Chicago Mayor Botches Handling of Fatal Shooting of Dexter Reed

April 30, 2024

If you make a mess on your doorstep, you are bound to slip in it

In the early evening of March 21, a four-man Tactical Team serving with the Chicago Police Department’s 11th District attempted to conduct a traffic stop in the Garfield Park neighborhood. At the wheel of the car was 26-year-old Dexter Reed, who police pulled over for committing traffic violations.

Less than 20 seconds after police approached his car and issued lawful commands to lower his window and unlock the door, Reed opened fire on officers, striking one in the wrist. Sadly, police were compelled to use lethal force to end the threat Reed posed to officers at the scene.

In the weeks following Reed’s death, other than a video capturing the incident uploaded on Citizen and police revealing a firearm had been recovered from the scene, few details regarding the incident were known to the public. However, even in the absence of information and a compelling rebuttal for officers’ conduct available, as news of a police shooting spread, it prompted overheated reactions from predictable sources: Chicago’s anti-police movement mobilized to condemn Chicago law enforcement, social media clogged with misinformation and wild speculation, and, unsurprisingly, the political Left returned the narrative of racist policing to Chicago's collective consciousness.

Weeks later, on April 9, the Civilian Office of Police Accountability released CPD body-worn camera footage of the incident, and Mayor Brandon Johnson was joined by Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx and COPA Chief Administrator Andrea Kersten to brief media on the incident. The mayor’s comments were a disaster and are certain to invite further attacks on CPD.

After delivering opening remarks, Johnson turned over the podium to COPA Chief Administrator, Andrea Kersten. A publicity-seeking carnival barker, Kersten spoke for several minutes and laid out COPA’s role in the investigation. Though her presence was almost entirely unneeded, Kersten did prove somewhat useful: She firmly established Reed fired upon officers first and confirmed a weapon had been recovered. Following Kersten’s comments, Kim Foxx took to the lectern. Chicago’s couldn’t-care-less prosecutor offered little other than her office’s investigatory procedure, but to her credit, Foxx did emphasize the need for a sober investigation to take place before the public react with vengeance and fury.

Kersten’s and Foxx’s superfluous comments aside, it was Mayor Johnson who delivered the most disturbing remarks and they are worth examination. Describing the incident in front of reporters, Johnson declared the events capturing Reed firing on officers and police defending themselves on video as “deeply disturbing,” “painful,” and “traumatic.” Projecting undue calm, Johnson sulked with anguish over Reed’s death, as if Chicago had suffered a great loss with the armed gunman’s death.

Far from a tragedy, Johnson neither mentioned Reed’s criminal history — Reed was out on bail awaiting trial on a felony gun charge — nor did the mayor explicitly state Reed fired at police. Worse, Johnson waited until near the conclusion of his remarks to address Reed’s attack on police, describing with indifference how he would never “condone” or “excuse” an attack on police. Most troubling was Johnson approximating the value of the life of Reed and his victim, Officer Gregory St. Louis. A bizarre parallel for the mayor to draw as he addressed an armed criminal who shot at and wounded a police officer, Johnson’s comments only highlighted his contradictory prioritization of violent criminals over police or unarmed citizens.

By far, Johnson’s biggest error was his refusal to unequivocally condemn Reed for opening firing on police. A perilous position for Johnson to take, though it was incumbent on the mayor to issue a passionate and urgent call demanding the public obey lawful commands from police, that Johnson declined to do so reveals his deeply held belief CPD unnecessarily escalated the confrontation with the armed Reed, police overreacted, and his view there is a mercenary nature to policing.

Johnson has lost control over Chicago

Mayor Johnson’s handling of the fatal shooting of Dexter Reed was a shameful moment of civic irresponsibility. Though tradition specifically demands Johnson back Chicago Police in the public square, that the mayor did not fulfill his obligations was a conscious calculation on his part.

Johnson’s reasons for declining to condemn Reed’s attack on CPD without qualification is illuminating for a variety of reasons. First, it revealed Johnson lacked the courage to confront unpleasant facts of CPD’s fatal shooting of Reed, specifically Reed was armed with an illegal gun and Reed fired first on officers. Second, though it was wholly immaterial, Johnson invoking race sought to politicize a CPD use-of-force incident. An irresponsible and bad-faith gesture, mentioning race only exacerbated the sense of an adversarial relationship between CPD and portion of the minority communities police serve. Third, Johnson failing to emphatically support police illustrated he is content with police portrayed as aggressors with a quick trigger finger. Finally, and most important, a man whose temper of mind and orientation of heart is inveterately hostile to CPD, Johnson’s loathing for police precludes him from standing up unequivocally for the heroism of Chicago Police and denouncing those who assault, kill or dishonor officers.

A dispiriting display of weak mayoral leadership, Johnson’s irresolute reaction to Reed firing on CPD will carry with it some parlous consequences. With the summer crime offensive on the horizon and Chicago hosting the Democratic National Convention (DNC) in August, Johnson’s refusal to acknowledge the truth of CPD’s encounter with Reed — an armed man attacking police — and strengthen CPD legitimacy is creating the conditions for pandemonium to flourish in Chicago. With the entire country watching developments in the Windy City, a broad range of groups are planning to descend on Chicago for the DNC. Individuals and groups with no sense of proportion, Johnson’s effete response to Reed’s attack on police only empowers groups whose common tactics revolve around provoking police, wanton violence, rioting, and looting.

The mayor’s calamitous handling of CPD’s fatal shooting of the armed Dexter Reed will have staggering repercussions for Chicago. Instead of using the power of his office to swiftly and harshly condemn an attack on police and be a standard bearer for across-the-board community safety, Mayor Johnson paid homage to an armed man who opened fire on police. The subordination of his mayoral duty to his personal and political worldview of policing in Chicago, Johnson has paved the way for lawlessness this summer, failed to build morale among CPD, and leaves police less able to contend with or contain violent protests anticipated at the DNC.

Weak leadership at City Hall is creating one of the greatest catastrophes Chicago has ever seen. As rates of crime surge and attacks on police increase, Mayor Johnson continues to insist police behavior is Chicago’s foremost problem.

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