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Fatal police shooting of Harith Augustus leaves community in anger, anguish, searching for answers

Shamare Parker of Chicago chants at the front of the march the day after the shooting of Harith Augustus on July 15, 2018. | Colin Boyle/Sun-Times

Shamare Parker of Chicago chants at the front of the march the day after the shooting of Harith Augustus on July 15, 2018. | Colin Boyle/Sun-Times

The fatal police shooting of Harith Augustus unfolded in less than a minute.

Within 24 hours, the world could watch it on video.

But the ramifications of Chicago’s latest police-involved shooting, this time by a probationary officer, could last for months as trust between police and the communities they serve continues to erode in the lead-up to a heated mayoral election.

The city’s latest powder keg erupted in the South Shore neighborhood Saturday night after a group of officers questioned the 37-year-old barber in the 2000 block of East 71st Street. Moments later, Augustus was dead.

Protesters soon gathered to throw rocks and bottles — and even a bottle of urine — at police. Police responded by pushing their line of officers forward into the group of protesters, leading to bursts of fights that culminated in a violent episode near the end of the night. Officers were seen hitting demonstrators with batons as the crowd scattered through the parking lot of a nearby strip mall.

Chicago police officers stand across 71st Street from Jeffrey Plaza the day after the shooting of Harith Augustus on July 15, 2018. | Colin Boyle/Sun-Times

Chicago police officers stand across 71st Street from Jeffrey Plaza the day after the shooting of Harith Augustus on July 15, 2018. | Colin Boyle/Sun-Times

Supt. Eddie Johnson reacted Sunday by insisting that, “We cannot have another night like last night.” And so, less than 24 hours after the officer pulled the trigger, CPD released body camera footage of the shooting. CPD spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said on Twitter it did so “in the interest of transparency & to dispell [sic] inaccurate information.”

Still, the move was highly unusual.

“If we expect neighborhoods to cooperate with police, we need to do our part to remain transparent,” Johnson said.

The video contains no audio. As it begins, at least four officers approach Augustus. Guglielmi has said they approached because Augustus exhibited “characteristics of an armed person.”

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.

Then, Augustus spins away again, running into the street toward another approaching police vehicle as his right hand reaches toward his right hip. That’s when the officer wearing the body camera raises his weapon. Suddenly, Augustus stops, staggers backward and falls to the street.

The shooting happened around 5:30 p.m. Saturday. Twenty minutes later, Augustus was pronounced dead at Jackson Park Hospital.

The officer who opened fire had completed his field training but was still considered probationary, officials said. He has been on the force fewer than two years and graduated the police academy less than a year ago.

No officer was hurt during the incident, and a weapon was recovered at the scene along with several magazines of ammunition, Guglielmi said. Augustus had a valid Firearm Owners ID card but no concealed carry permit, Johnson said.

Harith Augustus

A photo of Harith Augustus | Facebook

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

Four people were taken into custody, Guglielmi said. Felony charges were pending against one of the protesters, while the others were detained and released without being formally arrested or charged.

A more peaceful protest followed Sunday, after the release of the bodycam video.

About 5 p.m., a group of roughly 80 demonstrators gathered near the scene of the shooting to hold a protest and march onto Lake Shore Drive.

After marching a few blocks, a wall of officers stopped the group near 67th Street and Jeffery Avenue as they made their way toward the expressway. After a roar of anti-police chants and a brief standoff between protesters and officers, the tense situation dissipated and the group instead headed west on 67th Street.

They ultimately circled back to 71st Street and Euclid, where some of the organizers held a moment of silence near the barbershop where Augustus worked.

Though a few small confrontations broke out as the crowd dispersed, Sunday’s protest wasn’t nearly as contentious as the previous day, when police and protesters violently clashed for hours.

A portion of the protesters at Sunday’s march were also caught up in the chaos on Saturday evening.

Malcolm London, a musician and activist associated with Black Youth Project 100, suffered bruises to his body and an injured toe during Saturday’s melee.

“We were brutalized and beat up for simply standing on the street,” said London, who called Augustus’ death “a tragedy.”

On Sunday, he pushed for substantive reforms to the CPD, noting that his group wants “community-controlled policing.”

Police said they’re still reviewing several videos from other officers’ body cameras and surveillance cameras on the block. The decision about when to release the rest will be up to the Civilian Office of Police Accountability. That agency investigates police-action shootings and is required to release such videos after 60 days.

Meanwhile, Johnson has briefed Mayor Rahm Emanuel on the incident, Guglielmi said.

The shooting could have political ramifications. The mayoral election is quickly approaching, and Chicago’s difficult conversation about police reform will likely take center stage. Protesters on Sunday called for Emanuel and Johnson to be ousted in the aftermath of the shooting.

The man at the center of this latest police controversy, Augustus, lived near East 71st and Merrill, a short walk from where he was killed, records show. He worked at a barbershop at East 71st and Euclid, and a longtime customer said he had a 5-year-old daughter.

Augustus had no recent arrest history, according to Guglielmi. He was charged with two misdemeanor counts of battery and a misdemeanor count of marijuana possession in three separate incidents over a decade ago, according to Cook County records. He wasn’t convicted in any of the cases.

An autopsy Sunday found Augustus died of multiple gunshot wounds, and his death was ruled a homicide.

Johnson said police officials showed the video to some of Augustus’ family members, including his mother and stepfather. The superintendent said he offered his “sincerest condolences” to the family.

However, he said the incident has also been tough on police. He noted that the officers who confronted Augustus on Saturday were on foot patrol.

And he said elected officials in the neighborhood had specifically asked for more foot patrols because of recent violence.

“I know the community is also hurting,” Johnson said. “We’ll be as transparent as possible.”

“I have an obligation to keep the city safe.”