Chicago Sun-Times
Discussions across the racial divide

A Neighborhood Responds to a Cop in Trouble

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I got a call from Bomb and Arson Cmdr. Edward O'Donnell Thursday morning.

Turns out, O'Donnell was one of the police officers involved in a auto collision near 15th & Homan about a week ago. See the full version of my Thursday column for details..

"I'm that guy," O'Donnell told me. "The people in the neighborhood were fantastic. Somebody did take me out of the car. I couldn't find my seatbelt. They put out chairs so that me and the other officer could sit down. They were excellent."

No one tried to exploit the situation, he said.

"Nothing was taken out of my car. Someone did come and take me out of the car. By the time they had walked me 10 or 20 feet, people had brought out chairs," he said.

The accident, which left O'Donnell pretty banged up, involved two squad cars. Although O'Donnell is a high-ranking police official, he's often on the street. He sees a lot of the good as well as the bad.

"Recently there had been a shooting at 15th Christiana, and police called for back up. I saw a single black boy on the corner. He looked at me and nodded his head," O'Donnell said.

Maybe it would help if we talked more about the our positive interactions across racial lines. As O'Donnell points out: It's not all bad out there.

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25 Comments

Yes, there are some positive interactions accross racial lines involving the police. Unfortunately, those are mostly anectodal and not the norm. Let's not allow one positive interaction to fool us into thinking that everything is ok out there. Let's instead hold the Chicago Police Department accountable in a meaningful way every time they cross the line.

I've always believed that people in general, including African-Americans, give police the utmost courtesy and respect. So those citizens who aided the injured police officers on 15th and Homan are typical of the vast majority of residents in the city. That's why it is so outrageous when police officers approach situations with such disdain toward an African-American citizen without even knowing that person or the full circumstance of the occurence. Many of us have been involved with attempting to communicate with a police officer only to be rudely dismissed or ignored. Sometimes an officer won't even take the time to listen long enough to the person that called in the first place. Over time these encounters build resentment and distrust from otherwise decent and law abiding people. They get tired of being treated like the common criminal in a simple traffic violation stop. They get tired of calling on the police for help in a burglary or something and the police refuse to even lift a finger to attempt to investigate. These are people who want the police to be hard on the real troublemakers in the communtiy but too often find themselves to be treated in a disrespectful way whenever for some reason or another they find themselves in the presence of law enforcement officials. They understand that officers come across the very worse individuals in the community. They understand that officers are sometimes assaulted and ridiculed by the very people they're trying to serve. However, African-Americans expect our police officers to be professional at all times and not treat a whole people in a condescending manner just because of prior contacts with horrible individuals of our community. Despite all of the negativity with regard to African-Americans and police officers, 9 out of 10 times courtesy and respect will be extended to a policemen in dire straits.

Time and time again we see the same pattern,abuse of minorities under the hand of racist individuals.Ms.Mitchell the minority community has a long time ago figured out you cant believe anything the police say.I noticed a while back this year that they were shooting citizens with impunity.Of course we need the police(the good ones at least)I know its not a easy job and Im sure they want to come home to their families but so do law abiding citizens.(black and white)The situation concerning the young man with the BB gun sounded fishy from the start,(HE robbed someone , then he attempted to rob someone),next they could not find the victim and eyewitnesses say he was attempting to put the BB gun down when police shot him.(he should have known though taking a BB gun out and pretending it was real was a no-no)Too many citizens nevertheless end up dead ,tortured and in jail from coerced confessions.(mostly minorities)A few years back my brother was tortured by the police after he went in voluntarily to try to help them solve a murder ,he was beaten,starved and was told to admit he had commited a crime against one of his friends that he did not do until we(his family) went to the police station in force and demanded he be released.(he was bruised and very shaken up)he thought he was doing the right thing by helping the cops (they thanked him by beating him and trying to get him to confess to a crime he didnt commit they only released him because he didnt admit even after the beatings which lasted over three days)Trust me there has probably been thousands of cases of coerced confessions,murders and coverups of police misconduct,Ms.Mitchell.Now with this war on terrorism our rights as citizens are being constantly eroded and this gives dishonest police another excuse to harass innocent citizens.Why arent they taking the animosity they have out on terrorists instead of beating ,shooting and killing people who may be a different color then they are?We all know the reason its the easy way out,just like Jon burge would rather torture minorities,coerce bogus confessions (while the real criminals get away to commit crimes against white and blacks)That way he can take credit for "solving" it.He doesnt deserve a pension he deserves along with all those of his kind to be prosecuted.I thought the motto was suspose to be "serve and protect"not to serve and protect only if you are the "right" color.

i'm with truth. you break the law, you get what you deserve. robbery or not he had no business with a gun on him.

