Armed and dangerous

Both men ran. The suspect, a black man in black clothes, took a sharp left, with his left arm pumping and his right buried in his coat. Officer Jake Alderden chased him from 15 feet behind, gun in hand.

It was a scene typical of many encounters between police and black men–by far the group most often arrested and jailed in Chicago. And, like a growing number of these scenarios, someone would die at the end of the chase, leaving questions and tensions in its wake.

In the very early morning of April 23, 2003, few people were out in the Gage Park neighborhood, which had been recently victimized by a rash of burglaries. The suspect was the first person Alderden and his partner had seen after receiving a call about a suspicious man in the area at 3:30 a.m. And, after Alderden’s partner had asked the man to stop, he ran. The man was now classified as an “active resister” by Chicago police standards. Alderden thought the man’s hidden right hand suggested he had a gun, so, in accordance with his training, he said, he had drawn his own gun and given chase.

He followed the suspect into a dark, narrow gangway between homes in the 5300 block of South Mozart Avenue. Near the end of it, the suspect began to turn back, which Alderden feared was a sign the man would shoot him. “I thought, –˜God, I’m stupid. I did something wrong and now I’m going to die,'” Alderden later remembered.

But there was a waist-high fence at the end of the alley. The suspect didn’t see it and tumbled over. Alderden jumped the fence and saw the man sprawled face down on the ground, arms wide and hands formed into fists. He was holding a 6-inch-long gun.

“Drop it!” Alderden screamed as he kicked the man in the butt, attempting to keep him on the ground. It didn’t work. The man was up quickly and running again, gun in hand, through a backyard. There was another fence at the end of it. Again the man fell, and Alderden caught up. From the other side of the fence, the officer clutched the man’s coat with his left hand, holding his own gun in his right.

“I get a good grip on him–and this is all in a split second–but I pull him toward me and the gun comes up,” Alderden continued. “He is bringing the gun up. –¦ I let go of him –¦ and I don’t know if I was running or falling. I fired two rounds,” the officer said.
One bullet went through the man’s arm and grazed his chest. The other entered his head, just above the nose, killing him.

That night, Jeremiah L. Humphrey became the fourth person fatally shot by police in 2003. By mid-December, the count had risen to 17—more than double the number killed by police the year before and more than triple the number in 2001. It was also higher than the 13 killed in New York City during 2002, the most recent year for which figures were available; New York is almost three times as large as Chicago. Of the 17 killed in Chicago, 13 were African Americans.

“You don’t have to be a mathematician to see a war has been declared on the black community,” said Fred Hampton Jr., an ac-tivist who joined neighborhood residents in protests of several police shootings last year.

Police spokesman Pat Camden agreed that one police shooting is too many. But he said the numbers are up because more people are pointing their own weapons at officers—and police are trained to defend themselves. All but three of those killed in 2003 were carrying guns, he said. “The individual turns and points his gun at an officer. Is the officer supposed to wait at that point and let this individual shoot at him, before he takes action? I don’t think so. That would be an unreasonable request,” Camden said. “It’s the offenders who are pulling weapons on them and putting them in these positions.”

The Chicago Police Department would not provide detailed in-formation on police shootings, such as the locations of the shootings or the names of injured civilians. But The Chicago Reporter analyzed nearly 700 stories published in the Chicago Sun-Times and Chicago Tribune from Jan. 1, 2000, through December of this year, culling information about 103 reported police shootings, including 37 fatalities.

The analysis shows that most police shootings have followed patterns: They occured in predominantly black neighborhoods; they happened in clusters; and they happened when officers reported fearing for their lives because civilians allegedly pointed weapons at them or made other threatening moves. News accounts, however, indicate that few of those civilians fired weapons at, or injured, officers. But police say residents are increasingly striking back.

Police data show that 62 percent more civilian attacks against police occurred during the first nine months of 2003 than during the same period of 2002; black neighborhoods were again the scene of most of those crimes. And civilians fired weapons at officers twice as many times from January through September 2003 as they did during all of 2002, according to police data.
The greatest increase of annual attacks against officers has oc-curred in Chicago’s 10 mostly black police districts. Those districts averaged 81 attacks against police during the first nine months of 2003, compared with 64 in Latino districts and 62 in white districts.

