Chicago cops crack heads after another killing

July 16, 2018

Rachel Cohen reports from the scene of demonstrations against Chicago police after the third police shooting of an African American man in two weeks.

CHICAGO POLICE cracked down on protesters after a crowd of angry residents swelled through the evening of July 14 to express their outrage at the police murder of Harith Augustus in the city’s South Shore neighborhood.

Augustus, known as “Snoop,” was an African American barber. He leaves behind a 5-year-old daughter.

Augustus had just finished trimming the hair of his co-worker and friend, Antoine Howell, and was heading home at 5:30 p.m. to get ready for Howell’s bachelor party when police reportedly approached him.

Neighbors and witnesses say Augustus informed the officers that he had a permit for a concealed weapon. He apparently attempted to run from the police when the officers opened fire, shooting him seven times.

In a highly unusual move, the Chicago Police Department (CPD) almost immediately released bodycam footage of the moments before the murder. The video shows police swarming Augustus, and an officer grabbing him before he starts to run. The police video pauses on a still that appears to show a gun at Augustus’ waist, before he dashed desperately into the street. The video cuts off before the cops open fire.

Angry protesters confront Chicago police after another murder of an African American man
Angry protesters confront Chicago police after another murder of an African American man

City officials are clearly hoping that image of a gun at Augustus’ waist will paint him as somehow deserving of being gunned down.

A CROWD of neighbors and friends gathered at the scene of Snoop’s murder quickly swelled to more than a hundred people, radiating hurt and anger at the loss of another life. This was the third police shooting of a Black Chicagoan in two weeks.

At 7:30 p.m., police charged the crowd, beating people with batons and throwing some to the ground. They even assaulted a Chicago Sun-Times reporter who was wearing a press badge.

Police spokespeople claimed that officers were attempting to disperse a crowd that had become “violent,” but livestream video captured the police rampage.

More people from across the city arrived to join South Shore residents in protest, and around 10 p.m., the crowd began to march to the 3rd District precinct headquarters. At the station doors, rows of police stood several yards behind wooden barricades and yellow caution tape, as protesters shouted “Murderers!”

Organizers with BYP100, which helped mobilize the march, offered up a bullhorn to community members, appealing to everyone assembled to listen carefully. One organizer argued that it is great to see people coming together, but that we need to listen to the testimonials of the people who live in South Shore.

Other speakers shared their anger and outrage, including a woman who pointed to the array of officers and shouted, “They’ve got a gang!”

One man who had lived in the neighborhood for 31 years first addressed the cops, asserting, “Nothing’s changed...You’re serving, but you’re not protecting.” Then he turned his attention to the protesters, shouting, “United we stand, divided we fall!” and “Fuck the police!”

A woman named Miesha who lives a few blocks from where Augustus was killed said in an interview that she had just finished a 12-hour shift when she came across the protest immediately after the murder. “I’m tired,” she said, “but we love our people.” She’d been protesting for hours and witnessed police kick a young woman hard in the chest.

Miesha talked about constant police harassment and intimidation in the neighborhood, where working-class life intersects with a few streets lined with mansions, set off by a cul-de-sac, where police seem to occupy every street corner. Miesha said that her brothers had been in trouble with the law, and that cops had targeted her for harassment for years as a result. She feared for her own kids.

AMONG THE protesters who remained outside the police station until well after midnight were several families with young kids. Their presence drives home the intense vulnerability and desperation the city’s managers inflict on South Side residents.

Just five years ago, Democratic Mayor Rahm Emanuel closed more than 50 schools in one year, almost all of them in Black and Latino communities. Yet the Chicago City Council recently found $95 million to build a new “school” that Rahm wanted — a police academy, located in the majority Black Garfield Park neighborhood, to train yet more officers in what is already one of the most heavily policed cities in the country.

There is an unmistakable, calculated cost of local politicians starving segregated communities of public resources — not just schools, but housing, health care facilities, mental health services and public transit — while funding an ever-more militarized police force.

The price is paid in Black lives.

What’s true in South Shore is true of so much of Chicago — where deeply entrenched racism and police brutality has a legacy that includes the torture of dozens of mainly African American men by former police Commander Jon Burge and his officers. Yet police Superintendent Eddie Johnson was able to claim, “I’ve never seen police misconduct in 27 years on the force.”

This racism has filtered down to more “everyday” incidents like a CVS employee who made headlines for threatening to call police on a Black woman who was attempting to use a coupon.

At an organizing meeting held the day after Augustus’ killing, activist Rachel-Rae Williams described police singling out Black women who had been in the front line of the protest. “I saw a woman who is no bigger than a hundred pounds be fucking body-slammed to the ground,” Williams said.

Williams also talked about others killed by police in South Shore since 2013 — and how Augustus’ murder falls amid the long-drawn-out process of bringing the police murderer of teenager Laquan McDonald in 2014 to trial.

Officer Jason Van Dyke is trying to get his trial moved out to the suburbs because the case has served as a lightning rod for collective outrage over not only brazen police violence, but the systematic, far-reaching cover-ups that protect police from being brought to justice.

Nataki Rhodes, co-chair of Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression, recounted police assaulting residents while calling them “bitches and cunts” and telling them to “get out” of their own neighborhood. “They don’t have any plans for de-escalation when they kill people,” Rhodes observed, pointing out that they don’t send out counselors or aldermen. They prefer to crack heads, Rhodes said.

THE HYPOCRISY of Chicago politicians is on full display.

In early July, Mayor Rahm Emanuel endorsed an expressway blockade against gun violence called by Father Michael Pfleger of Saint Sabina Church. While Pfleger called for an “aggressive” package of jobs and educational resources to prevent violence, the action managed to attract support from city politicians and even arch-conservative Illinois Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner.

It’s a certainty that these politicians won’t be speaking out or hitting the pavement for Snoop Augustus.

Meanwhile, the families of previous victims of police brutality continue to fight for their loved ones — and to show what real solidarity and love for Black Chicago can look like.

Dorothy Holmes, mother of Ronald Johnson, a father of five young children who was killed by the CPD in 2014, is demanding that Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx press charges against officer George Hernandez.

Investigators have gone on record to document how former State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez used improperly edited video stills to claim that Johnson, known as “Ronnieman,” was armed while running for his life — and that therefore she couldn’t convict his killer.

Holmes is also organizing a school supply drive in honor of Ronnieman. She organizes alongside fellow family members of police murder victims like Chantell Brooks. Brooks’ first-born son, Michael Westley, was murdered by Chicago police on Father’s Day in 2013, when he was just 15 years old.

Brooks lives 10 minutes away from where Snoop Augustus was killed — and hurried to join the protests against police. Her live video at the scene helped mobilize still more protesters.

The police would rather pound the heads of residents of working-class South Shore than recognize their humanity, especially when they are uniting in the streets to defend themselves against the racist dehumanization that police and the justice system rely on.

When New York police murdered Sean Bell in a hail of 50 bullets on November 25, 2006, he was on his way home from a bachelor party — his own. He was supposed to get married just hours after he was killed.

The tragedy of his life and his partner’s hopes cut short compelled his community to fight for him for years, and their struggle became a national focal point for opposition to police violence. Three of the officers involved in his shooting were finally brought to trial, only to be found not guilty.

It will take many more thousands of people mobilizing and organizing to win justice for Laquan, Ronnieman, Michael, Snoop and all the other victims of Chicago police. But the courage and anger of family and community members on the front lines is cutting a clear path for a movement to follow.

Sarah Mamo and Corrie Westing contributed to this article.

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