After months of protests and civil unrest over the police shooting of George Floyd, Chicagoans were tested Monday on what we have learned.
We failed miserably.
In our collective anger over the looting that occurred in the aftermath of a police shooting in the Englewood neighborhood on Chicago's South Side, we lost focus on the most important thing -- human life.
Police shot another Black man on Sunday. This time it wasn't fatal, but we all know it could have been. Many African Americans are rightfully angry.
It is understandable why others are upset that one of the most beautiful parts of our city was ripped apart. No one wants to see Chicago thrown into a chaotic free fall. We want the looters brought to justice, and we never want to see this happen again.
But it most certainly will -- if we refuse to address why it happened in the first place.
Before any of the facts of the shooting could be verified, the campaign began -- as it always does -- to paint the victim as a menace who deserved exactly what he got. We seemed to forget everything we'd learned recently about the importance of looking at police shootings with skepticism and examining each with a critical eye.
Perhaps 20-year-old Latrell Allen did shoot officers as they pursued him on foot. Maybe the yet unidentified cop had no choice but to return fire. In fact, maybe everything the police said about the incident is true, but we don't know for sure because they weren't wearing mandatory body cameras.
That's a big problem, and it's unacceptable.
There are always two sides to a story. And when it comes to encounters between police officers and the Black men, the story inevitably is more complex than it might initially appear. When relations between the community and the law enforcement already are fragile, a police shooting can take some to the breaking point.
Police officials must be careful not to further fan the flames of discontent. That apparently didn't happen Sunday or Monday.
Police Superintendent David Brown was quick to unequivocally connect the looting in the Loop to the shooting and subsequent standoff between police and residents in Englewood. Though the Civilian Office of Police Accountability was still investigating the shooting, Brown rattled off details Monday as if they were facts.
In truth, he was only repeating at the time what the cops who did the shooting said. Recent history has proven that offending officers don't always tell the truth.
What we know for certain is that police shot Allen five times, and he is recovering at the University of Chicago Medical Center.
Though there were conflicting witness accounts of the shooting, authorities immediately charged Allen with attempted murder. Prosecutors said Tuesday that police pursued him because he matched the description of a man with a gun who was trying to start a fight in a park where children were playing. Bond was set at $1 million.
Police insist that Allen fired a gun at officers multiple times, even tweeting a picture of his discarded weapon on the ground. One witness, however, said Allen was unarmed and was pleading for his life. Tenisha Caldwell told CBS 2 that Allen was crying and holding up his hands. He was asking, "Why you keep shooting me?"
Clearly, either the witness is lying or the police are lying. Whom people choose to believe largely depends on their perspective on crime and whether police should be given the benefit of the doubt.
There is, of course, no right or wrong answer when no one other that the people involved knows exactly what happened. The only hope of getting at the truth anytime soon is if a bystander did what police officers failed to do -- capture it all on video.
It is for that reason body cameras were made mandatory for all patrol officers as part of reforms enacted after then police Officer Jason Van Dyke murdered Laquan McDonald.
There have been several cases across the country recently in which police initially gave an account of a shooting and the body camera or other video proved it to be a lie. At times, the video substantiated the officer's version.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Tuesday said the specialty team officers weren't assigned body cameras due to the recent Chicago Police Department reorganization and a shortage related to the city's camera purchasing contract.
But just two months ago, she stressed the importance of body cams. She vowed that officers who don't abide by the rules would be disciplined and, when appropriate, fired from the department. This clearly was a crucial breakdown in the system.
Chicagoans also need to know the truth about the standoff Sunday between Englewood residents and police after the shooting. Misinformation spread quickly, as it often does when people don't trust police. Tempers flared, emotions peaked and a community that has suffered numerous police shootings was again on edge.
We saw pictures of dozens of cops facing off with residents, the two sides separated by a string of yellow tape. Police officials were quick to report that one officer was hit with pepper spray and another suffered a minor shoulder injury. We were even told that a police car window was shattered by a brick.
Authorities, however, failed to mention that the officers might have helped to escalate tensions. Black Lives Matter Chicago issued a statement Tuesday saying that residents were traumatized over the shooting and wanted to protect members of the community from harm, but CPD was only interested in protecting itself.
According to the statement, the officers responded with assault rifles, tear gas and batons. "These cops intimidated and beat people for nothing more than being at the scene of CPD violence," it said.
South Side community activist Joseph Williams described in a video posted on Twitter how police grabbed a young man from the group, ripped his shirt and threw him on the ground.
"All the police rushed out behind and started to chase people left to right, pulling out their sticks and trying to punch people, swinging on people," Williams said.
"It's just sad that you going to come into a community ... where police already just shot a young man, now you going to fight them and whoop on the community at the same time. It's got to be a better approach."
Regardless of who is telling the truth about the shooting, one thing is certain. The absence of body cameras worsened the relationship between police and some members of the community.
As long as such animosity exists, there will never be peace.
About The Writer
Dahleen Glanton is a columnist for the Chicago Tribune.
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