MITCHELL COMMENT:

Let's be clear...it was a BB gun.

My Dad was a Chicago Police Officer who died on the day of his retirement from the police force. He served this city for 32 years.

It angers me to no end to see the disrespect and hatred for our police officers. I do not look through the world with rose colored glasses and I know and understand that racism is on the Chicago Police Department. It's everywhere. But what many people don't seem to understand is that these officers GIVE THEIR LIVES to protect us.

They have seen 9 year old gang bangers shoot and kill. They have seen mothers kill their children, fathers kill entire families. They are surrounded on a constant, daily basis with "bad guys." Their lives are consumed with what they see on a daily basis. Officers with only a few years on the force have seen more evil than most of us will see in our entire lives.

The Cabrini Green shooting of this young man is tragic. Any loss of life is tragic. But why are we blaming Chicago Police??? Because the young man was trying to put down his weapon? 99.9% of the time, it doesn't happen like that on the streets.
They've seen it all.

Towards the end of my Dad's life, he waxed nostalgic about his life on the police department. He told me stories that haunt me to this day. Stories of being shot at, stories of watching a few of his partners take their last breath. I was 26 years old when I heard of the 3 lives he'd taken in his career and how he was afraid of how he was going to atone for the lives of these 3 men. How he saw the eyes of their mothers every night when he closed his eyes.

I crime is a crime. Murder is murder. A Chicago Police Officer is not exempt from proper justice. BUT, let's take a moment to think of what these men and women are doing for US before we are so quick to point the racist finger to their faces.

MITCHELL COMMENT:

Thank you for your eloquent response.

In high school a friend of mine made some profane remark to a little kid in a pizza parlor. My friend left, but the mother of the kid called the police and an officer showed up. He grilled me about my friend for about twenty minutes and then locked me up alone in his squad car for over an hour. When he came back he told me he thought I was on speed (I was nervous) and that if he ever saw me again, he'd take me down to the station and make me "pi** in a cup." I went home late and was sobbing when I walked through the front door. My mother called the station and the cop came over to our house and lied to my parents' faces about what had happened.

Three years ago in Chicago, I witnessed the bizarre and random murder of my best friend. At the Area 3 police station I had to wait a half-hour for a homicide detective to arrive. In that time, I was crying, shaking and in shock over what had happened. At the scene I had been unable to reach my sister on the phone and hadn't yet talked to anyone in my family. I asked the cop at the desk if I could make a phone call. "Why?" he said. Because I need to talk to somebody. "Who you gonna call at this hour and wake up that'cha can't call later in the morning?" I persisted and he finally rolled his eyes, sighed, and said, "fine, suit yerself."

I'm white. The police can be very rude and insensitive. And it's not always motivated by race.

It is amazing that you choose only to publish one side of every story...just as you say all A/A citizens are treated with disdain by CPD officers, you paint all CPD officers with the same broad brush. You try to make something out of nothing...if that same kid came through you window or pointed that gun at your head, you would have reacted the same way. No one sees the color of skin when looking down the barrel of the gun. Stop blaming the police for everything and start holding the parents responsible for their kids' behavior. The gang member father and the mother should be keeping a closer eye on her children. Again Mary you use race as a crutch all the time and that is why your community members will never thrive.

By the way, if the police didn't work as hard as they did for ALL of the citizens of Chicago, the whole city would be up for grabs and it wouldn't be the middle class and upper class community we would have to fear.

Commander O'Donnell, if that really was you, maybe you were to dazed from the accident to remember that we had to call for more assist units at the scene of your accident because the "wonderful" people of the community started throwing bottles and rocks while police and fire were trying to help you and the other officer.

