Years from now, it might be seen as the moment Chicago might have been saved but wasn’t. “They could have changed things,” people will say. “They could have stood up to the people bringing the city down.” But as it happened, there is little to do but wait to see how far into the deeper and darker abysses of Hell Chicago will descend.
The Chicago Tribune reports that 304 people have been murdered in the city so far this year, most of them by gunfire. It also tells us that 1,784 people have been shot, revealing a deaths-per-shooting ratio that speaks well of the state of Chicago’s emergency medical care. (The figures are current as of Monday evening; both will surely be higher by the time you read this.) Large swaths of the city, mostly on the south and west sides, are dominated by street gangs that make the neighborhoods all but unlivable. The Tribune’s crime map of the Austin neighborhood, for example, has so many dots it resembles nothing so much as a petri dish blooming with poisonous spores. From April 30 to May 30 this year, Austin saw 193 violent crimes, including eight homicides and 78 robberies. A total of 35 people have been killed in Austin this year, more than one per week, putting it on track to surpass 2015’s already grim figure of 48.
Not far away is North Lawndale, where 12 people have been murdered so far this year, making it a nightmare when compared to most places but positively Edenic when compared to Austin. It was in North Lawndale last week that Chicago’s critical opportunity came, only to be squandered by the ignoramuses that run the city and its police department.
Playing the pivotal role in our sad tale is one Shaquille O’Neal. No, not the former NBA star; the Shaquille O’Neal of our story is 23 years old and a recent parolee from prison. On June 13, plainclothes police officers saw O’Neal engaged in what they took to be a drug transaction. When they tried to stop him, he ran, only to be caught in the 3900 block of West Grenshaw Street. Several people sympathetic to O’Neal were there, some of whom filmed the altercation on their cell phones. One of those videos was soon posted to Facebook. (Warning: coarse language.) What happened next followed the same tiresome script we have come to expect: Neighborhood thug gets caught breaking the law, resists arrest, gets roughed up on video, then is hoisted onto the martyr’s pedestal to be hailed as a hero and a symbol of the continuing black struggle against institutional racism and on and on and on.
Do not be fooled. There was nothing illegal or even remotely improper in the way O’Neal was subdued at the end of the foot pursuit. Let’s examine the video. As it begins, a lone officer is atop O’Neal in the middle of the street. As the two struggle, several people can be heard shouting their encouragement to O’Neal and their condemnation of the officer. (And it’s interesting to note that the video, like so many others like it, shows only the most inflammatory portion of the incident.) A second officer then arrives in an unmarked SUV. As he exits the car he can see that the fight is at an apparent stalemate and that the greater threat is posed by the approaching crowd. He orders the crowd to get back and calls for backup, but when he turns around he can now see that the fight has suddenly shifted in O’Neal’s favor. O’Neal, who seconds earlier appeared to be under control or nearly so, now has his arm locked out with a firm grip on the officer’s neck. The second officer then delivers a single kick to O’Neal’s head, essentially ending the fight – and beginning the circus we’ve come to expect.
What follows is a great deal of cursing and death threats directed at the police, and the video ends with the arrival of additional officers who wade into the hostile crowd. We are left to imagine the scene as O’Neal is hauled off to jail while his friends challenge and taunt the officers who are trying to restore order. Police say they found three bags of heroin on O’Neal.
In short, a good arrest and a reasonable use of force – nothing that the brass of the Chicago Police Department couldn’t have justified to the media if they but had the courage to do so. What happened next provided a vivid example of the moral inversion that grips America, nowhere more egregiously than it does in Chicago. O’Neal was released from jail without charges, and the officer who kicked him was stripped of his police powers and placed on desk duty. A local rabble rouser known as Ja’Mal D. Green boasted on Facebook that he had called Chicago P.D. Superintendent Eddie Johnson, who informed him of the pending action against the officer.
Reaction among Chicago’s cops was swift and blistering. A post on the matter at the Second City Cop blog garnered nearly 300 comments, most from cops expressing their disgust and their diminishing desire to do the kind of police work required to lower Chicago’s appalling level of crime. Upon his release, O’Neal celebrated with his family and other supporters, all of whom must have had visions of the riches soon to be lavished upon O’Neal as compensation for his suffering. He has hired an attorney, of course, who surely must be dreaming of his own substantial payday.
But alas for O’Neal, et al, the celebration was short-lived. On June 16 he was arrested at home on a warrant based on the earlier charges, and once again he resisted arrest and ended up in a hospital. Outrage of course followed. O’Neal is a “political prisoner,” said Ja’Mal D. Green.
Not buying it was Cook County Judge Peggy Chiampas, who set O’Neal’s bail at $1 million for the original charges, plus another $150,000 for additional charges stemming from the second arrest. And kudos to her for being deaf to the hyperbole surrounding O’Neal’s case.
If only Eddie Johnson could stand as tall as Judge Chiampas. The officer who kicked O’Neal was a member of a vanishing cohort in the Chicago P.D.: those who despite everything are still willing to get out of their cars and chase down the hoodlums who are destroying the city. He deserved a commendation; instead he was relieved of duty. Why anyone is still doing police work in that town is beyond me.
When Chicago sees 500 murders this year and 600 the next and heaven knows how many after that, recall this incident and understand why.