“In the end, the result is the officer is put in a situation where they have to use deadly force,” said Camden, who stressed that po-lice shootings make up a small number of the hundreds of thousands of interactions each year between the public and Chicago’s 13,500 sworn officers.

According to state law, an officer can shoot someone–even in the back–if the person endangers an officer or anyone else. Chicago police ruled that each of last year’s shootings fell within those guidelines.

Yet, in several of the shootings, discrepancies were apparent that were too easily brushed aside by police, according to relatives, friends and neighbors of those killed. Many are taking their arguments to the courts, alleging officers used excessive force.

The police shootings “exacerbate a gulf of distrust” that has long existed between Chicago police and minority communities, said Craig Futterman, associate clinical professor of law at the University of Chicago’s Mandel Legal Aid Clinic.

“The repercussions are that [they] are less likely to work together on issues of crime, which means more are likely to be victimized,” said Futterman, who founded the clinic’s Civil Rights Police Accountability Project. “You’re also less likely to respect the system, respect law enforcement, which increases criminality.”

He said the police could improve relations by holding officers accountable when they do wrong. Right now, he said, the community lacks faith that the system will punish bad cops. “There’s an acute need for good policing and an acute need for trust,” he said.

At the direction of the Office of Professional Standards, which investigates police shootings and reviews civilian complaints about officers, the department sometimes disciplines officers involved in citizen fatalities. The agency, known as OPS, is made up of 90 people, including 65 investigators and 13 supervisors, none of whom have ever been Chicago police officers. At least five investigators, including chief administrator Lori E. Lightfoot, go out to the scene of each police shooting.

But neither OPS nor the police department would provide data on those disciplined. In addition, every shooting is referred to the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office. Officials there said they do not track the numbers of officers they prosecute.

“They are all guilty because they continue to cover it up,” said Chelsea Whitlow, whose brother, Kenneth Dukes, was killed by police last summer. Her family has filed a wrongful death suit against the city alleging that Dukes was unarmed and shot without cause. “They know that what they did was totally against the law. They are forces of the law. They feel they are above the law.”

But, for Lightfoot, it’s ridiculous to suggest that police shoot for any reason but to protect themselves and the communities they serve. And citizens who live in fear of crime look to police for protection.

“There are people out there who are dangerous. They are carrying weapons,” said Lightfoot, who has led OPS since Aug. 1, 2002. “So to say that a police shooting happened because there is this culture of acceptance in the department is preposterous.”

* * *

After Alderden fired his weapon, he fell to one side of the fence and Humphrey fell to the other. It was quiet for a few seconds. Then Alderden, still on the ground, saw his partner standing a few feet away, radioing for an ambulance. Alderden stood, walked to the fence and looked over it. He saw the gun lying a few feet from Humphrey’s side.

All of the 30 officers on duty that morning in the Southwest Side’s Deering police district rushed to the scene, along with five detectives, a sergeant and a watch commander. To each of them, Alderden stoically repeated his story—the impact of the event wouldn’t hit him until he got home.

As they questioned him, Alderden asked himself, “Why did he make me do it?”

Following every police shooting, Lightfoot said, she holds a “roundtable” with the officers involved, their immediate supervisors, witnesses and other police officials. Lightfoot and police officials determine if the use of excessive force was necessary, if the officer created the situation and if it could have been avoided.

Alderden is not sure how, that same morning, he got to OPS headquarters at 39th and Wood streets, where he met with Light-foot, several police officials and an assistant from the state’s attorney’s office. Alderden stood, facing rows of about 15 people crammed into a small room. Still in “a haze,” he answered questions for about 15 minutes, pointing out the specifics on a chalk diagram behind him.

Like all officers involved in shootings, he was then required to take three days off. Alderden said he spent most of it at home watching TV, thankful that members of the media weren’t trying to “crucify” him over the airwaves.

In the end, police officials ruled he had acted appropriately. But Lightfoot said the work of OPS continues long after the roundtables. She said a complete investigation often takes several months as the agency waits for test results from the Illinois State Police Crime Lab.

Humphrey was the fifth person shot by police–including three in Alderden’s Deering District–in a span of 12 days. A couple of days later, Alderden learned that Humphrey had served time in prison for several offenses, including attempted murder, possession of a controlled substance, robbery and theft. Humphrey had completed parole two months before the shooting. The Reporter was unable to reach Humphrey’s family.

