Two Chicago cops have been cleared of wrongdoing in the fatal shooting of an African American man in the Mount Greenwood neighborhood three years ago.
Based on any fair reading of the evidence, in our view, that’s the right call.
The clash that led to the shooting on 111th Street on that fateful day, Nov. 5, 2016, was infused with racial tensions, overt racism and all around bad behavior, as made clear in a 46-page report released Tuesday by the Civilian Office of Police Accountability. But on the central question — was the officers’ use of deadly force defensible — the report concludes that the officers’ actions were “within department policy.”
Any “reasonable officer” in the same position, COPA states, “would have believed the use of deadly force was necessary to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or another.”
We live in tense times with respect to relations between the Chicago police and many city residents, particularly African Americans. This editorial page has consistently deplored police abuses of civil liberties, and we have championed wholesale reform of the practices and culture of the Chicago Police Department.
We understand, that is to say, why protesters took to the streets after the two officers shot and killed 25-year-old Joshua Beal in Mount Greenwood. It came less than a year after City Hall released video of the police shooting of teenager Laquan McDonald — a transparent outrage — and the city also had witnessed other recent abuses of police authority. The shooting on 111th Street felt all too familiar.
But we would ask those same protestors now to read COPA’s full report. Consider the chaos and tumult of that afternoon, as described by 17 civilian witnesses — including five members of Beal’s family — five police officers and four Fire Department employees. Ask yourself what a police officer is supposed to do when an angry young man pulls a gun — and points it — on a busy street on a Saturday afternoon.
Good ol’ Chicago racism triggered the melee. Of this we have little doubt.
Beal and members of his family had just left a funeral at Mount Hope Cemetery and were driving down 111th near Kedzie Avenue. The cars of the mourners, according to witnesses, were weaving in and out of traffic and had stopped in a fire lane. An off-duty Chicago firefighter — in a neighborhood that’s home to many police officers and firefighters — reportedly told the mourners to get moving.
And the fight was on.
Somebody apparently threw out the N-word. A woman who walked out of a hardware store apparently was threatened by a number of the mourners. A Fire Department trainee apparently was stomped on.
An officer pulled his gun. He also showed his badge and identified himself as a cop.
Much of what went down will remain forever in dispute. But there is no doubt that Beal returned to his black Dodge Charger and grabbed a gun. And there is little doubt that he cursed and said something such as, ‘I got a gun, too.” And he more likely than not pointed the gun at the officers or others, aiming over the top of his vehicle.
For a police officer — and for those who would judge the officer’s action — this is the moment of truth. A man has a gun and, by multiple accounts, he has been ordered to drop it but will not.
Officers in this situation are trained to shoot. For their safety, and for the safety of others. All else — the racial taunts, verbal threats and general stupidity — becomes background noise.
There is no doubt, as the COPA report states, “that this incident emanates from a racially tinged confrontation between people who live in the neighborhood where it occurred and people who were merely driving through it.”
But there is also no doubt, as the report states, that the two officers who shot Beal — Joseph Treacy and Thomas Derouin — should be judged only for the “lawfulness” of their own actions.
COPA, as best we can see, called this one right. The agency didn’t have much choice but to clear the two officers of wrongdoing. The preponderance of evidence is that the officers acted within the bounds of their police training and department policy.
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