Marco Proano, the Chicago Police officer who fired 16 shots into a car full of unarmed teens, was found guilty of two federal civil rights violations -using unreasonable force and causing bodily injury. Though it is a small step of victory for supporters of criminal justice reform, it was not a clean victory nor was it without it’s shadows of impropriety.
A vehicle carrying 6 teens was pulled over at 95th and LaSalle by 2 other officers. Dash cam footage shows Proano arriving minutes later to the scene. Proano, upon exiting his vehicle, quickly withdrew his weapon (pointing it sideways into the teen’s stolen vehicle) and firing as the driver reverses away from him. The December 2013 shooting left two teens shot and another otherwise injured but no one was killed.
In the aftermath of the shooting, supporters of Proano claimed that it was a ‘split-second’ decision and that his actions were justified although I can’t imagine anyone watching the video believing that he felt there was an immediate danger. This incident didn’t fall through the cracks because the Independent Police Review Authority (IPRA) launched an investigation into the shooting. Initially, they barely investigated because, ironically, IPRA is just another cog in the rusty wheel of the criminal justice system.
IPRA was created in 2007 when complaints about how investigations against police officers were being conducted became unavoidable. Comprised of independent investigators, it replaced the Office of Professional Standards (OPS) which, was basically a group of police “investigating” police. IPRA was tasked to deliver unbiased and unfiltered investigations of complaints lodged against officers. It was not a secret, however, that OPS investigators simply moved over to IPRA. So much for transparency and accountability.
Ex-FBI Special Agent Larissa Camancho testified in court that in 2015 IPRA was contemplating clearing Proano in the shooting. After speaking with the investigator on the case, she went to the head of IPRA and told him she believed that the officer should be investigated. Not surprising because it’s been found that because IPRA has a less than 2% sustainability of complaints against officers, it was not as independent as the public was led to believe and moving forward, in September 2017, they will be replaced by a more rigorously independent agency, the Civilian Office of Police Accountability (COPA).
When black people say the criminal justice system is broken and skewed heavily away from the rights of blacks, it is not an understatement. We’ve seen proof of this when IPRA tried to clear officer Jason Van Dyke who, about a year after Proano’s crime, heinously shot and killed 17-year-old LaQuan McDonald. It wasn’t until that video was released that Van Dyke was charged with murder.
Marco Proano faces up to 20 years in prison for his crime. I will wait to see, with bated breath, how many years he’ll receive. In the meantime we will celebrate because today there is one less volatile officer on the street slaughtering black people with impunity. This conviction sends at the very least a whisper that the status quo is no longer going to fly.
The probation system is set up to frustrate, discourage, and jam up ex-offenders who truly want to turn their lives around. It is seriously broken and needs to be overhauled. This is unfortunate because it keeps the majority of ex-offenders (who are minorities), in the “system”—preventing them from securing a law-abiding future. This is not news to anyone but, having seen it first hand, it is nothing short of a bureaucratic bubble waiting to explode in the face of anyone determined to untether themselves from it.
My nephew made his expected “call in” to his parole officer (PO) a few days ago. As arranged, the officer was to come over and visit my nephew and ensure that he is doing well and following his parole agreement. Now, my nephew has made his share of mistakes and this was his first incarceration. Effectively ‘scared straight’, he immediately secured a job after release and has continued to work in the direction of stabilizing his life. His PO did not show up for that first meeting but instead, informed my nephew that he was no longer his contact and that someone else had been assigned his case.
After not hearing from the new parole officer, he called the State’s Department of Correction’s parole number. This time, instead of reaching the automated menu (the standard), all he got was a busy signal. After several attempts over a period of hours, we looked on the internet in an attempt to locate a brick and mortar building that we could visit for his check-in.
The purpose of parole is to keep track of men and women released from prison. The State must know where the parolee lives and works. It must ensure that all terms of the agreement are being met and they are staying out of trouble. This is crucial to prevent repeat offenses. This isn’t a one-way street because it also helps the parolee stay on track and focus on creating a better (crime free) existence. It’s a huge burden on the court system, parole board, and other officials to make sure this system runs as expected. When it doesn’t, the parolee runs a risk of “violating” their parole and returning back behind bars.
The other day I watched my nephew dance this precarious tango with the Department of Corrections. We were unable to locate any information on the State’s website that pointed us to an address. In fact, the information that was there was ambiguous at best. After calling Chicago’s 311 line, I was provided an alternative number and I passed it to my nephew. He called and was finally provided an address. Upon arriving there, we found that address was no longer a legitimate location. My nephew eventually remembered another ‘general’ location as a possibility. So not knowing for sure where we were going or if the location, like the one we’d just visited, would be open or not, we took a chance and went anyway. Driving down the street, looking for “official” looking buildings, we finally found a Department of Corrections location.
Once inside, he explained his situation and asked to be connected with his new PO. The employee seemed skeptical that he called the main number (and found it wasn’t operational), but she called his new PO. Unfortunately, she had to call four bad numbers before she finally reached him.