"Let's be clear. It was a BB gun."

I'm tired of this misconception that this kid was carrying the eqivalent of our fathers' old Red Ryder one-pump BB gun from the 1950s. This kid had a modern and potentially lethal high-powered pellet gun. Pellet gun manufacturers will tell you that they are designed to look like real guns because they ARE real guns.

Please stop perpetuating this "it was just a BB gun" misconception. If I was robbed by someone with a pellet gun, I'd still be terrified.

"An estimated 3.2 million BB/pellet guns are sold in the US each year. Eighty per cent of these guns have muzzle velocities greater than 350 feet per second (fps) and 50% have velocities between 500 fps and 930 fps.2,5 At close range, BBs and pellets fired from these air powered guns, especially those with velocities >350 fps, can cause tissue damage similar to that inflicted by powder charged bullets fired from small caliber handguns.6 Numerous studies have documented the potentially severe or lethal nature of penetrating injuries from BB/pellet gunshots, especially those to the abdomen, chest, eye, and head of children. These studies indicate that unsupervised access to these guns by children is a major risk factor for injury.5,7–10 To reduce the risk of disability and death of patients inflicted with such wounds, some hospitals and doctors have modified their trauma care protocols to account for potentially severe, penetrating injuries from these compressed air powered guns.10–12"

To joe cop, could it have been after the hurled insults from the cops (who should have been thanking the citizens instead of direspecting them)that the citizens started getting ticked off?Or could it have been they suddenly remembered that Jon Burge tortured and treated them and their kind in the same animalistic way that alot of police do to innocent victims(mostly minorities.)You see how people can spin helping the police into something negative.I bet you really felt bad when the report came out that Burge and his"lets torture"crew were torturing minorities(Which we already knew),if you dont believe the commander who will you believe,I am sure not John Q.Public.

What difference does it make if it was a BB gun? How can you tell a real from a fake in the dusk and the person is 20 feet away, ask the nice person who is holding it "Is that real or a BB gun?". after he shots you full of holes you got your answer.
If anyone white, black, hispanic, whatever pointed a gun at me, you better believe I'm shooting first asking questions later.
And you never rebut when your faced with a logical question for what happened.

MITCHELL COMMENT:

Get a grip. How's that for a rebuttal?

The people realize police want to come back home to their families ,but so do innocent citizens.as far as Ms. mitchell making something out of nothing Iit is something to the people who are being abused and discriminated against ,it is something to people who have had the police make a mockery out of justice.(guilty until proven innocent)I did not state(in a earlier post) the young man got what he deserved ,I stated he was wrong to have the BB gun ,his friends stated he did not rob anyone (which was confirmed by a police spokeswomen)the police seemed to have overeacted.With all the of the hundreds of white serial killers I have yet to see one shot ,in fact John Gacy would have coffee and doughnuts with police after he had killed and buried 33 young men under his house!again police have a tough job but their logic to solve everything in the black community is to shoot and torture innocent citizens?(mostly minorities)then go around pretending the people somehow deserved it because somehow they are "animals"is unacceptable.(isnt that the average white /black gangbangers philosophy?)It may be okay to racist cops and their supporters but not to majority of chicagoans who are basically decent people. maybe if police arrested serial killers and terrorists instead of people like Jon Burge being obsessed with shocking the testicles of innocent black citizens (while the real criminal get away).Ms .mitchell did not make racism a major issue in Chicago the racists did!For her to expose racism as still alive and kicking in Chicago has angered people who oppose affirmative action and other attempts to level the playing field for minorities because phonies want to pretend racism doesnt exist anymore.(used to be more overt ,now most ofthe time covert)Sure we need the police and its a hard job but if you feel you have to kill someone because you dont like the way they look or you dont understand their culture, get some sensitivity training,The people in the urban communities are struggling to survive, tensions are at a all time high(for everyone)even more for people facing poverty and racism on a daily basis!The same people who voted for and for years tolerated Gov.Ryan stealing etc. are the same ones who are now calling for Mayor Daley's head(like he invented chicago corruption and racism)The obvious coverup of the torture scandal with the bogus torture investigation is just another knife in the back of minorities.We hate criminals in our community just as much as anyone,so to say we protect them is ludicrous(we just know their is always two sides to a story)how are blacks playing the race card when we have had it played on us for 400 years?So before those of you who think its a joke everytime you hear a innocent black person being shot or killed by police you must realize that one day it may be "your" friend or relative that may find themselves looking down the barrel of one of chicagos finest.Then I want to see you try to rationalize why they were shot or killed for nothing.We realize most police are decent and work hard fighting crime it just a few bad apples who tarnish the badge they wear! but In our neighborhoods we need the police to do their jobs "protect and serve",not "protect and serve "only if you are the "right" color!Ms.Mitchell I am glad you have given the people the chance to express themselves.thanks

