Chicago’s dubious honor: Most police fatal shootings
Its “second-city” moniker notwithstanding, this is not a No. 1 rating a city should be proud of: Chicago leads the nation in the most fatal shootings by police in the last five years.
According to figures from the Better Government Association, Chicago police shot and killed 70 people in the last five years — the most of any large city. In second place was Phoenix, with 57 deaths, followed by Philadelphia and Houston.
When measured in terms of per-capita killings, Chicago drops to fourth place, with Phoenix taking the top spot. Still, this is a large number, even as Chicago police are quick to claim that the figures have dropped this year — there have been only three police fatal shootings so far in 2015.
“The Chicago victims were nearly all male,” the BGA analysis says. “Most were black. More than half of the killings occurred in six South Side police districts.” One of those districts is Englewood, where film director Spike Lee is shooting a film about the violent neighborhood with the controversial working title of Chiraq.
Here’s another horrific statistic: Chicago police shot 240 people from 2010 through 2014, or an average of about one per week. That also was more than any other city, although some municipalities provided incomplete data to the BGA, either on police shootings overall or fatal shootings only.
Arthur Lurigio, a professor of psychology and criminal justice at Loyola University Chicago, says as part of the BGA report that he wasn’t surprised that the shootings were concentrated in specific pockets of the city. “The districts where police shootings are the highest are probably the districts where violent and gang crimes are the highest,” he says. “In those neighborhoods police are on higher alert. They’re more likely to feel threatened, and there’s a greater likelihood they’ll react more aggressively.”
The report didn’t break down the killings as far as victims who were armed or unarmed, and likely at least some of those shot and killed by police were armed gang members.
Police shootings are investigated by the city’s Independent Police Review Authority, and some controversy has arisen over the dismissal of an investigator for that group, Lorenzo Davis. Davis spent 23 years with the CPD but was dismissed from the IPRA after he refused “to obey orders to reverse his findings that police were not justified in shooting suspects six times in the past eight years,” says a story in The Daily Beast. “In three of those incidents, the suspects died.”
“As many as 5 percent of police shootings [that IPRA investigates] are problematic,” Davis told The Daily Beast.
The Daily Beast details a recent case that cost a teenager his life and the city a lot of money. “The most egregious appears to be the case of Laquan McDonald, a 17-year-old who was shot 16 times last year by at least one officer after the teen was found with a knife near a junkyard,” the story reports. “Police said the officers were in fear for their lives, but an attorney for the McDonald family claims footage shows the teen walking away from police when they began firing.
“The video was apparently enough to prompt the city into a $5 million settlement with the family, on the condition that attorneys would not release the footage,” the story continues. “McDonald’s family has seen the video and expressed their wishes that it be withheld from the public, fearing its release would cause Chicago to riot.”
There were similar million-dollar settlements in two cases of police shooting and killing unarmed men in 2010 and 2012. “The settlements mean the details of police killings, including the identities of the officers involved, won’t be exposed to the public in court trials,” the Daily Beast story says.
Chicago hasn’t experienced the kind of widespread public outrage seen in other cities after a police shooting or death, such as that experienced in Ferguson, Mo., after the death of Michael Brown; in Baltimore, after the death of Freddie Gray; or in Cleveland, after the death of 12-year-old Tamir Rice. There are too many more to count. Those in Chicago certainly resonate with the communities involved, as friends on the South Side tell us.
One that has resonated nationally as well as locally is the death of Sandra Bland, a suburban Chicago woman who spent three days in jail in Texas after a traffic stop for not signaling a lane change. Texas authorities say Bland committed suicide in her cell with a plastic trash bag. But whatever the manner of her death, people remain skeptical and are angry that the situation was allowed to spin out of control.
At Bland’s funeral, her mother, Geneva Reed-Veal, was the last to speak. She wasn’t convinced of the cause of her daughter’s death.
“I’m the mama, and I’m telling you that my baby did not take herself out. The fact is, I’m the mama. And I still don’t know what happened. You think you’re mad? I’m mad, too.”