On July 14th, 2018, Harith Augustus was shot and killed by a Chicago Police Officer. In an unprecedented move and with lightening quick speed (less than 24 hours after the shooting), the CPD released police body-cam footage of the incident in an attempt to be “as transparent as possible” with the community (If you are interested in the video, click on Mr. Augustus' photo and you will be taken to the Chicago Sun-Times article where it can be viewed).
In the video you see that an officer is conversing with Harith Augustus. While Mr. Augustus is attempting to take his identification out of his wallet to show the officer, who seemingly has the situation under control, three additional officers come up behind Mr. Augustus and grab him, startling him and escalating the situation. Mr. Augustus breaks free and begins to run. One officer grabs his shirt, which raises it, revealing Mr. Augustus’ firearm. An officer’s gun fills the frame of the video and Mr. Augustus is shot several times by the officer.
The police state that Mr. Augustus “exhibited the characteristics of an armed person.” While I believe that simply translates to “Black man standing on sidewalk”, the facts are that Illinois is a conceal/carry state, which means that having a firearm (or “exhibiting the characteristics of an armed person...”) isn’t enough to justify a stop/search if the subject in question is not committing a crime, which Mr. Augustus was not. It is also important to note that Mr. Augustus had a FOID card which gave him the right to possess a firearm. It is not yet clear if he had a conceal/carry permit however, even if he didn't, in Illinois that is a misdemeanor offense - punishable by a fine, not by death.
There is no audio in the 45-second body-cam video. Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson stated that audio doesn’t begin on police body-cams until 30 seconds have elapsed. I find that troubling at best, disingenuous at worst. Audio should begin the moment the body-cam begins to record (and I believe that it does). However, for arguments sake, if audio begins at the 30-second mark, there should be 15 seconds of audio available to be heard. Why was that not shared? It is clear on the video that the three police officers who came on scene were the aggressors - what were they saying? At what point in this video was the first shot fired? That’s important to know and if there were audio, we would know.
One black officer seemed to have the situation well in hand. Three white officers arrive on scene and insert themselves into a situation where Mr. Augustus was already complying. Is race a factor? That is for you to decide. What I know is that having the ability to effectively communicate with all citizens should be an essential part of police training. Knowing and having relationships with the citizens in the community that you are supposed to Serve and Protect is essential. Walking up and grabbing a citizen while he is complying with an officer’s request is an attempt to dominate and control, it is not an attempt to assess an already controlled situation. The actions of these police only exacerbate the ongoing and growing tensions between citizens and the police force and do nothing to grow much needed trust in a community that already mistrusts them (and for very valid reasons).
By releasing this video, I believe the CPD feels that it will justify their actions. However, I believe exactly the opposite. Unfortunately, I also know that there are many who will side with the CPD. We are familiar with all of the worn out and tired tropes that are trotted out every time a black man loses his life to police violence:
- Why was he running?
- He had a gun!
- The cop’s lives were in danger!
- He was a thug!
- Cops only have seconds to make life or death decisions!
- Blue Lives Matter!
Funny thing is, when it’s a white man killing scores of citizens with assault rifles, more often than not, the police seem to be able to make that split second decision to take that criminal into custody alive. Mr. Augustus was not threatening anyone's life. He was not waving his firearm in the air or displaying it in an obvious way. The only thing Mr. Augustus was “guilty” of is running. And the act of running does not justify the loss of life.
On July 14th, 2018, Harith Augustus' life was taken from him. A father was taken from his daughter. A beloved barber that was well known and loved by his community was ripped away from them. As police Superintendent Johnson stated, the loss of life is indeed a tragedy. That’s the only thing he and I can agree on in regards to this assassination of yet another black man by the hands of the CPD. A tragedy yes - an unnecessary and unjustifiable one.
I’m tired of the excuses. I'm tired of the justifications. I'm tired of officers riding roughshod over the citizens in communities they are being paid to serve and protect. I want justice for Harith Augustus and his family. Perhaps one day it will come. However, the actions of the Chicago Police Department do little to leave me with confidence that it will.