Questions Alvarez didn’t answer on Johnson killing

Questions remain unanswered in the 2014 killing of Ronald Johnson by a Chicago police officer only days before another police officer killed Black teenager Laquan McDonald. Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez, stung by questions of her failure in the McDonald case, seemed driven to show the problem isn’t in her office as she passed on charges against Johnson’s shooter.

By Ray Hanania

Ray Hanania

Ray Hanania

Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez spent 75 minutes Monday building the foundation for her subsequent announcement that she would not prosecute Chicago Police Officer George Hernandez in the killing of Ronald Johnson, a Black father who was killed only days before the police shooting of Laquan McDonald in 2014.

Alvarez was under intense criticism for her failure to act in the McDonald case and only bringing murder charges against Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke after a video contradicted Van Dyke’s claims McDonald had threatened his life with a knife. The video, released nearly 14 months after the McDonald killing, showed Van Dyke shooting the 17 year old teenager as he walked away from police with a hand knife three times, and then firing 13 more times at McDonald’s lifeless body on the street pavement.

But in trying to defend her decision to not prosecute Officer Hernandez, also 14 months after the fact, Alvarez failed to answer several key questions that became obvious in the showing of a video of the Johnson killing.

It is true Johnson had a weapon, but he was being chased by a half dozen police officers for 10 minutes never once holding the gun in an aggressive manner against the police. Hernandez, on the other hand, pulled up in his squad car and only a few seconds after stepping out to join other police officers following Johnson fired five times at Johnson hitting him twice in his back.

Alvarez had used the 75 minutes to create the impression of high apprehension among the police, arguing that the police feared for their lives. She played three 911 tapes from citizens reporting multiple gunshots at the scene of 53rd Street and Calumet Avenue, and even released information that was discovered after-the-fact but that had no weight in the incident, that the gun Johnson carried had been used in a shooting a year before.

So why is it that the other police did not fire at Johnson as he tried to escape and Hernandez felt compelled to shoot Johnson?

The video shows that Johnson never turned or waved his gun at Hernandez or the police when Hernandez fired his weapon, contradicting claims that he had begun a body movement to turn and possibly use the weapon that was in his hand.

State’s Attorney Alvarez addresses the audience at the Grand Opening Ceremony of the West Side Community Justice Center, located in Oak Park.

Alvarez seemed to use the press conference to create distance between herself and the Chicago Police Department which is under siege as a result of the killing of Laquan McDonald, who was shot by Van Dyke 16 times on Oct. 20, 2014. The disclosure of the video that police and Mayor Rahm Emanuel tried to withhold had created a public uproar and demands that Chicago Police Supt. Garry McCarthy, Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez resign from their positions in the face of clear evidence that no real effort was made to critically review Van Dyke’s actions.

Van Dyke was not charged or fired until this past November, after the video was released. Under pressure, and clearly hoping to take pressure off himself, Mayor Emanuel demanded McCarthy’s resignation.

But questions remain about Alvarez who repeatedly threw the Chicago Police Department under the bus on the McDonald killings at her press conference and also questioned why audio had not been activated in the police cars in the McDonald and Johnson tragedies.

No explanation has been given as to why more than 80 minutes of video from a Burger King Restaurant near where McDonald had been killed had been destroyed or possibly deleted by Chicago Police who were given access to the video system and were investigating the McDonald killing.

There is no doubt that the Alvarez’s press conference had a dual purpose, to distance her from the damage of her failure to act in the McDonald murder, and her announcement that she would not prosecute Hernandez.

Alvarez said that the shooting of Johnson by Hernandez was “reasonable and permissible” under state and federal laws. But she conceded that she did not have video with quality that would show Johnson holding a gun in his hand other than what looked like a dark object. The police who asserted that Johnson appeared to be turning — contradicting the evidence shown in the video — also alleged he had a gun in his hand. Alvarez said the man driving the car that Johnson was in before the chase testified he believed Johnson had a gun because he heard a gun loading sound come from the back seat where Johnson was seated.

An attorney for Johnson’s family denied Johnson had a gun. The video in the Johnson case had been released publicly weeks after the shooting in a wrongful death lawsuit filed against the Police and City in 2014. In contrast, Mayor Emanuel approved a $5 million payment to McDonald’s family weeks after the shooting, and even before any lawsuit was filed. Many people believe Mayor Emanuel was motivated by fear that the unjustified killing of McDonald would hurt his chances for re-election in the February 2015 elections which came only four months after the McDonald murder.

Johnson, 25, and three others were driving in their vehicle on Oct. 12, 2014 when an anonymous person fired several gunshots into the car destroying the back window and damaging the car extensively. Alvarez never did say where those shots had come from or who was suspected in firing them at Johnson and his friends as they drove in the area before the incident with police began.

With nearly 900 attorneys and more than 1,500 employees, the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office is the second largest prosecutor’s office in the nation, second only to Los Angeles County. The Office is responsible for the prosecution of all misdemeanor and felony crimes committed in Cook County, one of the largest counties in the United States.

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Ray Hanania

Blogger, Columnist at Illinois News Network Online
Ray Hanania is senior blogger for the Illinois News Network news site. He is an award winning former Chicago City Hall political reporter and columnist who covered the beat from 1976 through 1992 (From Mayor Daley to Mayor Daley). And, Hanania is a stubborn and loud critic of the biased mainstream American news media.

Hanania covered Chicago political beats including Chicago City Hall while at the Daily Southtown Newspapers (1976-1985) and later for the Chicago Sun-Times (1985-1992). He published The Villager Community Newspapers covering 12 Southwest suburban regions (1993-1997). Hanania also hosted live political news radio talkshows on WLS AM (1980 - 1991), and also on WBBM FM, WLUP FM, WSBC AM in Chicago, and WNZK AM in Detroit.

The recipient of four (4) Chicago Headline Club “Peter Lisagor Awards” for Column writing. In November 2006, Hanania was named “Best Ethnic American Columnist” by the New American Media;In 2009, he received the prestigious Sigma Delta Chi Award for Writing from the Society of Professional Journalists. Hananiaalso received two (2) Chicago Stick-o-Type awards from the Chicago Newspaper Guild, and in 1990 was nominated by the Chicago Sun-Times for a Pulitzer Prize for his four-part series on the Palestinian Intifada.

Hanania’s writings have been published in newspapers around the world. He currently is syndicated through Creators Syndicate. He has written for Al Jazeera English, the Jerusalem Post, YNetNews.com, Newsday in New York, the Orlando Sentinel, the Houston Chronicle, The Daily Star of Lebanon, the News of the World in London, the Daily Yomimuri in Tokyo, Chicago Magazine, the Arlington Heights Daily Herald, The Saudi Gazette, the Arab News in Jeddah, and Aramco Magazine. He also writes for TheArabDailyNews.com.

He is President/CEO of Urban Strategies Group media and public affairs consulting which has clients in Illinois, Florida, Michigan and Washington D.C.

His personal website is www.TheMediaOasis.com, and www.UrbanStrategiesGroup.com. Email him at: [email protected]

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