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Misinformation, unanswered questions feed distrust between cops and community

Police and protesters confront one another the day after the shooting of Harith Augustus on July 15, 2018. | Colin Boyle/Sun-Times

Police and protesters confront one another the day after the shooting of Harith Augustus on July 15, 2018. | Colin Boyle/Sun-Times

It is business as usual at 71st and Jeffery, the spot near where Harith “Snoop” Augustus was fatally shot by a Chicago police officer.

On Sunday, there was no police presence, and the tangle of hustlers that routinely sell loose cigarettes had returned to their turf.

The angry shouts that filled the air in the aftermath of Augustus’ tragic death had been replaced with the quiet chant of “loose cigarettes.”

The 37-year-old father was killed on July 14 after foot patrol officers stopped him because “ — and this is the official explanation from the Chicago Police Department — he “exhibited characteristics of an armed person.”

It is not clear exactly what that means in a state where citizens are allowed to carry loaded weapons on their person if the firearm is concealed and the citizen has a Concealed Carry License.

Apparently, one of the officers noticed a bulge on Augustus’ waist, and that led to the deadly encounter.

Harith Augustus

Harith Augustus, a 37-year-old father was killed on July 14 after foot patrol officers stopped him because “ — and this is the official explanation from the Chicago Police Department — he “exhibited characteristics of an armed person.” | Facebook photo

Instead of answering a myriad of questions, Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson took the unprecedented step of immediately releasing a bodycam video of the actual shooting, leaving us to judge for ourselves whether the police shooting was justified.

It seemed like a good call, except the video had no audio and that has led to more questions.

I recently spent time — separately — with community activists and police officers, and the Augustus shooting was on everyone’s mind.

But activists and cops might as well be looking at two different videos.

Police officers point to the frame that shows Augustus breaking away from officers and appearing to be reaching for his firearm.

“We aren’t going to give him a chance to go for his gun,” noted one police officer.

But activists are focused on an entirely different scene.

What jumps out at them is Augustus showing a police officer what looks like a FOID card in his wallet, when another officer rushes up and tries to grab his arm.

Last week, Jedidiah Brown, a grass-roots police reform activist, was among mourners who questioned why police officers used deadly force against Augustus.

“Why did they shoot before Snoop’s hand ever touched his gun? And why did a white female police officer feel the need to come in with such hostility when he was already engaged with the black police officer?” Brown asked.

William Calloway, another police reform activist, has filed a lawsuit seeking all videos, audio and all police reports related to the fatal encounter.

There is a lot of misinformation on both sides.

For instance, some police officers mistakenly believe the initial patrol officers were responding to a report of a “man with a gun,” which would explain why police officers were on high alert.

But there was no such report about Augustus.

The beefed up police presence was actually in response to the community’s request for more foot patrols because of the uptick of violence along 71st Street.

There also seems to be some confusion in the community over the Firearm Owners Identification Card or “FOID.”

A FOID card allows Illinois residents to legally possess or purchase firearms or ammunition. It does not allow a person to carry a concealed weapon.

You do, however, need a FOID card to apply for a Concealed Carry License. Both are issued by the Illinois State Police.

According to that agency, Augustus had a FOID card, but not a Concealed Carry License.

When a law enforcement officer encounters someone whom he suspects has a concealed weapon, the first step is “talking with the individual and making sure the weapon is properly concealed,” an Illinois State Police spokesman said.

“The weapon essentially has to be secured on the person out of a visible line of sight. Then officers have to ensure that the person carrying the weapon has a valid Concealed Carry License,” he said.

Under Illinois law, persons who carry firearms without a Concealed Carry License issued by the Illinois State Police are subject to arrest.

From the snippet of video that was released, it is impossible to tell if all the steps were taken to determine whether or not Augustus was in compliance before the officers tried to detain him.

The Civilian Office of Police Accountability is required to release additional video within 60 days of the fatal police shooting.

Until then, the unanswered questions surrounding this deadly encounter will continue to feed the mistrust between community and cops.

Worse yet, it is business as usual on 71st and Jeffery.

Mary Mitchell and educator Leslie Baldacci are co-hosts of a popular new podcast called “Zebra Sisters” — a refreshing look at race relations from the viewpoints of two women — one black and one white. Mary and Leslie unwind awkward subjects and discuss current events with candor and humor. Subscribe (for free) on iTunes and Google Play Music — or listen to individual episodes on the Sun-Times’ website. Email Mary and Leslie at zebrasisters@suntimes.com or give them a shout-out on the Zebra Hotline (312) 321-3000, ext. ZBRA (9272).

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