Protesters in Chicago are demanding answers after the fatal shooting of a black man by police prompted violent confrontations in the Illinois city.
“The whole damn system is guilty as hell,” dozens chanted on Saturday just hours after police shot and killed 37-year-old Harith Augustus in the South Shore neighbourhood of Chicago.
Augustus is known in the community as Snoop the barber, local media reported.
The city’s police patrol chief Fred Waller told reporters late on Saturday that Augustus was shot after police officers on foot tried to question him because “the bulge around his waistband” suggested he was armed. Augustus became combative and eventually broke free from the officers, Waller said.
“They thought he appeared to be reaching for a weapon, which he did have a weapon on him, and the officers tragically shot him,” Waller told reporters, adding that police recovered a semi-automatic weapon.
Augustus was pronounced dead at the hospital.
Almost immediately after the shooting, a crowd of onlookers and activists descended on the scene. Video circulating on social media shows tense confrontations between police and protesters.
Local journalist Nader Issa, who reports for the Chicago Sun-Times, wrote on Twitter that at one point the situation “severely escalated when Chicago Police officers moved their line forward”.
He added: “Officers hit multiple protesters with batons, and protesters punched officers back.”
The situation just severely escalated when Chicago Police officers moved their line forward. An argument started and officers hit protesters with batons, and protesters returned punches. I haven't seen a police shooting scene this tense since the Laquon McDonald video release. pic.twitter.com/T7tymDLpGT
— Nader Issa (@NaderDIssa) July 15, 2018
Issa also said that he was shoved to the ground by police who “smacked” his phone out of his hand.
I had my press badge held up in one hand and my phone in the other while I was saying "I'm a reporter." Two Chicago Police officers repeatedly pushed me, then smacked my phone out of my hand and threw me back. I lost my balance but can't remember if I hit the ground or not. pic.twitter.com/vhi4gjlNla
— Nader Issa (@NaderDIssa) July 15, 2018
Speaking to Al Jazeera, Issa said the tension was so high immediately after the shooting that “it was clear there was going to be a confrontation between Chicago Police and protesters at some point”.
Chief Waller told reporters that the crowd became combative, throwing bottles and jumping on top of a squad car.
Police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi later tweeted that police had cleared the scene and four demonstrators had been arrested.
More protests are scheduled for Sunday evening.
Online, many expressed anger over the shooting and the actions of the police.
It’s a lot of gangs in Chicago, but last I checked, I only pay for one of them.
— wikipedia brown demands #MoreThanDiversity (@eveewing) July 15, 2018
Saturday’s confrontation is the latest incident illustrating the deep-seated mistrust between residents of Chicago’s predominantly black and Latino neighbourhoods and the police.
The city erupted in protest in 2015 after the release of a video showing white police officer Jason Van Dyke shooting 17-year-old Laquan McDonald, a black teen, 16 times in 2014.
Van Dyke was charged with murder.
Chicago Sun-Times reporter Issa told Al Jazeera that “the tension between the community and the police [on Saturday] hasn’t felt this high since the video of Laquan McDonald’s shooting was released.”
McDonald’s death led to a year-long investigation by the US Department of Justice, which found that the Chicago Police Department showed a pattern of using excessive force and civil rights violations.
The report said that the police department violated the constitutional rights of residents for years, permitting racial bias against blacks and killing people who did not pose a threat.
The report prompted a series of reforms, including the use of body cameras, designed to prevent future police abuses and to hold officers accountable.
But the number of police killings – particularly those of unarmed African Americans – in recent years has amplified calls nationwide to end what activists and others call institutionalised racism among US police forces.
Nearly 550 police killings in 2018
According to the Washington Post’s Fatal Force database, at least 548 people have been killed by the police in the US this year. The Post found that more than 980 people were killed by police in 2017.
The Guardian identified more than 1,090 police killings the previous year.
Nearly a quarter of those killed by police in 2016 were African Americans, although the group accounted for roughly 12 percent of the total US population.
According to watchdog group The Sentencing Project, African American men are six times more likely to be arrested than white men.
These disparities, particularly the killing of African Americans by police, has prompted the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, a popular civil rights movement aimed at ending police violence and dismantling structural racism.
Main image courtesy of the Chicago Sun-Times.