The DNAinfo archives brought to you by WNYC.
Read the press release here.

'She Was Opening A Door': Bettie Jones' Activist Nephew Vows To Work Harder

By Stephanie Lulay | December 30, 2015 7:11am | Updated on January 2, 2016 8:52am
 Jahmal Cole, founder of My Bloc k, My Hood, My City, (left) has a new motivation to create change after his wife's aunt Bettie Jones (right) was accidentally shot to death by police in West Garfield Park Saturday.
Jahmal Cole, founder of My Bloc k, My Hood, My City, (left) has a new motivation to create change after his wife's aunt Bettie Jones (right) was accidentally shot to death by police in West Garfield Park Saturday.
View Full Caption
DNAinfo/Stephanie Lulay; Evelyn Glover Jennings

AUSTIN — For the past two years, Jahmal Cole has been working to change the course of the city block by block, mentoring children from under-resourced areas.

But after his wife's aunt was accidentally shot to death by police in Austin Saturday — a tragedy that garnered national headlines — the My Block, My Hood My City founder now has a new motivation to push for change.

"It's unfortunate that it's the reality in our city that the police — the people that are supposed to be protecting and serving — could be so jumpy [as] to shoot a 55-year-old woman," he told DNAinfo.

Police were called to the home of 19-year-old Quintonio LeGrier's father early Saturday morning to respond to reports of a man swinging a bat. LeGrier was shot and killed, as was 55-year-old Bettie Jones, Cole's wife's aunt and a resident of the building. Chicago Police later called Jones' shooting "accidental and tragic."

Cole and his wife, Tiffany, attended a family Christmas party a few blocks away from Jones' home earlier that night. After returning to their Chatham home, his father-in-law called with the news.

"Everyone was in complete shock," Cole said. "She wasn't posing a threat to anybody. She was opening a door [at the direction] of police."

Cole continued: "It's tough to swallow when [police] say, 'Oh sorry, it was an accident.' This was an injustice, and it was at the hands of Chicago Police Department."

But even in the hours after receiving the news, the 32-year-old Cole remained focused on solutions — for his aunt and LeGrier.

"I'm tempted to be filled with hatred and distrust for all police ... but I know we have to make an effort to get beyond these difficult times in our city," Cole posted on Facebook. "What we need in Chicago is not division, hate or violence. What we need in Chicago is compassion toward one another and ... justice toward those that still suffer in our city."

Ban grand jury?

And by Tuesday, just days after Jones' death, Cole launched a petition calling on Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez to avoid sending this case to grand jury at all costs, a mechanism he believes too often results in unjust outcomes for African-American victims.

On Monday, an Ohio grand jury declined to charge a white Cleveland police officer who fatally shot a 12-year-old Tamir Rice, an African-American boy who was playing with a toy gun in a park. The grand jury decision came after more than a year of investigation.

In 2014, a Missouri grand jury decided there was not enough probable cause to indict police officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of Michael Brown, an unarmed African-American 18-year-old, sparking violent protests in Ferguson, Mo.

"We've seen nationwide the same repeating story," Cole wrote. "A police officer uses excessive deadly force with ample video evidence. Prosecutors send the case to grand jury instead of charging the officer."

Because the grand jury process is prolonged for months or years, public outrage subsides, Jones said, and ultimately results in the grand jury declining to charge the officer of wrongdoing.

Subsequently, the petition calls on the Illinois Legislature to ban the grand jury process in police-related shootings.  

Peace training with police

In the coming weeks, Cole also plans to lead "Peace Starts With Me" training sessions at local libraries aimed at informing members of the community and police officers alike. Cole led a "Peace Starts With Me" session at Robeson High School in Englewood earlier this month, with police in attendance.

Cole, who serves on the Mayor's Youth Advisory Council for Gun Violence, will work to develop the new program with his friend, an active Chicago Police officer.

Jahmal Cole, founder of My Block, My Hood, My City, leads a "Peace Starts With Me" training session at Robeson High School in Englewood earlier this month. Chicago Police officers were in attendance. [Twitter/Jahmal Cole]

"As an African-American man, there needs to be better communication with police," Cole said. "It's up to us as leaders in Chicago to break down the barriers between white cops and black youth."

Cole said the city would "be better off" if Chicago Police officers were not only required to live in the city, but were required to live in the neighborhood they serve.

"If you're driving [to work] in North Lawndale, but you live in Hegewisch, that's a big culture shock," Cole said. "There's poverty in your face, you might feel like you are going to war every day."

Cops that were hired from the neighborhoods in which they grew up would have relationships in community and a greater understanding of what it takes to "protect and serve" in under-resourced areas.

Cole, an activist for eight years, said the work to fight injustice in Chicago is now more important than ever.

And now it's personal.

"If anything, I just want to continue to work harder," Cole said. "Bettie would have wanted that."

Taser training

On Tuesday, Ald. Jason Ervin (28th) said he will plans to introduce legislation to City Council calling on every Chicago Police officer be outfitted with a Taser stun gun and be trained on how best to use the devices.

"A similar incident could happen tonight if we don't change," Ervin said.

Ervin's comments echo an earlier demand from his Council colleagues, with Ald. George Cardenas (12th) proclaiming: "We cannot have innocent Chicagoans be affected by officers shooting blindly."

Late Tuesday, Mayor Rahm Emanuel's office announced a plan to outfit all officers with Tasers by the summer.

Officers on administrative duty

The officers involved in the shooting that took Jones' life have been placed on administrative duty for 30 days, which is the new protocol under interim Supt. John Escalante. Police-involved shootings are investigated by the Independent Police Review Authority, which oversees officer conduct and misconduct cases.

Jones was a member of the grassroots group Action Now, and its president, Katelyn Johnson, issued a call Monday for people to sign an online petition demanding the immediate firing of the officer who shot Jones and LeGrier, the release of the officer's name, and for Mayor Rahm Emanuel to resign.

LeGrier's father, Antonio LeGrier, filed a wrongful-death suit against the city Monday.

A GoFundMe page has been set up to help Jones' family pay for her funeral expenses. The page has raised more than $11,000 as of Tuesday evening.

Jones' and LeGrier's deaths came in the wake of the controversy following the release of a video showing the death of Laquan McDonald, a 17-year-old who was shot by police 16 times, an incident that has stirred controversy in the city.

My Block, My Hood, My City

My Block My Hood My City leads teens in exploring different parts of the city, introducing them to new cultures and sights once a month. Among other trips, Cole's group has taken teens from Englewood to explore Wicker Park, teens from Humboldt Park to explore Edgewater and teens from North Lawndale to explore Greektown.

Cole started the group after speaking with teens at Cook County Jail and hearing them talk about their experiences in Chicago. Many had never been outside of their violence-ridden neighborhoods, he said.

The non-profit is funded entirely through the sale of hoodies and T-shirts and donations for now. The organization recently launched a GoFundMe campaign, which aims to raise $146,000.

For more neighborhood news, listen to DNAinfo Radio here: