Facing criticism for failing to curb the police culture of “shoot first, ask questions later,” Chicago's mayor ordered changes in how officers are trained to handle individuals who may have mental health problems.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel came under fire this weekend after city police fatally shot a grandmother and an allegedly mentally disturbed teenager while responding to a call of domestic disturbance. The cops killed Bettie Jones, 55, and her neighbor Quintonio LeGrier, 19, on Saturday in the apartment building where they lived.
While officers said Jones was “accidentally struck and tragically killed,” LeGrier was shot because he was apparently holding an aluminum baseball bat. The police claimed in a statement that they were “confronted by a combative subject,” though the family claims the teenager was struggling with some mental problems.
“There are serious questions about yesterday's shootings that must be answered in full by the Independent Police Review Authority's investigation,” Emanuel said. “While their investigation is underway, we must also make real changes within our police department today and it is clear changes are needed to how officers respond to mental health crises.”
As the reports indicate, the incident began when LeGrier got into a fight with his father. Since he was carrying a baseball bat, the father called police and asked his neighbor downstairs, Jones, to open the door when the cops arrived.
The teenager was charging down the stairs when the police opened fire, killing both him and the mother-of-five.
“This needs to stop," said LeGrier's mother Janet Cooksey, adding that police shot her son seven times. “No mother should have to bury her child, especially under these circumstances. The police are supposed to serve and protect us.”
The Chicago police department later issued an apology to Jones’ family, who were all at her apartment celebrating Christmas night when she was killed, and claimed she was mistakenly caught in the line of fire.
“Why you get to shoot first and ask questions later?” said Jones’ childhood friend Jacqueline Walker. “This is ridiculous.”
Needless to say, this measure to re-evaluate how city cops are trained to handle distress calls involving mentally ill individuals comes a little too late. Tensions between minorities and police are already too high — especially in Chicago where just a few weeks ago protesters took to streets to condemn the killing of black teenager Laquan McDonald.
Though neither an apology nor the latest order can bring back Jones and LeGrier, they could ease the pressure from the mayor and police department. Family members and supporters of the victims have been blaming bad leadership for the deaths, asking why police they didn’t use stun guns to tackle the situation.
If Emanuel’s office actually makes some practical reforms, they might be able to prevent another such tragedy from occurring. However keeping the previous track record in mind, it doesn’t seem likely that much would come out of it.