08/09/2006

Hundreds protest police shooting of teen in Chicago

By Ray Quintanilla and Tonya Maxwell
Chicago Tribune
Distributed by Knight/Ridder Tribune News Service

CHICAGO- Angry about the police shooting of a 14-year-old boy, Cabrini-Green residents took the streets Tuesday, lashing out at police and the abuse they feel in increasingly affluent surroundings.

Marchers shouted at police, threw bottles at cars and decried the shooting of Ellis Woodland, who remained in critical condition with bullet wounds in his abdomen and thigh. Police determined Tuesday that the shooting was justified.

The unrest was as much about the public-housing residents' feelings of being dispossessed in the gentrified Near North area of the city as it was about outrage over the shooting of Woodland, who police said brandished a BB gun that looked almost identical to a firearm. As Cabrini-Green has been dismantled amid the continuing development of luxury housing nearby, its impoverished residents feel uncertain about their futures.

"Part of the problem is a lot of people who live in this neighborhood don't know where they are going from here. They don't know where they are going next, to live," said O.B. Wright, 58, who has lived in and around Cabrini-Green his whole life. "So when police go off and shoot some kid, people get mad. They lash out. That's what you are seeing."

No one was arrested or injured in the protest of about 200 people, police said.

While the protest was unfolding on the North Side, at police headquarters on the South Side, Supt. Philip Cline defended the police officer's actions. Cline stressed that the BB gun Ellis Woodland held looked identical to a 9 mm handgun, and the officer had to make a decision in seconds when the boy refused to put down.

The officer, who Cline said was "in his 30s" with about six years' experience, shot four times. Three 9 mm rounds from the officer's gun hit Woodland - one in the abdomen, one in the thigh and a graze wound. The fourth round struck a passing car, police said.

A roundtable review of the shooting by police officials, prosecutors and investigators from the Office of Professional Standards found that the officer acted properly, police officials said.

But in the neighborhood Tuesday afternoon, residents and Woodland's relatives had a very different view.

Police "need to realize we are human beings, not animals," said Cabrini resident Mattie Gibson, 43. "They need to find a better way to deal with us. We're not just going to disappear. . . . We're tired of this. We birthed these children. We don't want them to become targets for anyone."

Gibson, who helped organize the march, said people are frustrated with police.

"They are tired. After a while, you get beat down so much. I hate to see it. Our purpose is not to incite violence. They need to stop harassing us," she said.

Among the marchers was Thomas Strong, Woodland's uncle. He said his nephew remains sedated at Children's Memorial Hospital.

"He's still in critical condition, but he's stable. He's going to pull through quite well. He's a fighter," Strong said. "He's in 8th grade. He stays with his mother on the West Side."

Strong said he and his nephew are former Cabrini-Green residents, and children grow up in the complex being harassed by police.

"This march shows a sense of togetherness. You can't just keep gunning our children down out here," he said. "They were supposed to warn him. They were supposed to tell him to drop the gun."

Cline said the officer did repeatedly demand that Woodland drop the gun, and he finally fired when he feared the boy was going to shoot him. From a distance of about 10 feet, the officer thought the gun was a firearm, Cline said.

Woodland has not been questioned by police, but Cline said investigators hoped to speak to him soon. Another 14-year-old boy who was with him, and also carrying a BB gun, was questioned Monday night by detectives, Office of Professional Standards investigators and the Cook County state's attorney's office. He was not charged, Cline said.

Police confronted the boys after another juvenile flagged down officers and said Woodland and his friend had just tried to rob him about 5 p.m. Monday, police said. Cline said that juvenile fled, and police were still searching for him Tuesday afternoon.

At a Tuesday afternoon news conference, police officials passed out detailed photographs of the boys' BB guns and projected large images of them on a screen to demonstrate how closely they resemble firearms. In fact, air guns like the ones used in Monday's incident are restricted in the city in much the same fashion as firearms, said Jennifer Hoyle, a spokeswoman for the city's Law Department. A special city permit is required to own such a gun, and minors are prohibited from possessing them under any circumstances, she said.

A spokesman for BB-gun maker Daisy Outdoor Products, which made the gun that Woodland used, said the company products "are designed to look like real guns because they are real guns."

The guns use compressed air or gas to propel the pellets at high velocity and are dangerous, said Susan Johnston, spokeswoman for the manufacturer in Arkansas. Even if the officer had known the gun was a BB gun, he would have been correct to fear for his life because "they can disable a police officer. . . . This was a criminal misuse of a gun that can cause serious injury or death."

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