked national outrage.

It’s been more than a month since the release of the Laquan McDonald video, taken by a police car dash cam during an October 2014 encounter between officers and the teen.

Officer Jason Van Dyke, who shot McDonald 16 times immediately after arriving to the scene, was charged with first degree murder in November, the same week the video was released under court order.

Following the uproar over the video, the U.S. Justice Department launched an investigation into the city’s handling of police-involved shootings. The Jones and LeGrier shootings are being investigated by the Independent Police Review Authority (IPRA).

Emanuel said officers involved in shootings will be put on administrative leave for 30 days while IPRA investigates. That policy change is radical departure from the department’s standard practice of keeping those officers on duty with pay.

Van Dyke remained on duty and collected a paycheck for more than a year following the Oct. 20, 2014 McDonald shooting.

Officers placed on administrative leave will also receive counseling and re-training to see if they’re fit to return to duty, the mayor said.

The 30-day leave, Emanuel added, will also give the Cook County State’s Attorney’s office time to consider possible chargers against an officer. Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez took more than a year to charge Van Dyke for murdering McDonald.

Marseil Jackson, a West Side activist and entrepreneur, said at Wednesday’s noon press conference that residents are afraid to call police, fearing they’ll be harmed by officers in some way.

“We are tired of being scared to live in our own community,” said Jackson, 27. “The police are hired to protect and to serve. We want to know who are they protecting and who are they serving when we call 911 for help, and we’re the ones getting hurt?”

Emanuel was asked by media at his press conference if the department has had a “shoot-first, shoot-too-quickly” policy. The mayor said that has not been the department’s policy.

Escalante agreed, adding that the new policies and procedures are an attempt to establish best practices within the department.

Hardiman, however, said the department has a long history of using excessive deadly force.

“There’s no evidence no where in the universe that African-American youth are a threat to the police department. So why are police so trigger happy to kill African-American youth?” Hardiman said. “I can understand if African-American youth were out here shooting police in record numbers, but that’s not happening.”

The Jones and LeGrier shootings have drawn national attention.

Jones, a downstairs neighbor of LeGrier, was shot as she opened the first-floor door into the apartment building early Saturday morning. Police were responding to a call in the 4700 block of West Erie about LeGrier, who reportedly had a baseball bat threatening his father.

The 19-year-old was also fatally shot in the doorway by the police officer.

An official police narrative of the shooting has yet to be released by the department, something else activists and residents demanded Wednesday.

The teen’s father, Antonio LeGrier, filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the department Monday, claiming his son was shot without justification. The teen, according to some family members, suffered from mental illness, which triggered his outburst that day.

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