Chicago police fatally shoot 25-year-old man

On Saturday, Chicago police fatally shot 25-year-old Joshua Beal in the Mount Greenwood neighborhood on the city’s far southwest side. Beal was visiting Chicago to attend the funeral of his cousin when he was killed by an off-duty police officer. Beal is African-American, while the policemen involved in the incident are white.

The shooting occurred at the intersection of 110th street and South Troy Saturday afternoon. Accounts by witnesses and police differ about the nature of the altercation, which began in the midst of the funeral procession.

Police spokesperson Anthony Guglielmi said that an off-duty firefighter got into an argument with one of the motorists moving along 110th street. The firefighter told the driver to move the car as it was blocking the fire station on 110th; the firefighter himself was not assigned to that station.

The situation escalated into a larger argument involving multiple people. An off-duty police officer who was in a nearby barber shop jumped into the altercation. The off-duty officer drew his weapon at the crowd, inflaming the situation even further. Another off-duty police sergeant in uniform who was driving to work stopped and joined the off-duty cop. According to witness cellphone videos, it appears that Joshua Beal pulled out a gun at this point and within a few seconds multiple shots can be heard and the crowd flees. It’s not clear if Beal was shot by one or both officers.

Beal, who was from Indianapolis, was taken to a nearby hospital and pronounced dead, according to the Chicago Tribune. “Chicago police gunned my baby down like a vicious animal,” Tiffaney Boxley, Beal’s mother told the press. “They shot him twice in the back and three times in his front.”

Chicago Police Department (CPD) Superintendent Eddie Johnson on Monday claimed he did not see any clear violations of department policy after watching cellphone videos of the incident. Police spokesman Guglielmi added that “what was reviewed today was inconclusive to determine whether there were any training violations,” and that the widely discredited Independent Police Review Authority (IPRA) would look into the case further.

Witness accounts differ sharply from the CPD statements. They claim that the altercation began before the fire station on 110th. Courtney Boxley, Beal’s sister, told the Tribune that her 17-year-old sister was cut off by the off-duty police officer’s unmarked vehicle. “He just came out of nowhere cut me off, and was behind my little sister and tried to run her off the road,” Boxley said.

The officer then pulled out the gun and kept pointing at it at Beal’s sister and the crowd while shouting obscenities. Beal’s cousin, Casey Fischer, corroborated with a similar story. “His sister and the police officer was having words but he didn’t say he was a police officer or anything,” Fisher told WGN-TV. “He was plain clothes and called her a bitch and things like that. She got out of the car. They were arguing. He put a gun to her head.” Fischer claimed that the officer also shot at Beal after he was shot initially and continued to shoot.

Cellphone videos from the incident reveal a chaotic situation. The off-duty officer in a red shirt is seen pointing his gun at an angry crowd. Shortly after, Joshua Beal is also seen pulling out what appears to be a gun. Within a few seconds, multiple shots can be heard on the video, but it is not clear what is happening anymore apart from the panicked sounds of a dispersing crowd.

Beal’s family claimed that he was licensed to carry a weapon in Indiana, while CPD has stated that he was not allowed to in Chicago. While it is not clear if Beal discharged his weapon, witnesses suggest he did not. After the shooting, Beal’s 28-year old brother, Michael Beal, tackled the off-duty officer to the ground. He was subsequently arrested for attacking an officer and putting him in a chokehold and for aggravated battery of a police officer.

Whatever the exact nature of the shooting in the mayhem that rapidly ensued, it is quite clear that CPD officers inflamed the incident further without attempting to de-escalate a street argument. An off-duty officer in plain clothes very clearly was pointing his gun at a crowd, which in any situation would be terrifying to ordinary bystanders.

Police officers increasingly resort to deadly force all over the country for minor incidents. This year alone over 970 people have been killed by police, according to the Guardian, and thousands are killed every year. Since the events at Ferguson, and the police murder of Michael Brown, little has changed despite mass opposition to police brutality. Under the Obama administration, the police forces have been armed to the teeth with high-grade military weapons—previously used in Iraq and Afghanistan—to crack down on anti-police protests and working class opposition to attacks on democratic rights.

In late September, the Democratic mayor of Chicago, Rahm Emanuel, announced a dramatic increase of the police force. Emanuel said he plans to hire nearly 1,000 police officers, detectives and supervisors over the next two years as a part of a so-called “crime-fighting” initiative. Supported by all layers of the political establishment, this is part of an aggressive campaign by the Democratic Party to ramp up the powers of the state in response to the broader social crisis.

The plan was announced in a widely touted speech Emanuel delivered at Malcolm X College. In his speech, Emanuel called for more policing, blamed workers for lack of “mentorship” of youth, blamed young people for their poor choices, and blustered about new programs to mentor teenagers and provide further opportunities. It offered no accountability for the repeatedly criminal behavior of the CPD and political establishment, most recently in the cover-up of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald’s murder by the police.

Emanuel’s speech served as damage control, and covered over the diversion of public funds to the police and to corporate interests. Under his tenure, social polarization in Chicago has become more and more acute, as tax incentives and giveaways lure major corporations to downtown real estate, and prompt developers to pour billions into developing luxury housing within a limited downtown radius, while vast expanses of the city, particularly in the South and West side, receive pitifully small amounts of funding.

The rise of violence in Chicago is a product of the overall social crisis in the city—after decades of deindustrialization and the decimation of good-paying jobs for workers and young people. Instead of providing jobs or good education opportunities for young people, the political establishment, including figures such as Emanuel and others, see the need for greater policing to deal with social opposition to come. Indeed, CPD Superintendent Johnson recently made an appeal to activists in Black Lives Matter to join the police force instead of protesting police violence.

Emanuel and the Democratic Party in Chicago and across the United States are ramping up the forces of the state, while promising cosmetic “reform” that does little to stop the ongoing reign of police violence. The police killing of Joshua Beal only further demonstrates the hollow character of such claims.