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Chicago police killing of Black teen sparks protest

By Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor | August 17, 2007 | Page 12

ON A humid evening in early August, the Chicago Police Department rolled up on Aaron Harrison and his friends as they stood in front of a corner convenience store on the city's West Side.

According to police, Harrison was "suspiciously" tugging on his belt, and they wanted to "question" him about it. When officers approached, Harrison and his friends took off running.

Four white cops chased after Harrison--and one of them shot Harrison in the back as he ran, according to witnesses at the scene. The officers made sure to handcuff Harrison as he lay in the alley bleeding to death--and, according to witnesses, failed to call an ambulance until after he was dead.

Aaron Harrison was 18 years old and a resident of the North Lawndale neighborhood in Chicago, which gained its only infamy 41 years ago when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. took up residence there during his 1966 campaign for fair housing, to highlight the slum-like conditions produced by poverty, unemployment and racism.

On the night Harrison was murdered by police, the same cauldron of conditions brought hundreds of North Lawndale residents into the streets to demand justice. Hundreds marched to the area police precinct, chanting, "No justice, no peace--no racist police!"

According to news reports, some in the march pelted police cars with rocks and bottles, in an obvious expression of anger at the epidemic of police harassment and brutality that has plagued the city for years.

Aaron Harrison was the second Black man killed by the Chicago Police Department (CPD) in the first week of August. A few days earlier, Gefrey Johnson was Tasered to death by police in his own home. According to civil rights activist Rev. Jesse Jackson, "This guy was beaten to death--naked, crippled in his own house, taken out of here shackled and handcuffed."

This combination of tragedies produced several days of protest and speakouts in the North Lawndale neighborhood. At a press conference to announce a rally against police brutality, several community activists and neighborhood residents expressed their outrage at how the CPD remains above the law.

"There have been 20 shootings of Black men by Chicago police since the beginning of the year," said Rev. Paul Jakes. "Ten of those shot have died. We are demanding a federal investigation into this murder of Aaron Harrison."

Karl Brinsom, president of the West Side NAACP, said, "Everyone always wants to talk about gun control, but what we need to talk about is 'police control,' because they're out of control."

Oscar Thomas came out with his wife Donna and his 17-year-old son Deonte to tell how Deonte was abused by police in the aftermath of Aaron Harrison's murder. Police accused the younger Thomas of throwing a bottle at a police cruiser and arrested him for "aggravated assault."

"Deonte is a straight-A honor student who has never been in trouble with the police," Oscar said in an interview. "We have several witnesses who said Deonte didn't throw the bottle, but that the police were going after whoever they could get. When they got my son, they beat him, they maced him, the handcuffed him and they kicked him.

"Deonte is a juvenile but they took him to 26th and California [the Cook County Jail for adults] and put a $10,000 bond on him. That's not bail, that's a ransom. The police never told us that he was in custody. We spent an entire day trying to track Deonte down in the system."

Oscar, who has an older son serving in the U.S. Navy, went on to say, "We're supposed to be fighting this war on terror against bin Laden, but we have terrorism right here on the West Side of Chicago at the hands of the police. These cops are out of control."

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THESE LATEST episodes of police misconduct and murder in Black Chicago have put the Chicago police under the microscope--again.

The CPD has been reeling from months of scrutiny because of several high-profile cases of brutality, as well as City Council hearings into detectives, working under the notorious Commander Jon Burge, implicated in the torture of Black men for more than 20 years.

Asked if the CPD was out of control, Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley responded with one of his usual incoherent rants. "People don't like to go see their mother, father, brother or sister at a police station," he told reporters. "You blame police for everything. Everybody blames the police...If your kids don't go to school, you blame the police. Everybody can blame the police for everything, but we all have to look internally in a mirror and say, 'How can we provide a better way of life for our own children."

But the statistics bear out the undeniable truth that the CPD is out of control. A study by the Chicago Sun-Times found that more than 10,000 citizen complaints were filed against the CPD from 2002 to 2004--but only 18 resulted in an officer being disciplined. Moreover, more than 662 cops had 10 or more complaints on their records, and had received no discipline.

Rev. Al Sharpton--who is launching a chapter of his National Action Network in Chicago--led a rally of more than 300 near where Aaron Harrison was shot by police and declared that if the city won't do something about police brutality, "we will be forced to march, and we may be forced to engage in civil disobedience, because we want justice."

Given the track record of the CPD and its unwillingness to police its own, marching and civil disobedience are in order.

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