Less than 20 miles south of Kenosha, Wis., where police shot Jacob Blake multiple times in the back in August, leaving him partially paralyzed and sparking days of fiery protests and rioting, a police shooting that left a Black teenager dead and his girlfriend badly wounded last week is stirring anger in Waukegan, Ill.
Marcellis Stinnette, 19, died after a Waukegan police officer fired at a car that police say was driving toward the officer in reverse as he approached it. The driver, Tafara Williams, was badly wounded. Stinnette was a passenger.
“When does it end?” civil rights attorney Ben Crump, who has represented victims or families in several high-profile cases in which police have been accused of attacking civilians, asked at a press conference Tuesday. “When does it end, America? How many more Black people have to be killed because of police brutality?”
Crump and attorney Antonio Romanucci, who are representing Williams and her family, said Tuesday that a civil lawsuit will be filed soon.
According to police, the shooting happened after an officer was investigating a vehicle just before midnight on Oct. 20. The vehicle fled, police said, and was spotted by a second officer nearby. As the second officer approached the vehicle, it began to reverse toward him, police said in a news release. The second officer then “fired his semi-automatic pistol, in fear for his safety.”
The bullets hit both the driver and the passenger, now identified by family as Williams and Stinnette. Williams suffered extensive wounds and is hospitalized. Stinnette died in the hospital.
From her hospital bed, Williams, 20, gave a different account of the shooting. She said that she and Stinnette, who have a child together, were sitting in her vehicle outside her home when an officer pulled up behind them. She said the officer didn’t turn his lights or sirens on, got out of his car and approached Stinnette.
“He stood near the car with his left hand on his gun, and he said to [Stinnette], ‘I know you from jail,’” she said. “I asked the officers if we were under arrest. The officer took a few steps away from the car and got on his cellphone. I drove away very slowly.”
Williams said that when she turned onto another street, there appeared to be another officer waiting for them. “There was a crash, and I lost control,” she said, sobbing. “The officer was shooting at us. The car ended up slamming into a building. I kept screaming, ‘I don’t have a gun,’ but he kept shooting.”
The officer told Williams to get out of the car, but she said she couldn’t move and had her hands up. Stinnette “kept shaking,” Williams said, as more officers came and pointed their guns at the couple.
“My blood was gushing out,” she said. “The officer started yelling. They wouldn’t give us an ambulance until we got out of the car. I could hear [Stinnette] still breathing. I told them, ‘Please, don’t shoot. I have a baby. We have a baby. We don’t want to die.’”
Williams said an officer dragged her away from Stinnette. She then saw police lay him on the ground and cover him with a blanket while he was still breathing, she said.
“I know he was still alive,” she said.
It’s unclear what prompted police to investigate the vehicle, how many shots were fired and how fast Williams was going. Yahoo News reached out to the Waukegan Police Department and the Illinois State Police for comment on those questions and on Williams’s account of the shooting. The state police are assisting with the investigation and told Yahoo News that all questions should be directed to the Waukegan Police Department and the Lake County State’s Attorney’s Office.
Lake County State’s Attorney Michael Nerheim said last week that the ISP is conducting an independent investigation and that once it’s concluded, “all the evidence will be reviewed and a final decision will be made with respect to any potential charges.”
Nerheim said last Wednesday that the U.S. Department of Justice agreed to review the circumstances surrounding the incident.
The officer who shot the couple has not been named by authorities. Police said the officer is a Hispanic man with five years of experience at the department. The officer was fired, according to Crump and Romanucci.
Demonstrations have been held in Waukegan since the shooting, NPR reported.
On Tuesday, Crump tied the incident to the Aug. 23 shooting that left Jacob Blake paralyzed from the waist down. A video clip showed police shoot Blake multiple times in the back as he tried to get into his vehicle. An attorney for the officer who shot Blake said Blake was armed with a knife, USA Today reported.
Crump said the shootings of Blake and Williams show that when an incident involves a Black person, police tend to “shoot first and ask questions later,” without attempts to deescalate the situation. “And that seemed to be the connection between these two tragedies in these two cities that are so close to one another,” Crump said.
Crump said he and Williams’s family talked about a number of other incidents this year that involved police killing Black people. “We talked about George Floyd, who was tortured to death from a police officer having his knee on George’s neck,” Crump said. “We talked about Jacob Blake Jr.,” and Breonna Taylor, who was killed in a botched police raid in Louisville, Ky.
Like Blake, Williams is recovering from “substantial” injuries from the shooting.
“She will have permanent scarring and disfigurement for the rest of her life,” Crump said. “She physically survived, but part of her did die on that night.”
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