A vigil for Quintonio Legrier and Bettie Jones in Chicago. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
It takes roughly the same amount of nerve that inspired Donald Trump to repeat the word "pussy" at a campaign rally for a Chicago police officer who shot and killed a college student he was called to save to sue that teenager's estate for $10 million.
But that's what's happening.
"The fact that [Quintonio] LeGrier's actions had forced Officer Rialmo to end LeGrier's life, and to accidentally take the innocent life of [neighbor] Bettie Jones, has caused and will continue to cause Officer Rialmo to suffer extreme emotional trauma," according to the claim, which was filed on Friday in Cook County Circuit Court.
Robert Rialmo's suit counters a wrongful death claim filed by LeGrier's father seeking more than $50,000, saying he was forced to go to a police station, where he was detained, while his son lay dying on the day after Christmas. The elder LeGrier's lawsuit also claims neither the officer nor anyone else was being threatened when Rialmo opened fire without warning.
Citing the danger of facing the 19-year-old African-American engineering student, whom he claims was waving a bat at him, Rialmo, who is white, says he is traumatized, suffering injuries of a "pecuniary nature." Jones, a 55-year-old neighbor, was also killed when the officer opened fire.
This suit comes in the wake of a season marked by weeks of protests that blocked retail traffic in downtown Chicago, a city still reeling from revelations of what was essentially a multi-institutional cover-up around the shooting death of another teen, Laquan McDonald. Chicago has lost a police superintendent and withstood calls for its mayor, Rahm Emanuel, to step down. Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez, facing a March Democratic primary against two opponents, incredulously insists she did nothing wrong in the McDonald case.
This universal exercise in tone deafness to the racial and social differences between the lived experience of African-Americans and other marginalized groups is astonishing given the intense national conversation about these issues the past year and a half. One simple example is that, as of press time, Laquan McDonald's name doesn't show up in a search of the Cook County State's Attorney's website. That search box is as empty as the state's attorney's memory and sense of responsibility for a botched investigation and lack of transparency around that Chicago teen's death.
Lost in debates over whether black lives, in fact, matter, is the work that needs to be done is by those who regard themselves as faultless. A study released this month by the journal Psychological Science suggests as much: Much of society is wired to edit out the humanity of black children—which, make no mistake, LeGrier and McDonald were, even if they approached adulthood.
People are more likely to interpret a toy as a weapon after seeing a black face, according to the study, which showed participants images of both black and white children along with adults holding toys.
"It was the alarming rate at which young African-Americans—particularly young black males—are shot and killed by police in the US," that inspired the study, wrote University of Iowa Professor Andrew Todd, the lead author. "Although such incidents have multiple causes, one potential contributor is that young black males are stereotypically associated with violence and criminality."
Would that LeGrier were regarded as what he was: a troubled young man.
One can't help ask what Rialmo was thinking when he signed up to be a policeman, one of the more potentially injurious occupations out there. Would a log cutter be justified in suing if the sound and feel of a falling tree gave him anxiety? Does it make sense for a pilot afraid of landing a plane in the rain justify a lawsuit after being faced with an unexpected downpour? Rialmo wasn't even hurt! Meanwhile, in 2014, more than 4,000 American workers were killed on the job, including falls, electrocutions, and actually being hit by things. Law enforcement has one of the highest rates of injury, according to 2014 data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Nursing, meat processing, fire protection are some, but not all, jobs where American workers regularly face risks.
Rialmo, who very likely feels badly, apparently senses he is going to need a lot of money to get over the memory of the strong whiff of a swinging baseball bat fly by his head the morning he responded to that domestic disturbance call. (Never mind Rialmo is the only one alleging the teen, who suffered emotional problems, was actually wielding a bat when police arrived at the westside home.)
Meanwhile, in the original December 28 suit filed by LeGrier's father, Antonio, he says his son "never did anything that suggested that he was armed with a weapon immediately before he was shot." In a description reminiscent of the 2014 Cleveland police shooting of 12-year-old Tamir Rice, Antonio Legrier said after Quintonio was shot, "the police officer who shot [him] did not do anything to try to provide" his son medical care."
Presumably Rialmo's lawsuit represents an effort to negate the lawsuit filed by LeGrier's dad, who simply called police early that fateful morning to get his emotionally disturbed son some help. Indeed, Quintonio Legrier, a student at Northern Illinois University, had also called 911—three times—insisting his life had been threatened.
Like his dad, he wanted help.
In the black community, galling behavior that embarrass you, your family, and your community is sometimes described as reflecting a lack of "home training," and Rialmo's suit is a prime example. His nervy claim is the embodiment of an ethos practiced by law enforcement and other public institutions that regard their role in minority communities as being an occupying force rather than a protective one.
LeGrier, McDonald, Ms. Bettie Jones, and the rest are evidence of a long ago social contract written in invisible ink that charges too high a blood price we can no longer afford to pay.
Deborah Douglas is a Chicago-based writer who teaches at Northwestern University. Follow her on Twitter.