It isn't all bad out there and it is especially not as bad as the blogs would indicate.
I've read posting here from people who think a black man would be arrested for jogging in a white neighborhood? The man I pass jogging on Lake Cook road in Deerfield every weekday morning doesn't look like he is afraid of a SWAT team descending on him. Can you get more lilly white than Deerfield?
Blacks don't care about crime? Have you been to a neighborhood CAPS meeting? You'll find more than a few blacks who care deeply about it and want to walk from the L to their homes safely just like everyone else.
We do tend to focus on the sensational of course. As a white former Detroiter old enough to remember the white flight out of the city, I grew up hearing tales of the last white families in the city and the beat downs their children endured in their schools and the crimes the families endured in their neighborhoods. Yet I also remember the story of an elderly aunt who lived in the inner city in the same home she grew up in. She was the only white woman left. A group of black women, also elderly, looked out for her, watching her home and bringing her an occasional meal. Of course, the latter isn't a story that spreads like wild fire. There really are a whole lot more people out there looking out for each other than you'd know from what you read.

It's a cliche to say that education is the key to ending matters of prejudice and racism. But it is often--not always, maybe not even most of the time--the case that those with more education are better prepared to deal with the complexity of race. Of course, by "education," I do not just mean degrees; I mean interaction with others followed by thoughtful and diverse discussion and honest personal reflection. And it helps if you have a goal in mind, i.e., how can we make our community safer, how can we assure that all students have equal chances in school, etc.

The thing is, it has taken me many, many years to understand the complexity of race, how racism is lots more than simple prejudice, but a built in function of our society. How we are set up to be racist and prejudiced. It's taken me years of study--yeah, I did it in college, as a grad student--to even begin to understand this issue, *and* to have the courage to honestly question myself for racist beliefs. And you know what? Sometimes I fall back on racism. Sometimes I say, Darnit, just move to a white suburb, and ignore it like they do. I struggle with racism. I do not like that part of me. I wish I had been raised in a neighborhood that was not so segregated and racist (I am white, as you might have guessed). It angers me that this hatred and paranoia was instilled in me from an early age.

My point: We need to be understanding of the fact that most police officers have not been prodded to rethink their racial beliefs. I am *not* saying we should let them off the hook. Rather, we should do a better job training them. It's expensive, yeah. But what is the alternative? How long do we play this race game? When does it end?

Joe Cop...

You know, those bricks, bottles and all that other stuff that got hurled at you and your fellow officers might not have happened if some of your counterparts out in the streets were doing right by people in those very same streets. In addition, it takes two to tango, so that community has to take ownership and some stake in what's going on in their neighborhood too. If you're gonna tell it...tell it all. ..and please, don't tell me about the plight of the Chicago Police Department. My mother beat those same streets in CPD blue for 14 years. There are good cops out there and she was one of them and it absolutely makes me sick that a mix of these new jack cops and the oldhead veterans out there give that uniform a bad name. I wear the uniform too - just a different blue, and I'd be pretty torqued if a select few tainted that image. Take ownership in your police force and all of us as a whole should drop off with all the excuses for getting after each other's neck. Let's be real men and real women and hold ourselves accountable for our actions - grown folks don't make excuses. Think about it...

