Let’s say I’m planning to rob a bank — I’m not, so don’t be alarmed.
But hypothetically, imagine I’m going to rob a bank. I don’t want to pull the heist alone, and risk straining my back, lugging all that loot. So I recruit my pals, Bugs and Ox. We case the joint, as we criminals like to call locations we’re intending to rob. We assign roles. Bugs and Ox go into the bank, and since I’m the mastermind, l give myself the task of driving the getaway car. Seems safer.
Inside the bank, things go wrong. Ox trips over a free toaster display, falls on a security guard and crushes him. The poor guard dies. The law says that not only can Ox be found guilty of the guard’s death, but so can Bugs and even me, outside in the idling car, because I’m a participant in the crime that caused the death. We’re all responsible.
That makes sense, when you’re robbing banks. What about lesser crimes? Out on bail, awaiting my trial for the bank heist, I carelessly jaywalk. A police officer hurries in my direction to give me a ticket and is killed by a bus. Is that murder? The basic facts are the same: a lesser crime that results in a death.
You see where I’m going with this.
Edward R. Brown is accused of discharging a gun into the air on Dec. 17. Responding to the gunshot, officers Conrad Gary and Eduardo Marmolejo were struck by a South Shore Line commuter train and killed. Their tragic deaths cast a pall of public grief over Chicago’s holiday season.
Brown, who has no criminal record, was charged with felony aggravated unlawful use of a weapon and reckless discharge of a firearm.
This was not enough, speaking of reckless, for former police superintendent Garry McCarthy. He demanded that Brown be charged with crimes “up to felony murder,” though how doing that either brings back the dead officers or reduces the future occurrence of impulsive and stupid acts by the public that draw attention of the police is a mystery, one perhaps answered by the fact that McCarthy is running for mayor. He personally condemned his mayoral opponent in the scrum of 21 candidates now — and perhaps one-on-one after February — Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle and her protege, Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx.
A case could be made for manslaughter. If Brown, carelessly firing into the air, had sent a bullet crashing into the head of a little girl, nobody would blink at those charges. (Well, a lawyer might, pointing out that in this case, Brown would be the direct cause of the girl’s death, while by making the noise that drew the police, he was the indirect cause, the direct cause being the train. But we head into the legal weeds …)
Given the number of police officers in the city, and given the amount of time they spend responding to calls, to make any Chicagoan who might instigate those calls by an act of minor illegality also responsible for the safety of every officer en route to check out what they’re doing seems to set a bad precedent.
If you tap average Chicagoans on the shoulder and ask them what problems the city has with its police, my guess is the law not bending far enough in their favor would not be high among them — unless they were themselves police officers, their families and the constituency that Garry McCarthy is appealing to: angry whites who feel permanently besieged and aggrieved by every social change after 1954. For those of us outside that segment, we peer into the future and see police responsible for nothing they do, unless its caught on video, and often not even then. Meanwhile, the citizens, who are supposedly being protected, have to worry about their own welfare, plus the safety of the aforementioned police performing their jobs. It hardly seems fair.
In this race, anything is possible, and McCarthy has a good chance of skating into the finals, boosted by the Democrats-for-Trump vote. In this heartbreaking case, he has shown his hand and revealed what kind of mayor he would be: a mayor with his thumb on the scales for the police at all times in all situations. Maybe you want that. Maybe you don’t.