“He was going to do everything to not go back to jail that night,” said Alderden. “That helped me understand it.”

* * *

In 1998, both Terry G. Hillard and Charles H. Ramsey were can-didates for superintendent of the Chicago Police Department. Hillard got the job; Ramsey left Chicago to become superintendent of police in Washington, D.C. Police shooting numbers were high in both cities at the time, and both new superintendents made changes. Washington saw a significant reduction, and so did Chicago–for a time.

The Washington Post had called D.C. police “the deadliest force in the country.” “That does nothing to enhance your credibility with the public,” Ramsey said recently. So he equipped officers with non-lethal weapons. Eventually, though, he saw that wasn’t enough to change the department’s “systemic” problems. He then asked the U.S. Department of Justice to review his department’s policies and training. As a result, “force investigation teams” were created to investigate all police shootings.

Similar changes were made in Chicago. When Hillard became superintendent, he stepped up training, requiring all officers to submit to a day of working with firearms and simulating life-threatening situations. Periodically, during daily roll calls, officers also reviewed videos on the use of force. Officials say officers must rely on this training during any dangerous situation, and their adherence to it shapes how they will be evaluated.

This summer, about 100 recruits entered the Chicago Police De-partment’s Educational Training Division on the city’s Near West Side. With its shiny tiled floors, low overhead fluorescent lighting and glass cases full of awards, the building resembles a high school–but it’s where officers are trained to ignore race, defuse hostile encounters and act “in accordance with procedures” when defending themselves or others.

In a corner of the basement, targets of human figures twisted and turned as they rushed toward recruits, who bank 90 hours firing a total of about 1,500 rounds in full gear before graduation, said Sgt. Christopher Ferraro, range master of the firearms training unit. “The objective is to neutralize the threat. It’s not necessary to kill,” he said. “But obviously you can’t shoot without great bodily harm.”

In one small room, recruits shout commands at a screen playing a short movie that can change based on their actions. The instructor, Officer Anthony Randall, pushes them to avoid isolated confrontations, to “create witnesses.”

In the event that officers have to shoot, they must do so until the threat is neutralized, said Randall. In some instances, offenders on drugs respond slowly to traumatic injuries—such as gun shot wounds—and can continue to be threats, he said. The simulator helps recruits learn the difference between policing and television, where suspects die after being shot once and every officer’s shot hits its target. “T.V. is not reality,” Randall said.

Lightfoot hopes that when officers are put in danger they rely on the training learned here. Still, “you’re going to shoot where you shoot,” she said. “The notion of –˜Why not the leg?’—in a perfect world, maybe you can do that, but the circumstances that of-ficers find themselves in are not perfect situations, and they have to make snap decisions.”

The number of police shootings in Chicago declined in 1999 and 2000 but have risen sharply since. Last year, in response to drug activity and rising homicide rates, police stepped up drug stings, intensified patrols and installed surveillance cameras in some high-crime neighborhoods. Those areas were the scene of many of last year’s 17 fatal shootings—the most in Chicago since that many were killed in 1998, and reminiscent of 1985 to 1996, when the city averaged 14 fatal shootings a year.

In some of last year’s incidents, officers fired more than once at people who were running away from them. In others, they shot people after mistaking other items for weapons, including a fork and a battery pack. But Camden maintains that officers followed their training in those encounters, and noted that it’s not unreasonable for officers to assume assailants are armed: Two officers were killed in the line of duty in 2001 and another in 2002.

Sgt. Jackie Campbell has trained more than 1,000 officers on the use of deadly force at the Educational Training Division. State law allows officers to wield deadly force only when they believe it’s necessary to prevent death or serious injury to themselves or others. This could include pursuit of a fleeing suspect who has seriously injured someone or possesses a deadly weapon, according to the law. “Say, for example, if the person running away had just shot and killed five people,” said Campbell. “In certain situations, a fatal shot to the back is reasonable.”

Kenneth Dukes, 23, ran from police officers in front of his home on Aug. 2, 2003, a warm, clear Saturday evening. He was stopped by five bullets about 120 feet away in the alley behind the house.

