Reading the Chicago Tribune made me a little salty this morning.
I was struck by a headline on its homepage entitled, “NIU student killed by Chicago police acted erratically in recent months.” The story was on Quintonio LeGrier, the 19-year-old university student who was fatally shot after a call for a domestic violence dispute involving his father. Not only was LeGrier killed once the police arrived, but 55-year-old Bettie Jones was killed during the exchange as well. Jones, a grandmother who happened to live in a neighboring home, was innocent and had nothing to do with the incident.
The article published by the Tribune was highly vexing; the newspaper’s somewhat disrespectful and slanted reporting of LeGrier’s strange behaviors and struggles with mental illness unfairly suggest that he deserved the way he was treated by the police. It was so focused on LeGrier’s checkered past that it immediately reminded me of the New York Times’ tacky story on Michael Brown referring to him as “no angel,” as if that took away from the fact that Darren Wilson killed an unarmed teenage boy that wasn’t hurting anyone.
There is a way to report on people with mental health issues that honors their dignity and humanity, rather than casting them as freaks and pariahs. Regardless of the transgressions that a police brutality victim made while they were still walking the earth, those faults don’t negate the fact that these are people who are unreasonably assaulted or killed by authorities who act out of line and fail to protect the public.
I’m not saying these things to downplay the fact that LeGrier’s behavior was odd and intimidating. The story in the Tribune reports that in the months leading up to his death, the Northern Illinois University student had gotten into an altercation at his dorm, harassed co-eds on campus, was prone to strange outbursts, and was eventually admitted to a hospital for psychiatric evaluation. It also noted that his family and friends had noticed LeGrier was struggling with anger and depression, and previously had a run-in with the cops as well.
Still, I find that these behaviors only exemplify the importance of cops being more careful and considerate in responding to disputes. There’s no denying that LeGrier did some violent things; based on what the Tribune is telling us about his life, I might very well have been intimidated by LeGrier, too.
But as the Chicago Tribune is dragging LeGrier through the mud, we still don’t even know the name of the police officer who supposedly shot LeGrier, as it hasn’t been released yet by the legal team in LeGrier’s wrongful death suit or by Chicago’s Independent Police Review Authority. We also don’t know how qualified this officer was to do his or her job (despite the fact that it’s been acknowledged that they had been on the force for five years). More than that, we don’t know if this officer has run into problems by using excessive force while on duty in the past.
As a result, the storytelling is imbalanced and socially tone deaf because it gives an unfair advantage in public perception to the officer at the center of this case.
There are good people in this world. There are bad people. And there are good people who sometimes do bad things because they’re too sick or too bogged down by their own issues to do better in moments of weakness. By what his family, friends and acquaintances say, I think LeGrier was the latter.
LeGrier wasn’t a sympathetic victim. But he was still a victim and his mistakes don’t make the officer’s violent actions any more justified. The Tribune (and other mainstream or conservative publications) can continue to report on this case highlighting the teenager’s checkered past. But his life and lives of those that he left behind will forever be marked by our country’s trigger-happy and hyper-militarized approach to policing the public.