Chicago Cop Guilty of Shooting Two Black Teenagers; Laquan McDonald Trial to Follow

The dashcam video shows a stocky police officer running toward a stolen car on a dark Chicago street. The officer holds his gun sideways like a gangster and points it at the carful of teenagers as he approaches, then flips the gun vertically as the vehicle tears into reverse and backs away from him. He begins to fire and the gun jumps in his hand; puffs of smoke rise above him as he empties his clip and hits two of the teens. The car spins 90 degrees and slowly rolls to a stop against a light pole.

The video of the shooting was the central piece of evidence in the federal trial of police officer Marco Proano, which ended Monday with guilty verdicts on two civil rights charges. The case also illustrates a major obstacle to anti-violence efforts in Chicago, where homicides this year are expected to reach a two-decade high of more than 700, and serves as a preview of an even higher-profile police shooting trial to come.

Maintaining a low crime rate depends on there being a strong and trusting relationship between residents and police, and that relationship depends on the concept of police legitimacy—namely, the public’s belief that police are justified in using their power to maintain safety and solve crimes. “Indeed, the lack of trust and confidence in police among…communities of color has captured public attention given the police shootings of unarmed [black people] that have been captured on video,” states a new report from the Urban Institute.

Surveys conducted by Urban Institute researchers in four Chicago neighborhoods showed that relations between the police and the community are poor. Only a third of the residents surveyed said their community views police favorably, and half said they had been stopped by police for “no good reason.” The figures for black men under 30 were worse, with half saying police were dishonest and less than 10 percent saying they thought police treated people in their neighborhood with respect.

The relationship between Chicago communities and police worsened in 2015, after the release of a video showing an officer fatally shooting teenager Laquan McDonald, which was made public five months after the Proano video. Less than a month after that, the Illinois attorney general wrote a letter to the Department of Justice, asking for a civil rights probe into the Chicago Police Department—and citing both the McDonald and Proano shootings.

“Although Officer Proano said he feared for his life and the lives of the passengers in the vehicle, the dashboard camera video does not show any threats to Officer Proano or the passengers,” Attorney General Lisa Madigan wrote in the December 2015 letter. “The pattern of conduct raises serious questions about practices that are incompatible with lawful and effective policing and have resulted in severe damage to the community’s trust in the CPD.”

The DOJ did investigate, and in January issued a report that blasted police for being poorly trained and quick to use deadly force. “For Chicago to find solutions—short- and long-term—for making those neighborhoods safe, it is imperative that the City rebuild trust between CPD and the people it serves, particularly in these communities,” the DOJ report stated.

Proano could face 20 years in federal prison if sentenced to the maximum 10-year sentence on each charge. 

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