I demand that the police keep us safe. ITs better to be sure, shoot first, and then ask quetions. Sure, it was a BB gun; why cant you respond to the obvious reality that no one knew it was a BB gun until afterward. IT was a replica of a real gun and an OFficer can rely on that, and shoot. IF he waived it around at me or my family, rest assured, if I had the opporunity, it would be him, not me.

Give these Cabrini residents some respect: with rights come responsibilities. He chose a course of action and knew better. Why did he have this replica? Go find the answer, and then you are a journalist.

the cop should be absolved of any wrongdoing. Too bad this kid was carrying this gun around. what is wrong with him? Why doesnt this kid fear his parents' disciplne to an extent that he would not have chose to walk around with a gun on him, allegedly even robbing someone. At least he should have feared the humiliation he would cause his parents in the event he was caught.

Maybe its cultural - I know the fear of my parents, and the desire not to humiliate them- kept me from chosing to do such stupid acts. Yes, it must be cultural.

This is somewhat related to the subject.

On TV Saturday during the Bud Bellikan parade, Jesse Jackson was interviewd and stated that crime is down considerably whenever the parade/festival is in progress.

What does that say about the black community? Can you imagine the outcry from the press/pundits if a white pol like Daley had said the very same thing?

Also, Mary still believes that since it was a BB gun involved (her above response) in the Cabrini Green incident the shooting by police was not justified (even though they had no reason to believe it was not a real gun). I wonder if Mary where ever confronted by someone with a gun she'd just keep walking guessing it wasn't real? Or would she react as if it were real?

MITCHELL COMMENT:

Please stick to sharing your own opinions--not mine, especially when you mischaracterize them.

Speaking of neighborhoods, how many African American police work or are stationed at the precint at 35th and Wallace?

You know, Bridgeport area?

Why is it we never hear of African American police accidently shooting white suspects? For that matter how come we never hear about white police shooting white suspects by accident?

Are we to believe as soon as white suspects see the police they simply dropped the gun(s), and to their knees simutaneously?

White people you have to understand, when it happens too frequently, it is know as a pattern. When this pattern is hounded in the media daily, and about the African-American or Latino communities constantly, these communities become suspect of the police.

I am amaze that white people don't get shot accidently by the police once in a while, but then again, I guess all white people are law-abiding citizens?

Sure, we hear about the occasional rough-up, but then there are lawsuits where restitution is made.

Just recently, a African-American man spent twenty-seven(27) years in jail for a crime he did NOT commit, (DNA proves he is innocent), and the best the jury can do is award him is less than 200K!! This amount don't buy a decent house or condo in Chicago any more!

Don't you think that is a little suspicious? Don't tell me about this is the limited amount awarded for such cases!

Personally, I can't stand to be cooped up for 27 hours, long least 27 years!

Is that fair white America?

I've told my son (now 16) for years about how there are bad cops as well as good. I told him of times I was pulled over and had my car searched or how I was accosted for walking down the street, his hand on his holster or thrown against squads because I just happened to be in the neighborhood or even one time in my 20's when I was the ONLY witness to a one car accident and the cop rudely ignored me as I tried to explain what had happened. I could fill this blog with stories of negative experiences with the police. And I am a white guy.
The difference is I also tell my son of the times there were positive experiences and that he WILL be pulled over for DWT (driving while teenager) and that he will be better off if he is nonconfrontational and offer them respect. Deserved or not.
There are bad cops everywhere, but there are many more bad criminals.

In response to Gerald, no one should be locked up for crimes they did not commit, but just because they didn't find a DNA match, it does not mean that person was not involved with the crime. People normally don't get arrested, charged and convicted of a crime without SOME reason. If that was truly the case the so called 'racist' police force would lock up every minority in the state on false charges. Contrary to media hype, that is NOT happening.
And the media hype is fueling anarchy more than anything these days. When o.j. was acquitted criminals claimed they were being framed. (my favorite was when the 2 black guys that killed a white woman and cut her unborn child out of her womb, and killed her 2 other kids looked straight into the camera, denyied everything and called for johnie cochran. they were lying and guilty)
nowadays almost every criminal is claiming they were beaten by cops. It may happen when resisting arrest, but the Burge days are over.
the more you use the 'beating card' the less sympathy you will get when something does happen.

