An old photo of two Chicago policemen holding hunting rifles and crouched over a prostrate black man dressed in antlers has become the focus of national controversy in the past few days. The photo was taken over a decade ago but was just made public, despite legal maneuverings to keep it sealed. But its public display is important for various reasons. One of those reasons is: One of the cops in the photo, Timothy McDermott, is suing to get his old job back.
CNN reported May 28 that the racially charged photo, which was taken at a Chicago police station, was released by a Cook County judge earlier this week. It has since gone viral. The image is that of two “hunters,” the former Chicago Police Department officers Timothy McDermott and the now incarcerated Jerome Finnigan. Between them and prostrate, his head held up and his tongue lolling out in the manner of a dead “deer,” is an as yet unidentified black man. As CNN notes, the message is quite clear.
McDermott and the Chicago Police Department fought the release of the photo, citing that the identity of the black man in the photo should be protected. Given the caustic racial environment prevalent in America at present with regard to police departments and racial injustices (not to mention questionable legal decisions and judicial rulings), it can be assumed that the aforementioned were most likely attempting to protect themselves rather than guard the man in the photo from embarrassment.
Timothy McDermott was fired in October because of the photo. There is a hearing on the matter of his reinstatement scheduled for June. According to the Chicago Sun-Times, he has been driving a truck to support his family since his dismissal.
An Internal Affairs transcript reveals that McDermott has a “vague” recollection of the black man in antlers photo. He remembers somebody asking him to take a picture. He claimed then that taking the picture had been an act of youthful indiscretion, and he had just been trying to fit in. The photo itself was taken somewhere between 1999 and 2003.
As for the other “hunter” in the photo, Jerome Finnigan, he was part of a special Chicago PD unit — as was McDermott — suspected and implicated in illegal activities. The photo was uncovered during the investigation. But whereas McDermott was never charged with wrongdoing, Finnigan was convicted, according to USA Today, of shaking down drug dealers with other cops in the unit and stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars from said drug dealers. He is currently serving a 12-year prison sentence for robbery and home invasion, to which he pleaded guilty in 2011.
The release of the black man in antlers photo comes at a time when police departments throughout the United States are facing closer scrutiny regarding systemic and institutional racial bias against black communities and black suspects. Police are also facing numerous allegations of police brutality, the use of excessive force, and disregard for proper procedure. And then there are the cases where justice seems to go awry, such as in the non-indictment for the New York police officer that used an illegal chokehold on Eric Garner during an arrest, a maneuver that possibly contributed to the man’s death, and the more recent judicial ruling of acquittal in a Cleveland case where a policeman actually stood on the hood of a car and shot through its windshield 15 times at the unarmed man and woman inside.
The racial tension between black communities and police departments has been ongoing for decades, if not centuries. And the fact that policemen rarely face prosecution for their sometimes deadly actions does not aid in alleviating said tensions. And even if race is not the question, the number of deadly police shootings are worrisome.
The Chicago Reader noted in a May 20 article, 118 people have been fatally shot by Chicago Police since 2008, over 1,600 since 1986. That can be broken down to more than one person killed by Chicago Police every week for the past 29 years. And although it is difficult to know just how many of those killings were unjustified, the Reader noted that of the 208 cases that have been closed by the Chicago Police Department in the past two years, not one fatal shooting has been found to have been unjustified. That is a number that is not only unprecedented, it is unbelievable.