According the 2010 Census, Illinois reported 130,910 adults on probation and 33,162 people on parole. After what I’ve witnessed, I have to question how many revocations and absconders were due to individuals not having the proper information to enable them to check in and be compliant. Given the fact that funding for critical programs such as this is stretched to the limit, it is imperative that a solution to this problem be reached that ensures a smoother transition for parolees. Low cost and small fixes should include at minimum:
- The website providing updated information such as addresses for parole locations
- Keeping their main number and menus operational at all times
- Updating parole officer contact information (4 different numbers is inexcusable)
- Keeping in-home check-in appointments with parolees
My nephew was diligent in proactively locating his new Parole Officer. He is working now and maintaining healthy structure and balance in his life—determined not to violate his parole– “Once was enough for me” is his motto. It is my fervent hope that he does not fall through the ambiguous cracks of the State’s parole system.
Sunshine Skyway sounds like a happy place. The name brings to my mind warm sunlight against cool skin while lying on my back and staring at clouds back-grounded by clear blue skies. If I close my eyes I can envision myself lying in the grass identifying unique and fun shapes in the clouds. But for five-year-old Phoebe Jonchuck, Sunshine Skyway Bridge was a place of horror—making her yet another child victim of a failed system.
Her little body was flung off the bridge located in St. Petersburg, Fl by the one person who should’ve been her protector, 25-year-old John Jonchuck. In the coming days of investigation more details will become known. But one can’t help but wonder why he wasn’t detained after his lawyer(child custody) called and expressed grave concern. According to the lawyer’s 911 recording, Jonchuck told her “Don’t file the paperwork(custody papers),” he told her. “It’s not going to matter anymore.” At that point she tells the 911 operator “He’s out of his mind, and he has a minor child with him driving to the church now,”
Officers arrived at the church and determining that he posed no threat, let him go. Phoebe was dead several hours later. But the failure didn’t stop there. An officer (though off duty) did not pursue the vehicle as –according to the news clip below– “flew past him at a high rate of speed.” Then while stopped, the father preceded to “go around to the other side of the vehicle” and pull the child out.
I’m sure the incident moved somewhat faster than it actually sounds here, but given all of the high-profile shootings that have encapsulated the media lately I can’t help but ask what the officer was thinking by his casual response. For all he knew, this guy (already displaying erratic behavior) could’ve been about to pull a weapon out of his back seat. Yet, he had time to exit his vehicle open a door, pick up a child, and throw her over the bridge.
As of January 12, 2015, the Department of Children and Families have made a change to their policy to respond within 4 hours by meeting with the parent who is experiencing an acute mental episode.
It is safe to say that Mr. Jonchuck’s lawyer made the a call that should not have been taken lightly. The fear and concern she had for the child was clear in her voice and at the very least, the mother should have been contacted. Maybe I’m just frustrated that another child has died a senseless and frightening death.
Phoebe Johnchuck’s funeral service is Wednesday (1/14/15) at Lake Magdalene Methodist Church in Tampa Florida. A little girl who loved school, her friends, and bright colors will no longer dream of sunshine, clear blue skies, and fluffy clouds.
A story recently broke in Houston as police were called to the Willowbrook mall to ward off a potential riot. There was also a report of 4 arrested in New York for fighting in a crowd. This chaos wasn’t created because of a protest in the name of justice. Windows on the mall weren’t broken due to angry looters. No, these events occurred because of a shoe: The Air Jordan 11 Retro “Legend Blue”, to be exact.
Today, as Demario Bailey’s twin brother, Demarcio, celebrates his 16th birthday without his brother and, as the family struggles to pay for his funeral, I can’t help but wonder what’s wrong with the Black Community’s priorities?
Barely three weeks ago, riots and protests surged following the Grand Jury’s decision not to indict Officer Darren Wilson- accused of shooting unarmed Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO. As the Black Community reeled with disappointment and anger many people began to seek ways create to solidarity and get justice. Then about a week later, in early December, NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo was not indicted on the chokehold death of Eric Holder.
As anger spilled into streets all over the country, a movement to keep black dollars in the community began. There was the ‘Boycott Black Friday’ Movement, which, wasn’t very successful. There were posts on Facebook from black businesses asking for support of their products. There was even a call to not purchase on Cyber Monday. Today, seeing the news clip of the hordes of black people lined up to receive a purchase voucher to buy the $200.00 shoes made me angry. Once again, we just don’t get it.
First, let’s talk about the fact that for years- dating back to the late 80s, people have been dying after being robbed of Air Jordans. When Nike releases a ‘specialty’ shoe (as they did last year as well), people become violent in crowded lines just to purchase them. Now, in December 2014 we are still stepping over each other to purchase a $200.00 tennis shoe.
Second, let’s talk about money. According to the Neilson Company, Black spending power is expected to reach 1.1 trillion dollars in 2015. The lifespan of a dollar in the Black community is 6 hours compared to 20 days for Jews, a month for Asians, and 17 days for whites. How can we have that much buying power and have no wealth?
It’s very surreal to be reeling from yet another senseless death of a child – this one a robbery victim, witness weeks of “Justice for Mike Brown” and “I Can’t Breathe”, to witnessing this spectacle of materialistic spending – and the violence that it created. We have to get our priorities straight. Michael Jordan has more money than he will ever spend in his lifetime and Nike (and other companies) is going to use him (and other ‘celebrities’) to milk the Black Community until we wake up and stop trying to outspend each other.
Instead of standing for hours pushing and shoving each other, we need to focus on the real problems in our community. I’m sure Demarcio Bailey would appreciate the effort.
©2014 Kim R. Woods
All rights reserved
When witnesses come forward, they honor the victim and their community.