EDITORIAL: Chicago needs answers to the deadly Wild West melee in Mount Greenwood

There’s one thing we know for certain about the racially charged fatal shooting that rocked Mount Greenwood in 2016: The N-word never should have been spoken, period.

We knew that before, of course. That ugly word should be permanently consigned to the dustbin of America’s darker past. But in this case, the white driver heard yelling the slur apparently did more than just insult and demean African-Americans driving in a funeral procession along busy West 111th Street, as Frank Main and Sam Charles report in their story based partly on detectives’ reports that the Sun-Times sued to obtain.

EDITORIAL

Like a match set to dry tinder, the slur set in motion a chaotic, Wild West-style melee on a sunny Saturday in November. Punches being thrown, bystanders forced to hide under restaurant tables, guns drawn and taunts called out?

That’s a scene that belongs in 19th Century Dodge City, not 21st Century Chicago.

Once the melee started, the day was certain to end badly. It did — horribly and lethally — with poor decisions and negative consequences all around. 

Joshua Beal, a 25-year-old father of two from Indianapolis who was in town to be a pallbearer at his cousin’s funeral, was shot and killed by two white off-duty police officers, Joseph Treacy and Thomas Derouin, after Beal pointed his gun at them.

One of the off-duty officers, Treacy, and a white firefighter at the scene, Ryne Kinsella, were assaulted. A woman who was calling 911 at the time and had nothing to do with the melee was hit in the back of the head. Beal’s brother, undoubtedly and understandably distraught over seeing his brother killed in front of him, tackled one of the off-duty officers and now faces criminal charges.

Yet 18 months later, the exact chronology and precise details of the events that day remain hazy. We still don’t know for sure the identity of the white driver heard yelling the racial epithet that day. We don’t know for certain at what point Beal pointed his gun at the officers. Other details are murky.

And in the absence of an official, definitive account, it’s easy to draw differing conclusions based on misperceptions and bias.

We don’t have that official account because three city agencies, all these months later, are still investigating the case. Most crucially, the Civilian Office of Police Accountability, one of the investigating agencies, has not ruled yet on whether the two officers were justified in using deadly force when they shot Beal.

Why the delay?

Eighteen months is surely enough time to review notes, interview witnesses and clarify confusing details so there’s no room for misjudgment and bias on either side. Surely at least one agency — whether it’s COPA, the city’s Inspector General, or the Chicago Fire Department’s internal affairs division — can lay out the facts from beginning to end in a full report.  

Surely the city wants to make every effort to avoid even the appearance of foot-dragging in a widely publicized, fatal police shooting like this, one that aggravated racial tensions and sparked yet another in a long line of lawsuits. (Beal’s fiancee, the mother of his two children, filed the suit.)

A racially charged incident like this begs to be — indeed, must be — resolved swiftly. The facts have to be sorted out completely and fairly, wherever they lead and whatever the consequences.

Everyone involved in this unfortunate incident deserves a transparent, fair and complete accounting. Chicagoans, who read the headlines, shake their heads at what happened and worry that this city will never solve its problems with policing and race relations, deserve closure.

Beal’s family, who buried one relative and lost another one that day, deserves it.

The officers under the microscope for their actions that day deserve it.

We can’t let this fester. 

Send letters to letters@suntimes.com.

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