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Fatal shooting of black teen shows policing culture still a problem in Chicago

Police shot 15 times at a stolen Jaguar driven by Paul O'Neal, a black unarmed teenager. They then shot him as he fled on foot.
Screenshot from Chicago Police Department footage

Black Lives Matter activists took to the streets of Chicago on Friday night and shut down the intersection near where Paul O'Neal, a black teenager, was shot dead by officers after he collided with police vehicles in a stolen Jaguar on July 28.

Lamon Reccord leads a chant in protest of Chicago PD:
— Ed Komenda (@ejkomenda) August 6, 2016

Earlier on Friday the Chicago Police Department had released police body-camera footage showing the moments leading up to, and the aftermath, of O'Neal's death.


Before O'Neal crashed into police, there had been a car chase. Footage shows police firing around 15 shots at O'Neal as he forces past their cars in the stolen Jaguar. This violated departmental policy that bans officers from shooting at cars when the driver does not appear to be armed nor dangerous. O'Neal then rams into a police van, and flees the Jaguar on foot.

Related: It's official: the Chicago Police Department has a serious racism problem

Police chased him into someone's backyard, fired about five more shots and then slapped cuffs on him while he lay dying, The Chicago Tribune reported. O'Neal, who was unarmed, was determined to have died from a gunshot wound in the back.

"These police officers decided to play judge, jury and executioner," Michael Oppenheimer, the attorney representing O'Neal's family, said at a news conference. "It is horrific… that these officers did what they did… took street justice in their own hands."

About 1 minute and 10 seconds into the first video, the shooting begins.

"He shot at us too, right?" one officer asks standing over O'Neal's body.

At about 2.30 minutes into another video, O'Neal appears handcuffed, his white t-shirt stained with blood.

In another body camera video, an officer is breathing heavily. "I think I shot that motherfucker, man," he tells his colleague. "Shit." One officer puts her arm on him, apparently steadying him, while he's muttering. She points at her body camera, as if to remind him he's wearing one (at 2:14).


The moment where O'Neal was actually shot was not recorded, raising questions about whether police body cameras are reliable and to what extent they are tamper-proof.

While the incident shows how a trigger-happy culture of policing continues to pervade the Chicago Police department, the way city officials handled the aftermath of O'Neal's death reflect their efforts to shake off the deep distrust caused by a long history and deep-rooted culture of police cover-ups and abuses of power. This time, the city moved swiftly to release the video; it took just one week.

That's compared to the year it took the department to release the disturbing video showing a white officer shooting Laquan McDonald, a black teenager who was holding a knife, 16 times. The city fought to conceal the video from the public, despite repeated requests from independent investigators and FOIA requests filed by the Chicago Tribune, Wall Street Journal, and a freelance reporter.

The release of that video sparked months of protests and became a catalyst for reform. Mayor Rahm Emanuel created the Chicago Police Accountability Task Force, which in April this year came to damning conclusions about the "racism and systemic failures in the city's police force, validating complaints made for years by African-American residents."

Related: Chicago police chief Garry McCarthy fired in wake of Laquan McDonald video

Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson moved immediately to suspend the policing powers of the three officers involved in O'Neal's death, pending investigation and saying they had clearly violated department policy, a shift from past department practices of sweeping such allegations under the rug.

Black Lives Matters' Chicago chapter has planned a protest for Sunday.