The sultry summer air stood still, suspended in time and purpose, as a vexed and agitated Collier Baggett feverishly sought to make sense of all the madness that now seems her somber reality.
“My grandson was shot by the biggest gang in Chicago, and we’re all targets for them,” she said of the July 25 police shooting that left 13-year-old Jimmell Cannon riddled with six bullet wounds and, at one point, perilously clinging to life.
“He’s tormented by it,” said Baggett. “He keeps saying, ‘Why did they shoot me?’ When the police shoot someone, nothing is done about it. This needs to stop.”
Indeed, the heat is on in the Windy City, where summer temps have already eclipsed triple-digits in record proportions and where the CPD has already accounted for more shooting deaths (18) then the department did all of last year (13). What’s more, statistics show that police-related shootings are on pace to far trump the number totaled in any of the last four years.
Adding insult to injury, as of June 30, 86 percent of all those shot were black, according to the Independent Police Review Authority (IPRA), the independent agency in charge of investigating all police related shootings. Data also shows that black residents constitute the overwhelming majority of all those killed or injured at the hands of police in prior years as well.
“The communities and police officials keep calling for somebody to do something about violence, and we know that the police department isn’t the answer,” said Tracy Siska, executive director of Chicago Justice Project, an organization that specializes in the study of criminal justice-related statistics. “One of the alternatives would be finding ways to fund real livable wage jobs in communities where this type of violence is prevalent.”
Then there is contending with revelations such as those revealed by the likes of recently appointed police Supt. Garry McCarthy just last week. Despite data showing that the number of violent crimes perpetrated across the city are in steep decline, McCarthy admitted police are not trained to shoot anyone in the arm or leg, but are taught to fire at center mass until any and all threat is abated.
“It’s certainly strange that there’s this spur in police shootings, considering the police department’s been so good at advertising how violent crime is going down,” added Siska. “We don’t know what’s causing them. And there’s this rush to blame the community members, and I’m not sure that that’s really where the blame lies.”
Thus, in cases like the Cannon shooting, the burning question becomes when is a perceived threat really a threat or simply a situation giving way to yet another instance of a cop being trigger-happy?
In a press conference the day after the shooting, McCarthy said police attempted to question Jimmell Cannon because he fit the description of a suspect reported to be shooting in the area.
During the brief encounter, cops contend, the boy pointed a gun at officers just a few feet away from the Piccolo Grade School he attends as a B-average student and was shot when he ignored orders to drop a weapon that, according to McCarthy, later said proved to be a BB gun.
“I’m speechless … He was standing with his hands in the air when cops shot him,” Kenyetta Cannon said of her son. “Every time he wakes up, he sees a cop at his bedside, and he is handcuffed to his bed like an animal.”
Jimmell Cannon has since been released from the hospital.
As with all police-related shootings, IPRA is now investigating, but a recent University of Chicago legal team’s special report has already aided many citizens in reaching their own conclusions.
The report found that not only are CPD officers subject to more brutality complaints per officer than the national average of any other department; they apparently bend the rules with little fear of repercussion, also statistically proving to be far less likely to face disciplinary action than any other like officer.
“You have this license-to-kill mindset,” said Tio Hardiman, whose CeaseFire organization works hand in hand with police and community residents in mediating conflicts and disputes. “The mindset is ‘We’re going to get crime down no matter what it takes.’”
Police officials, in turn, point to statistics that show the number of aggravated assaults and batteries on officers have steadily risen from 739 in 2000 to nearly 2,000 just last year as sort of a rhyme-followed-by-reason rationality for all the staggering dynamics.
“It’s pretty hard to explain or put your finger on other than the fact that there’s a total lack of respect and fear by a number of offenders towards the police,” said Fraternal Order of the Police spokesman Pat Camden.
Wiping the tears from her eye, Baggett again tried to make sense of it all.
“I still have respect for police officers,” said Baggett. “You just can’t tell me that some of them don’t prey on young black men and women.”