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Mitchell: Body-cam video spotlights Chicago’s policing problem

In this frame grab from a body-camera video provided by the Independent Police Review Authority, Chicago police officers fire into a stolen car driven by Paul O'Neal on July 28. O'Neal's autopsy showed he died of a gunshot wound to the back.

Video footage from body cameras worn by police officers involved in the shooting of 18-year-old Paul O’Neal underscores the challenge Chicago faces in building trust between the police and African-American communities — a process that so far has been one step forward and two steps back.

The city’s Independent Police Review Authority released body-camera video Friday from two officers involved in the incident that left the unarmed teenager dead. But the body camera for the officer who fired the fatal shot wasn’t even turned on.

The footage that was made public captured disturbing images of callous police behavior. After their police squad was slammed by the fleeing Jaguar that O’Neal was driving, two police officers jumped out in the 7300 block of South Merrill Avenue and unleashed a volley of shots on the tree-lined street of single-family homes — like a scene out of an action movie.

“It cannot be police policy to shoot with guns blazing in a residential neighborhood over a stolen car,” says Kim Nevels, who  lives in the 7400 block of South Merrill. “I highly doubt that a North Side neighborhood, like Lincoln Park, filled with single-family homes occupied by predominantly white people, would have experienced what we did.”

OPINION

An autopsy revealed O’Neal was shot in the back.

Besides the foul language some officers used, one officer can be heard on the video voicing concern that the shooting would be a major inconvenience.

“F***, man, I’m going to be on the desk for 30 days,” the officer complained.

“I think I shot that m******f***** man. He is in the back yard over here,” said another.

“F*****ing crucified, bro. Man, I hope nothing happens to that boy. F***, I pray nothing happens,” one officer could be heard saying after the shooting.

RELATED STORY: People have ‘right to be upset’ by police shooting, Supt. Eddie Johnson says

Either these officers forgot they were being recorded, or they don’t even know how insulting such behavior is. If the latter’s the case, it will take a lot more than new rules and policies to fix the problem.

There was also a lot of confusion about where gun shots were coming from.

“They were shooting at us, right?” one officer said more than once.

In this frame grab from a body-camera video provided by the Independent Police Review Authority, Chicago police officers handcuff Paul O'Neal, suspected of stealing a car, after they fired into the vehicle he was driving and then pursued him through a yard on July 28.

In this frame grab from a body-camera video provided by the Independent Police Review Authority, Chicago police officers handcuff Paul O’Neal, suspected of stealing a car, after they fired into the vehicle he was driving and then pursued him through a yard on July 28.

Police Supt. Eddie Johnson has expressed concern about what he saw on the video and has reassigned two officers who fired at O’Neal. A third officer was also relieved of his police powers.

Johnson and Sharon Fairley, the head of the revamped IPRA, briefed community activists and protesters before the video was released online.

The top cop openly solicited help in keeping a lid on any violence that might erupt because the video shows police in such a poor light.

“When I became superintendent, I pledged to all of you that CPD would be different,” Johnson said. “Transparency and trust in the community are key pieces of that component. We won’t be able to fix it overnight, and you have to start somewhere. We are starting here.”

New guidelines established in the wake of the Laquan McDonald police-shooting scandal mandate that video of police-involved shootings be released to the public within 60 days. By releasing the video almost immediately, Fairley made the point that it’s a new day.

“I’d like to express my personal commitment to pursue justice in this incident,” she said.

What happened on Merrill Avenue is a tragedy that shows how far we have to go before we might reach common ground on policing issues.

“We can repair our property,” says Nevels, the woman who lives down the block from the shooting. “But we cannot bring back the lost innocence of our children who witnessed a frightening display of police power.”