After 13 months of delay, the video showing the shooting of Laquan McDonald by Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke was finally released last week. The effect of the video’s release has been to turn what was a brutal and illegal police murder of an African American teenager into a high-tech execution that continues to be broadcast on television screens throughout the country.
The events, plainly shown on the dash-cam recording, shock the conscience of a civilized society.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel recently suggested that police were in a “fetal” position — paralyzed and prevented from assertive action by the constant threat of being caught on video.
The officer depicted in the video was the opposite of “fetal.” Officer Van Dyke was the aggressor. He shot 17-year-old McDonald 16 times as the boy walked in the opposite direction.
He continued to shoot him as he was on the ground. Perhaps most disturbing is the fact that none of the other officers on the scene offered first aid or any other form of assistance to McDonald as his bullet-riddled body lay in the streets.
It is the lack of intervention or assistance from the other officers present that most clearly symbolizes the problem that plagues the Chicago Police Department and our city.
This is a culture that suppresses wrongdoing and protects wrongdoers.
In fact, this is the same police department that produced and protected Police Commander Jon Burge, a white officer who tortured hundreds of African Americans. In the end, Commander Burge was finally convicted on a perjury charge — not for the hundreds of crimes he committed under cover of the law.
Over the last 10 years, Chicago taxpayers have spent more than $500 million to settle police misconduct cases.
Officer Van Dyke himself was the subject of 18 complaints of misconduct. Amid the many questions that must be asked and answered in the wake of this tragedy, perhaps the most important is this: Why was Jason Van Dyke permitted to carry a badge and a gun?
There are many more questions that must be answered in order to seize the moment created by Laquan’s murder and begin to heal the rift between police and communities of color:
What was the true motivation for the 13-month delay in the video’s release? Was there an active effort to suppress the video? How many times over the past year has the video changed hands? Was the video altered in any way? Was there additional video from any other source that police confiscated?
The city of Chicago paid $5 million to the mother of Laquan McDonald in the form of a settlement before a lawsuit was even filed in connection with the case. Laquan was a ward of the state at the time of his death. How did the city arrive at the $5 million figure?
Would existing police protocols have required the use of non-deadly force, such as a taser weapon? If so, why weren’t those protocols followed by any of the officers on the scene? Similarly, do any protocols exist mandating the administration of medical attention to the individual struck by police gunfire? If so, why weren’t those protocols followed?
Were the officers present at the scene alongside Van Dyke interviewed? Were those other officers subject to disciplinary charges for failure to intervene?
At minimum these questions must be answered in order to begin to restore trust in law enforcement.
Given Chicago’s track record of protecting even the most egregious wrongdoers in its police department, the most effective and appropriate vehicle to get to the truth in this matter is a special prosecutor.
One should be appointed without delay.
Richard Boykin is a Cook County commissioner, representing the 1st District, which includes Forest Park and Oak Park.