MITCHELL COMMENT:

So you're saying that a young black male who is wrongfully convicted for a crime must have done something wrong in the first place.

Do you honestly believe that?

Russ:
(I want to help you out on Mary's comment posted on 8/16/06.)


I also explained to my son there were good cops and bad cops. I also discussed displaying respect for authority and whenever dealing with a police officer to always be "nonconfrontational"--but, it didn't help him at all in his situation at the age of 17.

My son is African-American. My son received humiliating and hostile treatment by Chicago's finest when he just wanted to exercise his rights to play in a local park district gym--he was doing nothing wrong. He was just a young, black male and that was just all this police officer needed to know. He didn't care about his family, his background, his standing in the community, and yes---he certainly didn't care about his future.

My son was arrested on the spot, charged with two felonies as well as charged with trespassing. We believed in the Park District's Slogan: "Come Out and Play!" Never in a million years would I have imagined our family would encounter this nightmare in this great city.

It took over four years for the charges to be cleared and we're still waiting on the expungement process to be finalized. In that time, my son has moved on and is in the last year of college. But, you never forget.

I just thank God the experience made him appreciate what's at stake and what's important--freedom and being the best you can possibly be--in spite of what has happened in the past.

I, too am a concerned parent who has been devastated by this act upon my child.

I, too am an American who believes we should treat each other with decency and respect no matter the color, the neighborhood, or one's economical standing.

I, too have a dream that one day my children will be accepted for their character, skills, and abilities and not judged by their color.

But, I know that we all must work towards this ideal world in order to make equality a reality.

I hope to see it in my lifetime.

Thank you for your attention to this posting.

Still same flavor it look like most whites think the about the world in different realities then minorities.When blacks get abused they somehow deserved it,when whites get a splinter in their finger its front page news.People dont seem to realize its the typical divide and conquer move(which us minorities know oh so well)police are needed but not to abuse and shoot/kill innocent citizens ,no matter what the color of hevictim.In the Cabrini incident the neighbors helped the policemen that was invoved in the accident(from witnesses)just to be verbally abused and threatened by police responding to the accident(could that have been why the Cabrini residents reacted the way they did?)
police claim things were threw at them and the crowd was hostile,But yet the COmmander had a different version (he was thankful for the assistance from the cabrini residents.
The police who arrived overeacted as usual and by the way we also cannot blame mayor Daley for every bad thing
Corruption has just not came about under this mayors administration it like racism is systemic and for those who dont know ,it affects everyone black,white or green.We are all connected because we actually "one" race the human race (how quickly they forget)while we all make mistakes to kill or torture someone like jon Burge did is hardly a mistake and to accidently make most of the victims black(give me a break)so it is hard to see why whites "cant understand the black communities reluctance to believe any version of the police.The hostility alot of minorities feel is understandable ,but we should channel it into something positive (education etc,)But until we come together and ackonwledge the inequities in our society and for whites to realize the race card has been played on blacks for 400 years maybe they wont use that term when ever we prove to them that racism still exists,in fact maybe we all can come together at some point(even though we all may have bad memories of the scourge of racism)we may never truly get rid of it but we have to remember ,it is based on fear and try not to stereotype each other so much.(black or white)I Know it is not easy,But who ever said life was easy?thanks for the forum Ms.Mitchell you may have struck a "nerve"to some but to others we live with these "issues" everyday.

The police have a tough job to do and, yes, they do whup on whites too. Just watch the footage from the 68 Democratic Convention for proof of that. The thing is this- why is it so hard to figure out that when a cop orders you to do something, you DO it? You don't bad mouth the cop, resist or try to run from him because you will get a whuppin or taser in your ass if you do. And sometimes even worse. If you want to argue, do it in court. As for black men on street corners, again they have no business there unless they are waiting on a bus. White men don't either.

Most people are not racist and most people don't hate the cops either. Sometimes the cops might seem a bit heavy handed (I have experienced that myself) but most of us don't even want to think about life without the cops.

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This page contains a single entry by Mary Mitchell published on August 10, 2006 1:13 PM.

Mitchell on Cabrini-Green Shooting was the previous entry in this blog.

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