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McCarthy says shooting ‘justified’; Lightfoot focuses on treatment of protesters

Police push back protesters near the scene where an officer fatally shot a man on July 14 in South Shore. | Nader Issa/Sun-Times

Fired Chicago Police Supt. Garry McCarthy and former Police Board President Lori Lightfoot have staked out opposite sides in the conflict over a fatal police shooting that triggered violent protests on the South Side on Saturday.

McCarthy on Monday pronounced the police shooting of 37-year-old Harith Augustus justified after viewing the brief segment of body-camera video that his successor, CPD Supt. Eddie Johnson, had released Sunday in an attempt to stop the violent demonstrations.

“At first blush, this shooting appears to be justified, based on what we see in that video and I’m pleased with its quick release. We are hoping that a thorough investigation gives us the truth as to what happened,” McCarthy was quoted as saying in a statement.

“But let us also be clear that the shooting victim refused to comply with the officers. He appears to reach for a gun. At that point, he leaves the officers with little to no choice but to shoot in defense of their own lives.”

RELATED: Shooting of Harith Augustus causes anger, anguish in community

McCarthy served as superintendent during the police shooting of Laquan McDonald in October 2014.

He was fired on Dec. 1, 2015 — by a mayor who had claimed for weeks that he “had the back” of his police superintendent. That came days after the court-ordered release of a police video that showed now-indicted Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke firing 16 shots at the black teenager.

On Monday, McCarthy made it a point to offer his condolences to the family of Harith Augustus.

McCarthy’s campaign said the former superintendent will be endorsed Tuesday by community activist Andrew Holmes, who has lost two family members to gun violence.

“These kinds of shooting incidents are a tragedy. As a city, we all lose when they occur. … But incidents like this underscore the need for a new mayor who can bring us together, promote understanding and open dialogue,” McCarthy said.

Lightfoot co-chaired the Mayor’s Task Force on Police Accountability. Its blistering critique of the Chicago Police Department set the stage for the U.S. Justice Department to do the same after a year-long investigation triggered by the McDonald shooting.

It’s not surprising, then, that Lightfoot watched the same bodycam video and did not declare the shooting justified, even though she praised Johnson for breaking protocol with its quick release.

Instead, Lightfoot urged the Civilian Office of Police Accountability to “move forward swiftly, independently and thoroughly” with its own investigation.

She also focused on cellphone video posted on social media that showed the tense stand-off and violent clashes between citizens and police after the Saturday afternoon shooting in the 2000 block of East. 71st Street.

“With the caveat that video can only provide a snapshot in time from a particular vantage point, there are several images of police interactions with members of the public that are very troubling. The images I saw from a variety of sources raise serious questions about supervision, use of force and equipment, as well as tactics deployed,” Lightfoot was quoted as saying.

“The public has a right to understand the circumstances that led to injuries of the public and police at the Jeffrey Plaza and adjacent parking lots. It is imperative that both the CPD and COPA address these issues as swiftly as possible in the coming days.”

Emanuel was back at work Monday after returning from a trade mission to China and Japan. The mayor had no public schedule. The mayor’s office a statement on the police shooting late Monday.

“Saturday’s shooting was understandably emotional for everyone involved, as it is any time someone loses their life. Amidst those emotions, I want to commend Superintendent Johnson for his leadership,” Emanuel said in the statement. “This weekend as people searched for facts, Superintendent Johnson made the wise decision to provide needed answers, then he reached out personally to residents in the community and he talked privately to officers across the city.”

“Today, the Civilian Office of Police Accountability is conducting a full and thorough investigation — one that will answer the questions that still remain,” the mayor said. “While their investigation takes place, and long after it is complete, we will continue our ongoing work to strengthen relationships, create common understanding and build trust between police and the people they serve.”

Mayoral challenger Troy LaRaviere, a former CPS principal, said although Augustus did not have a concealed carry permit, the dead man’s “life as a father, his 9-to-5 job as a barber, and decade-long clean police record paint a picture of a man who likely carried a weapon for the reason most Americans carry weapons: to protect himself.”

“Our system of policing has been found to unjustly target African American communities for everything from issuing parking tickets, to setting up DUI checkpoints, to the unconstitutional use of force,” LaRaviere said in a statement.

“It is of great concern to know [whether] this same disparate system is being used to stop African American men who — like many white Chicagoans — arm themselves for protection.”

Noting that police approached Augustus, LaRaviere demanded that police release the audio of the encounter to determine what police said to the barber that triggered his “his ill-advised fight-or-flight reaction to being stopped and surrounded by police officers?”

Former Chicago Public Schools CEO Paul Vallas said Johnson “made the right call in making this video public, which clearly showed that Augustus was armed.”

But, Vallas said it would “not be responsible to draw any conclusions” about whether the shooting was justified or unjustified until a full investigation is completed.

Circuit Court Clerk Dorothy Brown joined in the call for a “thorough” investigation. In the meantime, Brown urged “those who have taken to the streets to remain calm, and refrain from violence.”

Augustus was shot by a probationary police officer near the South Shore barbershop where he worked. In the brief and silent bodycam video released by Johnson, at least four officers approach Augustus question him.

When one officer reaches for Augustus’ right arm, Augustus pulls away. After a struggle, Augustus spins his body toward a police vehicle. That’s when his shirt flies up, revealing a weapon on his right hip. The edited video released by CPD freezes on the gun for about two seconds.

Protests erupted quickly Saturday night, injuring four officers. People taunted officers with chants of “murderers” and “Who do you serve? Who do you protect?” One officer was hit with a bottle of urine, and people also threw rocks. Police eventually tried to push protesters back, hitting at least a dozen people with batons.

It’s not the first time that McCarthy and Lightfoot have clashed.

Two months ago, McCarthy denounced as “revisionist history” Lightfoot’s claim that McCarthy’s “track record” was so “troubling,” he never should have been hired as Chicago police superintendent.