Chicago Street Wise Vendor Killed by Off-Duty Police Officer

(The following report comes from an article by John W. Ellis IV, which appeared in the Chicago Street Wise homeless newspaper, Sept. 16-30, 1995, and from an article in the Revolutionary Worker, Sept. 3, 1995.)

Just before 12:30 a.m. on Sunday, July 30, 1995, a vendor for the Chicago Street Wise homeless newspaper, Joseph C. Gould, was fatally shot and killed by an off-duty police officer.

The events leading up to the shooting are variously disputed. Gould is said to have approached a black 1995 Ford Thunderbird at 682 N. Franklin Street. Gould offered to wash the windows of the car. Witnesses say the owner of the car, Gregory Becker, argued with Gould. According to police officials, Becker, a police officer who was off-duty at the time, then walked to the back of his car, opened his trunk, and took out a handgun. Becker then allegedly shot Gould fatally in the head at close range.

"By all accounts, this incident raises serious questions about the conduct of the officer involved and the department for which he serves," Illinois Congressman Bobby Rush said in a prepared statement. "It is reprehensible in this day and age for a person to be gunned down in the street by a police officer without any significant regard to the seriousness of the incident and respect for the law." At a meeting, several Street Wise vendors expressed their concern that this case not be ignored because Gould was homeless and the alleged killer is a police officer."

After the incident, Becker was still employed as a police officer--consigned to desk duty for a week. Then, according to police spokesperson Paul Jenkins, Becker was suspended without pay "pending termination." Jenkins stated that Becker had broken three departmental policies, including discharging his weapon without notifying his superiors, leaving the scene, and leaving a citizen in distress.

While originally charged with both involuntary manslaughter and first-degree murder, Andy Knott, a spokesman for the Cook County state's attorney office, said one of the charges would likely be dropped. Later, the first-degree murder charge was dropped in light of much protestation. Becker's bond was set at $150,000, which he made, and was released on his own recognizance. A Street Wise vendor pointed out that had the situation been reversed, and Becker been the one shot, Joseph would not have even been given bond.

Joseph C. Gould had been homeless since 1992. Usually, he earned his living by washing windows for several downtown businesses on a regular basis. Occasionally, he would approach motorists with his bucket and rag and offer his services. When he wasn't washing windows, he sold Street Wise newspapers.

Copyright  NEOCH and the Homeless Grapevine published Oct. – Dec. 1995 Issue 12