The Civilian Office of Police Accountability has a tough and crucial job ahead as it investigates the fatal shooting of Harith Augustus.

The Augustus family, more than anyone, deserves a full accounting of how the 37-year-old barber from South Shore ended up dead in the middle of 71st Street over the weekend. If Augustus was selling loose cigarettes, as a witness told the Sun-Times he was, how did a confrontation with officers about that go horribly wrong so quickly?

“Loosies,” as they’re called, are sold every day, on dozens of blocks everywhere on the South Side, and cops manage to stop those transactions without the seller ending up dead. 

EDITORIAL

No one should rush to call this shooting justified yet, with the picture incomplete. Not only the family, but the South Shore community and everyone in Chicago who cares about safe and effective policing, should suspend judgment until a thorough investigation of this shooting is wrapped up. 

A fair and complete investigation is essential if Chicago is ever going to make headway on police reform and somehow begin to repair the huge, gaping breach between the African-American community and the police sworn to protect them. It’s a sad irony that the officers at the scene of the Augustus shooting were in South Shore because the neighborhood reportedly wanted more foot patrols to curb crime. 

COPA has a chance to make headway on reform at a time when Chicago desperately needs to show credibility in how it handles police shootings. It’s a critical time for our city on that front. No one wants to see a repeat of the violent protests that erupted after Augustus was shot, when demonstrators threw rocks and bottles and taunted police as “murderers,” and cops responded by beating them with batons.

Beyond that, Chicago will soon witness the trial of Jason Van Dyke, the police officer charged in the fatal shooting of Laquan McDonald. Meanwhile, activists are ramping up their call for civilian oversight of Chicago police, setting the stage for more confrontation with police, who strongly oppose the idea. 

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COPA has plenty of missing pieces to pull together here. Edited footage from the body camera of the officer who shot him was released within 24 hours of the shooting. It shows that Augustus indeed had a gun in a waist holster. But it also shows that shortly before he was shot, he appears to be pulling out his wallet to show an officer something inside of it. As other officers approach him from behind, he swerves and what appears to be his firearm owner’s ID card becomes visible inside his wallet.

There’s still a lot we don’t know. We don’t know what the unedited footage would show about the confrontation. We haven’t seen any video from the body cameras of other officers at the scene, or from any surveillance cameras in the area. We haven’t heard any audio at all, and that’s essential for us to know how the officers engaged with Augustus and what they said to him before he fled.  

COPA has to find the full story, quickly, for the sake of everyone involved.

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