In the Chicago shooting death of Laquan McDonald, the behavior of everyone—the police shooter, his fellow officers that night, the police spokesman, the attorney general, the city council, the mayor, and most of the media—now appears to range from incompetence to outright lies and coverup.
This is what we mean when we speak of systemic racial bias and corruption.
This is what Black Lives Matter protestors are talking about when we demand top to bottom reforms.
This is why we say that every police encounter with citizens must be video recorded. Thank God this one was.
And this is why independent journalists are critically important, backed up by a court’s willingness to enforce the First Amendment.
Timeline of deception
Seventeen year old Laquan was fatally shot by Officer Jason Van Dyke on October 20, 2014. Police responded to a call about a man with a knife acting erratically. Several patrol cars responded. Only Mr. Van Dyke fired. We now know from the video that Mr. Van Dyke fatally shot the teenager six seconds after exiting his police car, first while Laquan was walking away, and then while Laquan was on the ground, writhing from the bullets. Of his sixteen shots, most were fired when the minor was down.
That same night, a police spokesman told these lies:
- That Laquan was shot only once
- That he was “going at one of the officers”
- That the officers had no choice but to shoot.
The autopsy, conducted the following day, showed that Laquan was shot nine times in his back. No one bothered to correct the record. Local news reported the false story given by the police, without verifying it. Let this be a lesson to news organizations not to simply accept stories given by authorities.
In April 2015, after Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s reelection, the City Council voted to award the family $5 million. The video was still not released on the theory that it was part of the investigation. Six months later, they were still investigating? After paying $5 million, they were still investigating? Let’s see the records of the investigation to verify that claim, which is highly suspicious.
Meanwhile, Mr. Van Dyke remained on paid desk duty. He had twenty citizen complaints lodged against him, ten for excessive force. He had never been disciplined for any of them.
A freelance journalist fought a legal battle for release of the video. When he won that battle on November 19, the Cook County prosecutor immediately charged Mr. Van Dyke with murder. A few days later, Mayor Emanuel fired the police chief, calling his continued service a distraction.
Distraction? How about utter incompetence? How about conspiring to cover up the actions of an officer who is now an accused murderer?
Recordings aren’t enough
Allegations swirl that video footage at a nearby Burger King was suppressed or deleted by the police just after the shooting. If so, all those involved should be charged with all appropriate crimes, up to and including accessory after the fact to murder.
We have largely won the battle to require cameras on police cars. The next legal battle is for public disclosure of those videos immediately after shootings. The purpose of police videos is transparency and accountability, not for them to get buried in a vault as part of some endless investigation.
And there is no question that a 13-month-long “investigation”—I can only use that word in quotes—was at best a slow slog because Laquan McDonald’s life mattered less to prosecutors than that of other Chicagoans. At worst, the prosecutors ignored the case to protect the police shooter, never intending to file charges, but the public release of the video shamed her into it.
The Justice Department is investigating everyone involved.