What led up to that is a matter of dispute. According to police, two officers were returning to the Morgan Park district station on the Southwest Side, about two blocks away from Dukes’ house, when they heard shots fired. They turned and saw two cars parked alongside each other on Dukes’ street. Dukes got out of one car with a gun. When the officers ordered him to drop it, he ran, turning twice to point the gun at officers. In response, they fired.

Like many families of people shot by police, Dukes’ family tells a much different story than the police. Such disagreements have cost the city. From 1997 through 2002, the city paid nearly $66 million as a result of lawsuits over police misconduct, with cases ranging from false arrest to wrongful death—including $18 million to the family of LaTanya Haggerty, an unarmed motorist killed in 1999 when an officer mistook her cell phone for a gun. In 2003, the city was ordered to pay more than $9 million to the son of Robert Russ, an unarmed motorist killed hours after Haggerty in a separate incident, and $1.5 million to the family of Michael Russell, an unarmed man killed in a police shooting at the Cab-rini-Green public housing development in 1998.

No one in Dukes’ family witnessed his death, but they emphasize that they knew his character. They were told of the events by an eyewitness, a friend of Kenneth Dukes’ whom they didn’t want to identify.

At about 10:30 that night, they said, Dukes returned from a neighborhood picnic and met a friend just outside his home. The two stood near the curb as a police car approached. It crept forward, headlights off, but Dukes and his friend saw it. When the officers realized they had been seen, they jumped out of the car. It startled Dukes and his friend, who ran. Police began firing at them.

“I still don’t know why he ran. I just don’t know,” said Rose Marie Dukes, Kenneth’s mother. But it made sense to his sister, Chelsea Whitlow. “He started running because they were running at him with their guns,” she said. The officers never said anything during the chase, according to family members. The officers pass-ed Dukes’ friend, pursuing Dukes as he ran toward
the back of his home. Seconds later, they fired.

Three days after the shooting, the family filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the city and, with dozens of other neighborhood residents, marched in protest to the Morgan Park district station.

About eight years before Dukes was born, the family moved to Morgan Park, a middle-class, racially mixed neighborhood. The tan and brick home is still small enough to be cozy, with pictures of family members at different ages and at various proms and church and school events on nearly every wall, shelf and table. None of the family members can remember any crime ever taking place on the tree-lined street, with its green, well-kept lawns.

The family was proud of Dukes, who worked in construction six days a week, 10 hours a day, and saved his money. He was tall and slim, with long eyelashes, big eyes and shiny black hair to his shoulders. Family members said Dukes was “preppy” and careful with his clothes; they consulted him for fashion advice.

His death has shaken the family. Rose Marie has panic attacks. Chelsea often dreams of her little brother and awakes crying and shaking.

“We’re a family of doctors, lawyers, teachers, architects and law-yers,” said Dukes’ brother, Jonathon Whitlow. “Do we look like the kind of people this would happen to?”

* * *

That kind of emotional upheaval has repeatedly rippled across Chicago’s African American communities, where 57 percent of the fatal shootings by police have occurred since 2000. And they occur in clusters: Nearly two-thirds of the 103 reported shootings occurred during months when police shot at least three civilians.

Residents of the South Side’s Englewood police district, which is 98 percent black, reel from violence almost constantly. In 2002, the district suffered about five murders each month, the city’s second-highest homicide rate among its 25 police districts. But when cops have shot residents, they have struck another chord.

Police shot Shurron Grant, 23, in the early morning hours of Sept. 13, 2003, immediately touching off protests in which some residents threw rocks and bottles at officers. Grant was the sixth person shot by police in the Englewood district in 2003.

According to police reports, Grant was firing a semi-automatic assault rifle near the 5900 block of South Peoria Avenue when two officers in a patrol car approached him from behind and twice yelled orders to drop the gun. Grant ignored both requests and instead turned toward the officers, Camden said. One of the officers fired two rounds. Grant fired back. After the other officer fired another round, Grant turned and ran south. But one of the officers’ bullets had hit him. He dropped the weapon as he went over a fence and collapsed in the front lawn of a neighbor’s house, Camden said.

But some eyewitnesses disputed that account, saying Grant nev-er had a gun. And, while police originally told the Reporter that Grant shot into a crowd, they later said they didn’t know who or what his target was.

