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Multiple views, multiple sides to fatal police shooting of Harith Augustus

Harith Augustus

Harith Augustus | Facebook

As the fallout continues over the fatal police shooting of Harith Augustus in the South Shore neighborhood, residents are likely conflicted.

For instance, my heart goes out to the 37-year-old man’s family. His death left a young girl without a father and neighbors reeling from protests.

But I’m also disappointed that after a tense, but peaceful anti-violence protest on the Dan Ryan a week ago, protesters physically clashed with police officers on 71st Street.

Although Chicago Police Supt. Eddie Johnson took the righteous step of immediately releasing body camera video of the fatal shooting, the tragedy is still sparking anti-police demonstrations.

The Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression and Black Lives Matter announced a joint protest at 71st and Jeffery for Monday evening.


The activists are demanding that the Chicago Police Department release the name of the police officer who shot Augustus and is calling for the officer’s arrest.

They are also asking that all misdemeanor charges be dropped against 33-year-old Melvin Johnson –– a protester involved in Saturday’s melee, and for the names of officers and arrests of those who clashed with protesters. Johnson, charged with battery and resisting arrest, “refused to comply” when officers ordered him “to move back at a crime scene,” police said. He then allegedly pushed an officer.

I don’t agree that people should be walking around with guns in their waistbands like it is the Wild, Wild West.

But I’m concerned that police couldn’t disarm Augustus without killing him.

In 2017, the Chicago Police Department updated its “use of force” policy to stress the “sanctity of human life.”

“In all aspects of their conduct, department members will act with the foremost regard for the preservation of human life and the safety of all persons involved,” according to the policy.

The policy also states “deadly force may not be used on a fleeing person unless the subject poses an imminent threat.”

Obviously, police aren’t going to let a murderer, carjacker or someone who has committed a serious crime run away, nor should they.

And I want to see police get illegal weapons off our streets as much as anyone else.

But fatally shooting someone, surrounded by police officers, on a busy street because that person appears to be reaching for a weapon seems excessive.

Apparently, that’s where I part ways with many of my readers.

“Well if people can run away from police, and the police must just shrug their shoulders and say, ‘oh well,’ then suddenly they have no authority at all. There has to be a consequence for not complying with the police,” the reader said.

I agree.

But should that consequence be death?

Another reader wrote: “What part of ‘just stand there and put your hands behind your back’ don’t people understand. There is a full bodycam of Mr. Augustus defying the police.”

But on the video, Augustus pulls out his wallet in an apparent attempt to show one police officer something. Then, a female officer rushes up and reaches for his right arm — while yet another officer closes in. That’s when Augustus breaks away.

In a screen grab from body camera footage provided by the Chicago Police department, Harith Augstus is seen pulling what appears to be a wallet from his back pocket. | CPD

In a screen grab from body camera footage provided by the Chicago Police Department, Harith Augustus is seen pulling what appears to be a wallet from his back pocket. | Screen shot from Chicago Police Video

As he does so, a firearm owners identification card appears to be visible in a pocket in his wallet. It raises the possibility that he might have been cooperating with police . . . until he felt they might be threatening him.

What appears to be a firearm owners identification card is visible in the moments before police shot Harith Augustus. | screen grab from Chicago Police video

What appears to be a firearm owners identification card is visible in the moments before police shot Harith Augustus. | Screen shot from Chicago Police Video

Late Monday, Chicago Police Department spokesman Tom Ahern told the Associated Press that officers can conduct a “pat down search” of the outside of a person’s clothes if officers see something like a bulge under someone’s shirt or if the person is being evasive or refuses to answer questions.

A man who formerly lived in South Shore, and still visits the neighborhood, pointed to the level of violence in that community to attempt to explain the police mindset that might have led to the deadly encounter.

“I would have to guess there have been 10-plus shootings there in the last 15 years. . . . Don’t you think if this volume of activity occurred on a similar stretch of area in a mostly white North Side area the police would ‘accost’ a white man with a semi-visible gun in the same manner that happened in this case?” he asked.

I can’t answer that definitively, but history shows black suspects have been subjected to more abusive police tactics, including being terrorized by former Cmdr. Jon Burge’s crew.

The hundreds of millions of dollars that the city has paid out to victims of police brutality have not washed away the stench of that era.

I don’t know why Augustus felt he needed to be packing heat.

As a barber working in a neighborhood barbershop, maybe he thought he needed it for protection.

We will never know.

But I can’t chalk up this man’s death to: “He should have complied with police.”

Of course, he should have.

The tragedy is the gulf between police and the black community is still too wide for what should have happened to happen.

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).