ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
In Chicago, police relations with the community have been tense for a while. Last November, the city released a video from 2014 that showed an officer shooting a black teenager 16 times. Now videos of a police shooting from this summer have added to the problem. There have been protests, as in the past, and also a report that gang members are planning to retaliate by targeting officers. Community activists call it ludicrous and say this is simply an attempt to take the heat off police. NPR's Cheryl Corley reports.
CHERYL CORLEY, BYLINE: It was nearly one week ago today that bodycam and dashcam videos of police chasing and shooting 18-year-old Paul O'Neal, a car theft suspect, were released. They showed a chaotic scene with police officers running, guns drawn, trying to capture O'Neal, who at one point had sideswiped a police car before leaving his car behind.
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UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Go, go, go, go (unintelligible).
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CORLEY: The videos don't show O'Neal being shot, but they do show how confused officers were.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: They shot at us, too, right?
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: I shot at the car after it almost hit you.
CORLEY: O'Neal, who authorities said was unarmed, died from a gunshot wound to the back at a hospital later that day, July 28. Three of the police officers involved were later stripped of their police powers. The shooting prompted more protests here.
Then came a newspaper report that said leaders from three of the city's West Side gangs met to map out plans to shoot police officers in retaliation. Chicago police won't verify the department issued an alert, but Superintendent Eddie Johnson downplayed the possibility when he talked to reporters this week.
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TIO HARDIMAN: CPD - we get threats probably weekly, in terms of violence against police officers. We always are concerned about it. It's not going to make us panic, but it will make us concerned and make sure that we make our officers as safe as we can.
CORLEY: Today, community and anti-violence activists gathered in front of the Chicago Police Department's Area 4 headquarters on the city's West Side. Tio Hardiman says the shootings of police officers in Baton Rouge and Dallas may have police on edge. But he says reports of people plotting to harm police officers in Chicago is simply incorrect.
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HARDIMAN: What happened in Dallas - we had a lone wolf. Has nothing to do with the young brothers in Chicago and especially the West Side, OK? The truth of the matter - when Laquan McDonald was executed, nobody attacked no police in Chicago. So what make you think somebody going to attack the police after Paul O'Neal was shot and killed.
CORLEY: The video of the 2014 shooting of Laquan McDonald - shot 16 times by a police officer - sparked massive protest in the city. In addition, says Hardiman, there is no longer any structured gang leadership in the city.
HARDIMAN: The young men in Chicago are not a threat to the police department. Young men in Chicago are too busy fighting one another. They don't have time to think about attacking no police.
CORLEY: The Fraternal Order of Police has in part blamed the attorney for the O'Neal family for helping to instigate any threats against police. That attorney is Michael Oppenheimer. He filed a wrongful death lawsuit on behalf of the family and called the O'Neal shooting one of the most horrific he's seen.
MICHAEL OPPENHEIMER: In any event, nobody wants anything to happen to police officers. Officers put their lives on the line every day. There's already been a tragedy for the O'Neal family, and we don't want any further tragedy.
CORLEY: Activists at the police headquarters, like Eric Russell (ph), agree, but add that reports of threats about violence against Chicago police are simply an effort to derail the Black Lives Matter movement and push a Blue Lives Matter proposed city ordinance.
ERIC RUSSELL: To make it a hate crime for anybody that encounters the Chicago police.
CORLEY: And an effort, the activists say, to allow police to act aggressively against protesters, a charge the police superintendent denies. Cheryl Corley, NPR News, Chicago. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.