Photographing Crime Scenes in Chicago on One of the Most Violent Weekends of the Year
It’s 1:30 AM on the morning of July 5, and we’re flying down the expressway at 90 miles an hour. Someone has just been shot near West 63rd Street and South Austin Avenue—we know this from the Twitter accounts operated by police-scanner geeks and our own $50 RadioShack scanner, set to one of the many dispatch channels operated by the Chicago Police Department. All evening the device has been crackling with a constant stream of out-of-breath cops spitting out the addresses and conditions of victims. This is just our latest target in the middle of a long night.
Sitting in the driver’s seat is Alex Wroblewski, a 27-year-old Chicago Sun-Times contract photographer who spends his summer weekends chasing the voices that burst through his scanner’s cheap speaker, trying to get to the scenes before anyone else in order to capture the rawest images. With him is Sun-Times staff reporter Sam Charles, who’s on hand to pull quotes out of whatever cops and victims he runs into. In the 12 hours I’ll spend with Alex on this Independence Day weekend, we’ll travel to a dozen of these scenes, a fraction of the total carnage that will take place in the city. From Thursday night to Monday morning, 82 Chicagoans will have been shot and 14 killed, including five people—two of them boys under the age of 17—gunned down by police for making threats or refusing to drop their handguns. It’s an especially bad stretch of time for a city some have dubbed “Chiraq,” a nickname that causes Alex and Sam to groan.
“The term ‘Chiraq’ is a fucked-up point of pride for too many people in the city,” Sam says. “It’s disrespectful to our city as a whole and to the people of Iraq. Too many out-of-town stupid media outlets—VICE included, frankly—have parroted the term to give it undeserved credibility and staying power.”
This Week in Teens: Michael Brown Is Dead and Now We Know Who Killed Him
Have you read Nietzsche? Teens love the guy. I’m not super well versed in the German philosopher’s books, but I have read a few graphic tees with his picture on them, and from what I’ve picked up, the gist is that everything is inherently meaningless. So it goes with This Week in Teens, in which our only respite from the constant suffering around us is the comforting knowledge that life doesn’t have a purpose.
–America invented teenagers and apparently reserves the right to kill them, too. The biggest news this week—teen or otherwise—has been the killing of Michael Brown, an unarmed, black 18-year-old in Ferguson, Missouri. Police were quick to defend the act, while witnesses say that Brown didn’t do anything to provoke police, and was shot multiple times “until he just dropped down to the ground and his face just smacks the concrete.” Protests over the killing were countered by a militarized police force, complete with SWAT gear and armored vehicles. The incident has been covered from every angle: how Ferguson is America’s latest racial hotspot; how this represents a sort of Chekhov’s (military-grade machine) gun and the inevitable conclusion of post-9/11 defense spending; how eight unarmed teens are still at large; and how white people in suburban St. Louis don’t give a shit.
It took a bunch of protests for Ferguson police to name Darren Wilson as the officer who killed Michael Brown, which they finally did Friday morning. Police also released a report saying that Brown was a suspect in a “strong-arm robbery” of a box of Swisher Sweets cigars, and that Wilson was responding to the crime when Brown was killed. Whether Brown actually shoplifted is unknown at this point, not that it would in any way justify his death. All that’s clear is that we’re in a pretty terrible place right now, and there is no obvious path for things to get much better.
Reporting from Ferguson, the St. Louis Suburb That Has Become America’s Latest Racial Hotspot
Last night, I walked out of the Target in Ferguson, Missouri, to find my car behind police tape. Cops in riot gear were extending their security perimeter around West Florissant Avenue, where protests over the death of unarmed teenager Michael Brown turned into looting and riots Sunday night and clashes with police on Monday.
“You better hurry up and go get it,” a man in a group parked near me said. The cops let me retrieve my vehicle after a stern warning (complete with a rifle being waved around) to go left and not right when I reached the edge of the lot. Five minutes later I heard four tear gas canister volleys. Ten seconds after that a 20-something black man in a caravan of Ferguson residents came over.
“We going,” he said. “You coming?”
What followed was a raucous four-hour stretch marked by smoked out streets and rage. By midnight, West Florissant was littered with rocks, broken glass, spent tear gas canisters and pepper balls. As we approached the police line from the north, cops were flying everywhere and people were honking and and screaming. After hearing the canisters fly, people were angry enough to run stoplights, ignore cop cars and speed across town to make it to ground zero and figure out what was happening.
Brown, as you may have heard, was killed Saturday by a St. Louis County police officer. One protestor told me his death was the “spark that lit the fire,” one that’s been long smoldering in this St. Louis suburb, where relations between residents and police aren’t so hot. The details surrounding the 18-year-old’s death have been the subject of much contention, but whether Brown was shot between seven and ten times, as his cousin Sabrina Webb and many others claimed Monday, or whether it was less than that doesn’t really matter here. Nor does the fact that police maintain Brown struggled with the as-of-yet unnamed officer. What is gnawing at emotions and bubbling up at protests where many chanted “black power” Monday is the fact that Brown was unarmed and was apparently approached by the officer for jaywalking.
"They thought he was somebody else," Webb told me after pleading through a bullhorn that protestors not resort to the looting that resulted in damage to several businesses Sunday night. "It was racial profiling."
For a few years, a young radical group of Israeli settlers in the West Bank have committed random acts of violence and vandalization against Palestinians and their property to make them pay the price for affronting their way of life. They call themselves “Pricetaggers,” and they’ve largely avoided prosecution by Israeli authorities.
VICE News gets rare access to the young members of the Price Tag movement—at the homecoming of Moriah Goldberg, 20, who just finished a three-month sentence for throwing stones at Palestinians. She and her family remain proud of the act, even as the current conflict in Gaza was sparked after an all-too-familiar round of retributive violence.
Eric Garner and the Plague of Police Brutality Against Black Men
If you haven’t heard about Eric Garner yet, let me fill you in. He was a 43-year-old father of six who lived in Staten Island, and he died in the street on Thursday after as many as four New York police officers choked him and slammed his head on the ground. The NYPD told the Associated Press that they stopped Garner because he was selling untaxed cigarettes, something he’d been arrested for before. However, witnesses who spoke with local news website Staten Island Live have basically said that’s bullshit. Ramsey Orta, who was on the scene and shot a now infamous video that is making the rounds, can be heard in the clip saying that all Garner had done to get bothered by the police was break up a fight.
In the video, Garner denies any wrongdoing and asks why he’s being hassled. “Every time you see me you want to mess with me,” he says in an exasperated tone that most men of color across this country can relate to. Garner, who was 400 pounds and has been described by people who knew him as a “gentle giant,” suffered from chronic asthma and police claim his death was the result of a heart attack suffered during the arrest.
Police say that Garner made a “fighting stance” and resisted arrest. Which, based on the video clip, is complete nonsense, considering we can see him pleading to the officers, “I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe!” before going completely silent as several officers pile on him.
The video of Garner’s death is disgusting, but I can’t say I was shocked or even outraged the first time I watched it. At this point, as someone who’s read and written about some of these stories time and time again—and who’s had firsthand experiences with the way cops treat black males—this kind of reprehensible shit is not surprising at all. After so many cases like Amadou Diallo and Sean Bell, you start to feel desensitized by the seemingly insurmountable injustice that plagues communities of color.