On Oct. 20, 2014, 17-year-old Laquan McDonald was fatally shot 16 times by Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke. McDonald was a ward of the state who had been removed from his mother’s care when he was three due to neglect — and again when he was five because his mother’s boyfriend had beaten him.
Nevertheless, his unfortunate situation did not stop him from being a loving person. His friends and family members remember him as a kind and warm individual who loved to make people laugh.
McDonald was carrying a small folding knife when he was being pursued by police leading the police union spokesman at the time, Pat Camden, to falsely describe him as “somebody with a knife in a crazed situation, who stabs out tires on a vehicle and tires on a squad car.”
Camden continued on to say that McDonald “is a very serious threat to the officers — and he leaves them no choice at that point but to defend themselves.”
On Feb. 27, 2015, the lawyers for McDonald’s family sought a settlement with the city before filing a lawsuit. On April of that year, the U.S. Attorney’s Office confirmed that they were investigating McDonald’s death. A few days later, they approved a $5 million settlement with McDonald’s family.
The arrangement required that the video of the encounter remain sealed until the investigations are completed. On Nov. 19, a Cook County judge ordered the release of the dashcam footage that showed the shooting in response to a freelance journalist, Brandon Smith, suing the city to release the video.
On Nov. 24, the day the video was released, Van Dyke was charged with first-degree murder for shooting McDonald. The dashcam video showed McDonald falling to the ground from the first shot but Van Dyke continued to shoot him 15 more times.
After the footage was released, activists headed by the Coalition for a New Chicago, were enraged by the brutality that had been covered up and took to protesting.
On Black Friday, they effectively shut down stores by marching on Michigan Avenue to show that a human life holds more value than materialistic objects.
After Mayor Rahm Emanuel fired Chicago police superintendent Garry McCarthy at the beginning of this month, protesters celebrated and demanded the mayor and State Attorney Anita Alvarez resign.
Shortly after the release of the McDonald dashcam video, the city announced that they will also release the police video of the fatal shooting of 25-year-old Ronald Johnson who had been shot in the back by police officer George Hernandez on Oct. 12, 2014. Alvarez later announced that because Johnson was holding a gun in the video, Hernandez would not be charged.
Not only did Alvarez defend her actions and deny the attempt to cover up the shooting, the city released hundreds of pages of the police reports surrounding the McDonald shootings that differed greatly from the accounts of the officers who had been at the scene who had supported Van Dyke’s statement that McDonald was threateningly advancing towards him.
The video clearly shows McDonald walking away from the officer. On Dec. 7, amid Chicago Police resignations, the U.S. Justice Department announced a civil rights investigation into the Chicago Police Department including its practices, use of force and management of complaints against officers.
On Dec. 9, Emanuel apologized for not dealing with the problems in the police department sooner. His apology was not taken well and lead to protests with hundreds demanding his resignation.
Protests have continued with quite a few arrests being made. Earlier today, Emanuel visited Urban Prep High School in Englewood to announce My Brother’s Keeper — a program to aid in the success and achievement of young African-American males.
The students chanted “16 shots” when he walked in and protests took place outside of the school leading to more arrests.
The Emanuel administration has expressed that it would like to move forward by improving relations between police officers and young, black men.
For many frustrated Chicagoans however, it is too late for the mayor to seek change. As a Chicagoan, I watched the events in Ferguson, Baltimore and elsewhere unfold with horror — all the time thankful and pleasantly surprised that no cases of police brutality or any complaints had been made against the Chicago Police Department.
I thought it a miracle that Chicago, a city with deep-set racial divides, had seemingly avoided the nationwide epidemic that is police brutality.
Now, I understand the anger of Chicagoans who are deeply disappointed and ashamed of their city and I, like, the activists, believe that it is too late for Emanuel and his administration to make amends.