The US continues to wrestle with the consequences of fatal shootings involving police officers and unarmed civilians.
Prosecutors in Cleveland, Ohio, drew criticism yesterday (Dec. 28) following a grand jury’s decision to not press charges against police officer Timothy Loehmann, who killed a 12 year-old boy last year after mistaking the boy’s toy pistol for a real weapon.
Meanwhile in Chicago, where the police department is already under federal investigation for its shooting last year of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald, new protests erupted over a more recent incident: this weekend’s shooting of Quintonio LeGrier, a 19-year-old college student, and bystander Bettie Jones, a 55-year-old activist and mother of five. LeGrier was at the center of a domestic disturbance call that brought the Chicago police to his parents’ home on the second floor of a house on the city’s west side; Jones lived on the first floor and was said to have been shot accidentally as officers stormed up the stairs, after she had opened the front door to let them inside the house.
When the police department confirmed the basic details of the LeGrier/Jones shooting on Dec. 26, it also announced a major change in policy regarding officers returning to duty after being involved in fatal shootings. From now on, any officer involved in a shooting will be immediately reassigned to routine administrative duties for 30 days. Previously, officers were allowed to return to active duty after as little as three days.
The new rule applies to the officers who shot LeGrier and Jones. But this is hardly the change that Chicago residents are looking for from their local law enforcement. Since the video of McDonald’s shooting went public earlier this month, Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel has been under pressure to resign. Emanuel fired the police superintendent at the time, and the officer who shot McDonald was charged with murder. The officer, Jason Van Dyke, pled not guilty in court today (Dec. 29).
This weekend, while on vacation in Cuba, Emanuel made several announcements—there will be an investigation into the most recent shootings, he said, and he’s ordering changes in how police officers are trained to respond when suspects may be mentally ill (LeGrier suffered from mental illness, according to his family, which has filed a wrongful death lawsuit seeking damages of more than $100,000 from the city). Emanuel also said he’s leaving Cuba early to return to Chicago.
Today, the mayor arrives back in town to face his critics.