Release of Cedric Chatman videos brings Chicago transparency but few answers

The videos show Chicago police fatally shooting the 17-year-old, but fail to provide a clear depiction of the sequence of events leading up to the teen's death.

The release Thursday of video footage that shows the fatal police shooting of a black teenager in Chicago in 2013 underscores how significant the public’s demand for more transparency in the criminal justice system has become.

Lawyers for the family of the victim, 17-year-old Cedrick Chatman, hope the videos will prompt a new look at the case and possibly even lead to the reopening of a criminal investigation. Cedrick's mother is suing the city over her son's death.

The videos, which were taken by several surveillance cameras and from various angles, captured at least parts of the fatal incident on Jan 7, 2013. Suspected of carjacking, Cedrick was shot 10 seconds after he jumped out of a car in a South Shore neighborhood.

But the footage doesn't clearly show if Cedrick turned toward the pursuing officers threateningly, or if he was holding something that could have been mistaken for a gun. Both are claims made by Officer Kevin Fry, the officer who shot him. (The object turned out to be an iPhone box.) 

In a court hearing on Thursday, US District Judge Robert Gettleman lifted a protective order on the videos and allowed their public release. That came after City Hall dropped its longstanding opposition to making them public.

The Christian Science Monitor’s Patrik Jonsson reported Thursday that the decision to release the videos may signal a shift in how cities and prosecutors handle the release of similar footage in the future:

The national debate over police use of force has been dogged by worries among many, especially minority Americans, that prosecutors may be protecting police under the guise of jurisprudence. But as protests and commentary around high-profile cases have mounted, the need to fill an information vacuum with video evidence has gained supremacy over the idea that prosecutors have wide discretion to withhold evidence until trial. 

The videos’ release comes as Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the city’s police department are already facing criticism for the fatal 2014 shooting of another black teenager. The city didn’t release footage of that incident, involving 17-year-old Laquan McDonald, until last November.

For weeks protesters have been demanding Mr. Emanuel step down over his handling of the video and the city’s delay in releasing it.

This report includes material from the Associated Press and Reuters.

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