It was only a couple days before that the Chicago Police Department was held up as a model of police progressiveness for having adopted the “procedural justice” approach to policing. Shooting Laquan McDonald in the street like a dog was old news. Concealing video of cops committing murder was the old way. There’s a cute new phrase in town, procedural justice,* and that changes everything!
Then it all fell to shit, because a few, maybe a couple, Chi town cops went and killed another unarmed black kid. Oh why, oh why, must you go and ruin a good theory? Why must you bring reality crashing down around the voices of reform who are trying desperately to talk up good policing? Why did you have to go and kill another unarmed black kid?
At least this time, the phonies caught a break.
The shooting happened after officers chased a stolen Jaguar convertible through the South Side before it collided with a police cruiser on a residential street. Two officers opened fire. Cameras captured some early stages of the encounter, but not the fatal gunshot, apparently fired by another officer after Mr. O’Neal fled the crash scene on foot.
They had body cams, but darnit, the actual killing wasn’t recorded. How could that be?
Anthony Guglielmi, a Chicago police spokesman, noted that police officers in that part of the city had been using body cameras only for a few days, and said the authorities were investigating why there was no footage of the fatal gunshot.
Oh cool. They’re “investigating.” That always turns out well. Was it a malfunction? Was the body cam not turned on. Was the body cam turned off? Well, we can certainly trust the Chicago PD to get to the bottom of this and report back promptly and accurately, because they would never obfuscate to cover their cops’ butts. That wouldn’t be procedural justice-y.
Did I mention that Paul O’Neal, besides being unarmed, was shot in the back?
What the videos do not show is the fatal shooting itself. The officer who shot Mr. O’Neal was wearing a body camera, but officials have said it was not recording; the Police Department said it was investigating whether the device was not turned on or if it had malfunctioned, and why. The medical examiner’s office reported that he was shot in the back.
Of course, in the absence of video, the only story that will be available as to why the unnamed cops killed O’Neal will come from the unnamed cops. O’Neal isn’t talking, because he’s dead. Whether the cops were polite and professional while shooting him to death is also unknown, but we should certainly assume that to be the case because procedural justice requires they engage with the public in a respectful manner. You know, shoot respectful bullets respectfully into the respective body of an unarmed black kid.
And ironically, the Independent Police Review Authority is being applauded for releasing the video that does exist early, as opposed to years later, after court battles for disclosure.
What the videos show is “shocking and disturbing,” said Sharon Fairley, the chief administrator of the Independent Police Review Authority, the city agency that investigates reports of misconduct, and that released the videos.
This is the same IPRA that just can’t seem to find cops doing wrong.
Mr. O’Neal’s death is being investigated by Chicago’s Independent Police Review Authority, an agency that until recently almost never faulted officers in shootings. Officials at the county and federal prosecutors’ offices in Chicago declined to comment on Monday on whether they were involved in the case.
But since they released the video this time, all is forgotten and forgiven, even though this time there was no video of the actual killing. Hey, it’s not the IPRA’s fault that the video they released doesn’t show the one thing that is critical to the question of why the cops killed Paul O’Neal.
After all, they can only release what exists, and there was no video of the actual killing. If there had been, they would definitely have released it, just like they did with Laquan McDonald. Oh wait. But things have changed since then, and now that it’s all about procedural justice, they would certainly have been totally transparent.
But before you cynics reject the good will and intentions of the police to be respectful of the people of color in Chicago, consider that the Superintendent of Police, Eddie Johnson, a black man himself, has made a promise:
The city’s police superintendent, Eddie Johnson, praised the agency for releasing the video and pledged the department’s cooperation in the investigation. “My promise to the people of Chicago is that we will be guided by the facts and, should wrongdoing be discovered, individuals will be held accountable for their actions,” he said in a statement.
Should wrongdoing be discovered? A dead unarmed black kid, shot in the back, where the body cam suddenly failed to capture the video, and the working assumption is that nothing went wrong until proven otherwise?
But Johnson made a promise, and given all the stories of how they’re fixing policing by very sincere scholars who are working closely with police to stop murdering unarmed black kids, doesn’t he deserve your support?
“Policing isn’t easy,” Mr. Johnson said in an interview on Monday. “We’re asking these cops to make split-second decisions, and sometimes they’re life-or-death decisions.”
The more things change, the more they stay the same. Suspend your hateful judgment against the cops. So what if Paul O’Neal was unarmed. So what if he was shot in the back. So what it the video mysteriously cut out at the critical moment. Everything is being reformed, and still, “policing isn’t easy.” Can’t we now just trust them?
In the absence of evidence of what happened, and there will never be evidence except from the mouths of the officers involved, we are left with our own biases. Some will invent magical stories of what Paul O’Neal did to deserve killing, while others will apply Occam’s Razor. What will never be known is what actually happened, so all the theorists will go bonkers rationalizing away another killing of an unarmed black kid shot in the back, the only indisputable fact.
*In fairness, story after story, op-ed after op-ed, by very serious academics suggest that their studies and fuzzy rhetoric offer a magical way to change cop culture. “Procedural justice” is the golden rule version, everybody be nice and respectful to one another and we can all ride unicorns on rainbows and be happy. It’s no different than Malcolm Sparrow’s entry into the fantasy game.
First and foremost, New York’s police must make a renewed commitment to the ideals of community policing. That requires collaborating closely with residents to identify public safety priorities and then working with them to achieve the relevant results.
That such vapid aspirational notions remain beloved by academics isn’t a surprise. They just don’t mean anything, no matter how nicely they’re wrapped up in pretty word ribbons.