But everyone agrees that such violence is common in the neighborhood. “When you have a proliferation of weapons, you have a high incidence of people shooting each other,” said Frank Trigg, commander of the Englewood district at the time of the shooting and now the department’s commander of special activities and preventive programs. “It’s bound to happen that the police fall in the middle of something every now and then. It’s just the law of physics.”

Hysterical at the news her son had been shot, a crying, screaming Suharia Grant did not see her son’s body until she identified him at the medical examiner’s office, she said. Later, she returned to the crime scene, touching his blood still pooled on the ground. She pressed her red palms onto a sheet of notebook paper, now among the many scraps about her son’s death that she keeps in one of two bright gift bags.

Shurron Grant was paroled in 2002 after spending a year in pri-son for aggravated battery. His mother knows that her oldest son wasn’t perfect.

“You do what you have to to survive in Englewood,” she said. Still, she said, he did odd jobs to pay her rent, bought his younger sister fancy clothes and provided for his infant son. And, she said, he didn’t deserve to die at the hands of those who are supposed to protect her family.

Such distrust in police, Hampton said, results from a long history of deadly police abuses, including the killing of his father and fellow Black Panther Party leader Mark Clark during a 1969 raid at a West Side apartment and the torture of blacks at the hands of former Cmdr. Jon Burge during the 1980s. When African Americans “see flashing blue lights, they know [the police] aren’t there to get the cat out of the tree,” he said. “They see police and they run.”

And it doesn’t matter if the officers involved are black, as was the case in the Haggerty and Russ shootings, Hampton said. “For them, it’s blue first, black second.”

But there is skepticism on the other side, too.

Police and OPS saturate the scene of police shootings and attempt to find as many witnesses as possible to sign written statements about what happened. Camden, Lightfoot and Trigg said witnesses sometimes change their stories when reporters arrive. “They will sign a statement, and [then] they will go in front of a camera and tell a story that is completely different than what they told us,” Lightfoot said.

While police officials did not deny that the department probably has some racist officers, they said police are trained to ignore race and to treat all civilians as their equals. And recruits, from day one, have to learn to deal with stress, said Lt. Robert Lopez, com-manding officer of the recruit training section. Officers need to control of themselves, especially in public, where people depend on them. Cops will be fired for racist or prejudicial actions—and quickly, because “people out there in the city don’t need that,” Lopez said. “You have to be consistent, fair, whether they are rich, poor, from the North Side or the South Side.”

It is a lesson that Alderden, 28, a slight, tall, brown-haired and green-eyed white man raised in Oak Park, said he learned early on. He said race didn’t factor into his decision to pull the trigger and shoot a black man—it never does in any of his police work. In the past, black and Latino people have accused him of stopping them for traffic violations only because of their race or ethnicity, he said. But Alderden said he can’t tell people’s race when they’re in a car. He’s received so many of the comments that he’s learned to let them roll off his back. “Everyone’s got to say something,” he said.

But Rimmana Givens said she has seen police at their worst. In May 2002, Eodis Gray was shot by police officers down the block from Givens’ Englewood home. Police reported that Gray had pointed a gun at the officers. But what Givens remembers most is seeing the officers kick and spit upon Gray as he lay handcuffed, face down on the ground. It changed the way she looks at police. “I’ll never forget it,” she said.

Then one night last summer, Givens’ son, Schirron Hoskins Jr., was stopped by police in front of their home. “I had my hands in my pocket,” he said. “He pulled out his gun. He started searching me, putting his hands down my pants.” When a cousin protested, officers arrested him for disorderly conduct. Family members said officers punched and kicked him as they pushed him into their squad car. As others, including Hoskins’ 72-year-old great grandmother, rushed outside to investigate, they were pepper-sprayed.

Like all city residents, any of the family members can contact OPS to file a complaint if they feel they were mistreated by police, Camden said.

Hoskins said that, the next time police touch him, he’s going to fight back. “No you’re not,” his mother snapped quickly in res-ponse. “You are going to let them hit you. You’re going to lie down.”

Givens doesn’t want what she saw to happen to her son or herself. “If I swing back, he is going to call for backup. Then they are just going to kill me,” she said. Instead, “I’ll get a lawyer. I’ll handle it the legal way, the right way.”

Hiroko Abe, Erin Meyer and Paula Wills helped research this article.

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