Chicago Car Thief Is Latest Martyr for Black Lives Matter

The irony was surely unintentional, but on Saturday the Chicago Tribune provided the perfect illustration of the opposing directions the city of Chicago and its police department are simultaneously being pulled. On the Tribune’s website, the top story concerned the shooting of Paul O’Neal, who on July 28 was killed by police after fleeing from a stolen car. Police videos of the incident were released on Friday and greeted with the sort of outrage we’ve come to expect, though in this instance the outrage is not without some justification. Immediately beneath that story was one recounting the latest mayhem in the city: “4 dead, 17 wounded in Chicago shootings.” The dead included a 16-year-old boy.

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The 16-year-old and the others who died, like most of the 386 people killed in Chicago so far this year, will soon be forgotten by all but their family and friends, but Paul O’Neal’s name will be long remembered as the latest martyr in the Black Lives Matter movement. He was unarmed and reportedly shot in the back while running through the backyard of a South Shore neighborhood home. In the moments prior to being shot, O’Neal led officers on a high-speed chase in a stolen Jaguar, sideswiped one police car and crashed head-on into another before running away.

The videos released by the Chicago Police Department on Friday are troubling on a number of levels, not least for the fact that O’Neal was killed. But even exclusive of the grim outcome, the videos reveal the tactical nightmare that can arise when inexperience, confusion, and poor communication among police officers combine in a rapidly evolving, highly stressful event. They also reveal the pitfalls of recording every utterance a police officer might make in the course of such an event, then having those utterances analyzed, dissected, and misunderstood by people who themselves have never experienced even a remotely similar event.

In the videos, we first see two officers responding to the pursuit, only to find themselves in the disadvantageous position of coming head-on with the car being chased: these officers are headed south on Merrill Avenue near 74th Street when the stolen Jaguar is coming north. The body camera worn by the passenger officer shows him inexplicably with his gun already in hand as he exits the car and the Jaguar comes into view. When O’Neal tries to weave his way between a parked SUV and the police car, he clips them both. The passenger officer opens fire as the Jaguar passes. He fires his first rounds with one hand, putting one through the hood of his own police car and placing his partner, who had exited the driver’s seat and narrowly avoided being hit by the Jaguar, in genuine danger of being shot. The passenger officer appeared to fire about ten rounds in total.