Chicago Police Can’t Explain Why Their Body Cameras Failed At The Moment Of Unarmed Black Teen’s Death

Chicago officers stand over Paul O’Neal after shooting him in the back. CREDIT: AP Images/ Chicago Police Department/Independent Police Review Authority
Chicago officers stand over Paul O’Neal after shooting him in the back. CREDIT: AP Images/ Chicago Police Department/Independent Police Review Authority

Protesters stormed Chicago’s streets en masse this weekend, demanding to know why Chicago Police Department officers apparently didn’t have their body cameras on when they killed 18-year-old Paul O’Neal in late July.

Renewed outrage about police killings in the city followed the release of body camera videos on Friday, which only showed what happened right before — and after — the unarmed black teenager was fatally shot in the back.

Of nine body and dashboard camera videos released to the public, none of the footage captures the actual shooting take place. What the videos do show are the officers showering bullets on a Jaguar that was allegedly stolen by O’Neal, as well as a foot chase through a residential neighborhood when the teenager tried to flee. Cameras then cut to five officers towering over a body, with one of the officers yelling for O’Neal to put his hands behind his back. Two officers high-five each other.

On Saturday and Sunday, Chicago residents took to the streets in protest — demanding an explanation for why none of the cameras that filmed the incident on July 28 caught the moment O’Neal was shot. Superintendent Eddie Johnson said the officers were still trying to get used to the body cameras, which they were equipped with one week before the shooting occurred.

A department spokesman offered another explanation, that the officer’s camera may have been broken by the cruiser’s air bag during the crash. But residents aren’t buying these excuses.

“Since all the other cameras were working, I’m sure that camera was working and it [the shooting] was edited out or that officer turned it off on purpose,” activist Ja’Mal Green said Saturday. “If this is brand new equipment, how come the other officers knew to turn their cameras on and the officer who shot the fatal shot failed to turn his on or it got mysteriously turned off?”

The community’s suspicions have peaked in recent months, ever since law enforcement begrudgingly released video of Officer Jason Van Dyke shooting teenager Laquan McDonald 16 times. Before the video was released, police claimed the 17-year-old had attacked them.

Even when that footage was released, audio was noticeably absent because Van Dyke intentionally broke his dash cam unit. A DNA Info investigation later discovered that CPD officers regularly destroyed their cameras.

The McDonald footage exposed a culture of secrecy, cover-ups, and flawed investigations in the CPD, which protects officers from being prosecuted or terminated for misconduct.

Public outrage forced Superintendent Garry McCarthy and State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez out of their jobs, and pressured Mayor Rahm Emanuel to release a plan to reform the department. The head of the Independent Police Review Authority (IPRA), a corrupt agency responsible for investigating and disciplining officers, also stepped down.

Until recently, police videos rarely made it to the public spotlight. The city changed its stance on withholding police shooting footage in response to the fallout over the McDonald shooting. Emanuel announced in February that shooting videos would be released to the public within 60 days, to improve police transparency.

But the O’Neal video demonstrates that the CPD still hasn’t fixed its transparency problem.

Alvarez has been relatively silent on the shooting, but IPRA has launched an investigation in conjunction with the police department. So far, the three officers who fired their guns — violating department protocol when they rained bullets down on the Jaguar — have been stripped of their badges.

This weekend, protesters who marched through Chicago’s streets recited the names of other people killed by police in the city, including McDonald, Rekia Boyd, and Cedrick Chatman.

“We are here today fighting for the people, six feet under, whose death ignited a nation,” Ashanti Lumpkin, a local teenager, said during a Sunday protest. “We are here today to fight so the next generation won’t have to. We are here today to let them know that we will not go away. We will not be silenced. And we will keep fighting until justice is won. Enough is enough.”