Steinberg: Chicago Police are too quick to shoot

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How clumsy of me. Almost spilled my coffee.

Well, accidents happen. We’ve all dropped cups, tripped on rugs. So when the Chicago Police Department says that Bettie Jones was “accidentally” shot by police last Saturday, what else to do but nod our heads in sympathy for the poor officer, who took out his gun and spilled some bullets on a grandmother as she opened the door to let him in. Could have happened to anybody.

Of course, accidents must be put in context. If I drop my coffee cup every other day, something might be wrong with me. Maybe a neurological condition. Maybe I should see somebody.

Something is definitely wrong with the Chicago Police Department, though lest we be accused of picking on long-suffering, abused, misunderstood and bullied CPD, we should leap to point out it seems to be the same thing wrong with lots of city police departments. Being an officer is a dangerous job, one made safer by shooting first and then analyzing the situation later.

Safer for the police officer, that is. For the teenager stumbling down the middle of the street or the woman opening the door, not so safe.


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I actually believe that CPD casting the killing as an accident represents a kind of improvement.

Normally the CPD would blame the victim, claim Jones threatened the cops somehow. Opened the door in a menacing manner. Now she just was in the wrong place when a police officer’s gun jumped out of its holster and fired itself.

Progress, of a sort. Still, there’s a problem here. At the risk of letting the police off the hook, let’s remind ourselves that the United States, despite delusions otherwise, remains a deeply racist country, where the lives of people of color, particularly black people, just don’t carry the cosmic significance that whites slather like frosting over their own precious selves. Black lives still don’t matter.

Because of this, the police in urban areas are accustomed to doing whatever they like, without consequences — again, for them — lying their way out of the rare tight spot. Like all unchecked power, it corrupted them, so that when Mr. iPhone Camera came along, the public didn’t like what it saw, while it is all the police can do not to ruffle indignantly that their terms of employment had changed.

No video of Bettie Jones being shot. Which is a shame because, as awful as Laquan McDonald having 16 bullets pumped into his splayed body, he was still a kid with a knife. Jones, 55, just opening the door and being gunned down, is worse, an atrocity that sent Rahm Emanuel leaping to his feet in Cuba, washing the sand off his toes and hurrying home to . . . do what exactly?

I’d recommend he start by going back in time. To 2011, when he took office in a blaze of glory. The master puppeteer, having spent his career silently treading the halls of power, whispering in presidents’ ears, squeezing CEOs for cash until they squeaked. He’d fix everything.

He did try. Grant him that. Rahm approached the pension time bomb and started snipping wires.

And he did pay attention to the African-American community. Sadly, Rahm thought that meant hanging out in the Wal-Mart on 47th Street, gazing meaningfully at whatever shopper he buttonholed, his face a mask of puzzled attention, like Nipper the RCA dog.

The hard work of reforming the police department, of training them to value those black lives as if they were plain old valuable white lives, somehow never got done. So when the Laquan McDonald killing occurred, the mayor doled out the $5 million in hush money to the family who abused and abandoned McDonald. But they forgot something. I’ve been saying it for years: Rahm Emanuel cares so much about his image it makes him look bad. He had the choice between fixing the problem that led to McDonald’s shooting and trying to bury it. To buff his own image, he chose the latter.

That’s the problem he’s rushing home to fix. He can take his time. It’s going to happen again and again, while the Chicago Police Department has accident after accident, like a 4-year-old with a bladder problem. I’m sure the mayor will give the appearance of action — he’s a genius at that. Maybe form a committee to issue a report.

Here, I’ll save them time: Cops are too quick to shoot black people.

We’ve got the problem down cold. Now where’s the solution that Rahm brought back in his luggage from Cuba?

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