A Year and No Contact From Police Department About Son Killed by Officer
When you ask Leshelle Young about the investigation into her son's death, she gives a resigned, and exasperated laugh.
LESHELLE YOUNG: Investigation? What investigation? No investigation whatsoever.
Devon was killed in June of 2008, more than a year ago, and Mrs. Young and her husband Robert still haven't heard anything from the police.
ROBERT YOUNG: Haven't got a call. Officer haven't come by. Haven't received a letter, a telegram, anything. It's just that one black kid got killed, and that was it.
But the Youngs haven't made any inquiries either. Their son was killed and they've never made a phone call, or gone to a police station, or headquarters to ask questions. The family's disengagement is rooted in a deep mistrust of police. Robert Young points to well known cases of police misconduct. He mentions the poster children for police misconduct in Chicago, Jon Burge and Anthony Abbate. But he also talks about a more personal experience when police stormed into his house where he was TV with his family.
ROBERT YOUNG: We sitting there watching Mississippi Burning. Here they is coming through our door talking about somebody told them they saw somebody run through our back door. Went over harassed my kid, put his hand all in his chest, see if his heart was beating fast, and I told him I said officer he been here all the time. He been sitting right there. You know, there was so many of them, coming in the back, coming in the front, went through our bedroom, ramshacked it. All these things.
Young says he filed a complaint with the police department about that incident but nothing ever came of it. Now his son's death and the lack of follow-up from police only reinforces what he's believed for many years, that cops can do whatever they want. And the fact that despite his child being killed, he doesn't drive to a police station or even pick up a phone, that's a stark example of just how wide the rift is between many black Chicagoans and the department. It's a rift that was supposed to be bridged by a new agency that investigates police shootings, the same agency that's failed to contact the Youngs. Mayor Richard Daley formed the Independent Police Review Authority two years ago in the face of numerous police scandals.
DALEY: It is an important step forward in our ongoing commitment to ensure that the people of Chicago have confidence in the conduct of police officers and the process of an investigation allegations of misconduct.
ROSENZWEIG: We have a policy with every shooting that involves a police officer to send a letter either to the individual who was shot or if that individual was killed to their family within days of the shooting.
Ilana Rosenzweig heads up the Independent Police Review Authority also known as I-P-R-A, or IPRA.
ROSENZWEIG: But once we've sent out that initial letter, unless there's an investigatory purpose to contact the family, we normally will not. We'll sort of respect the family's wishes and let them contact us if they're interested in further communication.
IPRA says a letter was sent to the Youngs, but a spokesman says it was sent to the wrong address, an address that was on file at the morgue and on police reports. But the address was actually for a neighbor who lived next to where Devon lived with his uncle. Apparently the neighbor never passed the letter on and that's why the Youngs still haven't heard anything. Rosenzweig says despite the Young's experience she believes confidence in her agency, and by extension the police department, is increasing. She bases that on more complaints coming into her office, two hundred and fifty to two hundred and seventy every month.
ROSENZWEIG: There is more trust, or at least a continuing willingness to take a chance with the process and to trust that it will come out with a fair and thorough investigation.
Rosenzweig also says her office is more transparent than ever. Summaries of all complaints that are found to have merit are posted online. The office also posts summaries of all investigations into police shootings on their website. One of the first such summaries to be made public was on the shooting of 18-year-old Aaron Harrison on the west side. Police shot him in the back during a chase in the summer of 2007 and marchers hit the streets.
ambi: No justice, no peace. No racist police.
There was a near riot at a police station and marches continued for several days with protestors demanding the officer be prosecuted. Seventeen months later IPRA posted a 36 page summary of the Harrison investigation on their Website. That kind of transparency fulfilled an important mandate for IPRA but it means little to Harrison's family members who don't have their loved one. Not surprisingly, his mother and aunt pick the report apart.
HARRIS: In the beginning of the report Witness 11 does state what she seen wasn't there...
IPRA found that the shooting of Harrison by police was justified but neither of the women buy that. And the report seems sterile next to the pictures Harrison's mom Annie Johnson shows me. They're pictures of the bright orange clothes Harrison was wearing when he was shot.
JOHNSON: This is absolutely white, both of them. Tank top and a white t-shirt, they was all white.
You have to look closely before you realize the shirt is so soaked in blood it only looks like a solid colored shirt.
HATCH: We didn't call for an Independent Police Review Authority, that was given to us. We called for independent civilian review.
Marshall Hatch is the pastor of the West Side church Aaron Harrison and his mother attended. He marched in the protests a couple summers ago. He's currently running for congress.
HATCH: If you were to give a grade, did this investigation help to rebuild trust in the Lawndale community. The grade is "F."
Hatch says the Harrison family and the larger community are not convinced by the report online that found the shooting justified. He's not either. Yet where the online reports have failed, for Hatch, face to face contact may have made a difference. He went with the Harrison family to meet with Ilana Rosenzweig several times throughout the investigation and that seems to have had an impact on him. During our conversation he repeatedly vouched for her integrity and intentions. Face to face communication also might have an effect on the Youngs who are still waiting to hear something about why their son was killed.