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A chase, a tragic death and questions about what Chicago cops called a teen suicide

By by Bryan Crawford -Contributing Writer- | Last updated: Aug 28, 2018 - 2:06:10 PM

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A member of RevCom shows some children a banner of people who were killed by police over the years across America during the vigil for Steve Rosenthal, Aug. 18, in Chicago. Rosenthal was a 16-year-old teenage who reportedly fatally shot himself after running from police Friday night. His family thinks the officers shot him and they're calling for an independent investigation. Photo: AP/Wide World photos
CHICAGO—After the death of 15-year-old Steven Rosenthal, a Crane Medical Preparatory High School student and basketball player, Chicago police quickly labeled his passing a suicide.

Family and friends who were with him just moments before his death in the Lawndale neighborhood on the city’s West Side, vehemently dispute that account.

Police say video and ballistics evidence prove none of the officers who chased the teen fired their weapons. The chase started because officers thought Steven was armed, said police officials. Many in the city’s Black neighborhoods doubt the police account. Why would a youth chased by police stop and suddenly shoot himself in the head? they ask.

And, as a Black Uber driver on the South Side of the city observed, “If you told police you were chasing someone and they stopped and committed suicide where would you be? Locked up.”

Steve Rosenthal
The Aug. 17 shooting tied to an encounter between another Black male and the Chicago Police Department has driven an even deeper wedge between cops residents on the South and West Sides who feel officers are an occupying force in the places where they live in.

“My nephew would never commit suicide,” Steven’s aunt and legal guardian, Terinica Thomas, said during a press conference in the aftermath of the shooting. Her words, and that of witnesses on scene on the day he died, dispute the explanation put forth by Anthony Guglielmi, the Chicago Police Dept. chief communications officer, who said the teen, “Tragically used the weapon on himself.”


According to Sherman Baker, a friend of Steven’s who witnessed the shooting, a group of young people were hanging out in the 1500 block of South Keeler street, not far from where Steven’s grandmother lived. They were outside listening to music and dancing, getting ready to go to a Friday night party.

All of this was apparently recorded and streamed on Facebook Live moments before the Aug. 17 shooting took place. Sherman said the young people noticed a marked police car sitting on the corner watching as they danced. When the song stopped, Steven told friends he was going to get some water and started walking toward his grandmother’s house.

At this point, police exited their vehicle and began following the group on foot, said Sherman. Some youngsters started to run and called out to Steven, who by this time was in the gangway of his grandmother’s home, headed toward the back porch. The police are coming, they said.

Steven looked back, saw the police in the gangway moving toward him and he began to run to the backyard and up the steps to his grandmother’s house, said Sherman. One of the officers yelled that Steven had a gun, then drew a firearm and, according to Sherman, aimed using the flashlight attached to his service weapon, and fired from the ground up to the third floor where Steven’s grandmother lived.

Sherman said Steven was shot, and his blood streamed three stories from the porch to the ground below.

Police said the teen shot himself in the back of the head.

Sherman said the officer who fired the fatal shot wasn’t in a regular Chicago Police Department uniform, prompting speculation it may have been an undercover officer.

Members of Good Kids Mad City held press conference calling on mayor and police chief to address Chicago violence. Photos: Haroon Rajaee
Residents on the South and West Sides of the city are all too familiar with these kinds of officers, who wear bulletproof vests, ride around in unmarked vehicles, and patrol Black neighborhoods.

Sherman Baker was one of two people detained by police and tension grew as word of the shooting spread and a growing crowd gathered at the scene.

Community activist and president of Violence Interrupters International Tio Hardiman, who just happened to be in the North Lawndale area at the time of the shooting, talked to police and negotiated the release of Sherman Baker and another teen who had witnessed the death of their friend. They were understandably emotional and upset, causing them to become confrontational with officers after the shooting, said Mr. Hardiman.

Young man at Bud Billiken parade holds sign in support of Laquan McDonald.

“I guess it was meant for us to be on location that evening because we were able to keep the peace between the police and the community,” Mr. Hardiman told The Final Call. “The police told me straight up when I was on the scene that they did not fire their weapons. They stood on that. But the shooting is still questionable and there are a lot of answers that need to be given to the community and the family.”

The Cook County Medical Examiner’s office corroborated the police account and ruled the death a suicide. The police department said bodycam video and ballistics evidence would clear officers of any blame in the shooting.

Days later, some 120 community members and activists, marched to the Chicago Police Department’s 10th District station in search of justice, answers, and physical evidence to support the police suicide claim.

Unfortunately, no answers would materialize.

On Aug. 21, the family was shown video by Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson and the attorney for the family, Andrew Stroth, said the video was inconclusive.

“Steven had just made the age of 15 on Aug. 13,” Atty. Stroth said. “Based on several eyewitness accounts, these officers ended the hopes and the dreams of a talented young man with a bright future … . The United States Justice Department confirmed that the Chicago Police Department has a pattern and practice of unjustified use of excessive force and lethal force, especially as it relates to African Americans. The question is when is enough, enough?”

As a rising sophomore at Crane Prep, Steven had no criminal history, no reputation for carrying a weapon, and no documented signs of ever being suicidal, said those who knew him. Nearly a week after celebrating his 15th birthday, Steven had no reason to take his own life, they added.

Vic Mensa, hip hop artist and Chicago native at Bud Billiken parade.
“It’s hard to believe what the police tell you. Their narrative has been the same throughout the last 30 or 40 years whenever a shooting occurs in the Black community,” Mr. Hardiman said. “The police story is always the same: A guy was running, he had a gun, and then he either shot himself, or in fear for their own life, the police was forced to shoot him. So it’s very hard to believe the police narrative, which is even more of a reason that Black people need to come together and unify.

“The reason there is so much gun violence in our community, and the reason police can come in and do what they do, is because we’re divided. If we were unified as a nation, like Minister Farrakhan says about the ‘10,000 Fearless,’ we wouldn’t have these kinds of problems. But it is our lack of unity and our unwillingness to unify that is the biggest problem in the Black community.”

Steven’s mother tragically passed away in March, and his father died when he was just six years old. He was being raised by his aunt and her husband, who had also taken in Steven’s two younger brothers, Jeremiah and Juliun.

This is yet another tragedy the family has to deal with in the span of just five months.

“Almost three million people around the world saw the atrocity that happened,” said Maurice Robinson, a local community activist, during a press conference demanding that Mayor Rahm Emanuel and police release video footage and produce the weapon Steven allegedly had that led to the foot chase and shooting. “Witnesses were bold enough to point out the officers who did it, but they were also heartbroken to watch their friend get murdered,” he said.

Mr. Robinson compared Steven’s death to the police shooting of Laquan McDonald, who died after an officer pumped 16 bullets into his body. Police officer Jason Van Dyke is charged with first-degree murder and other firearm offenses. The Van Dyke trial begins Sept. 5. Then, Mr. Robinson said, there is the July police shooting of Black barber Harith Augustus. “When Harith Augustus got shot, they immediately released those videos to show that whether you agreed with it or not, they had a reason because he had a gun. But just like Laquan, as of right now, they’re holding on to those tapes. Steven was just out there dancing. Our kids can’t even dance in our own community.”

Steven’s family plans to launch an independent investigation to determine what really happened the night of his tragic death.