Laquan McDonald: Murder and the Power of Video
Nov. 25, 2015 (Mimesis Law) — It was more than a year ago that Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke put 16 bullets into the body of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald. Yet, few outside of a small circle of friends knew much about it until yesterday, when a judge ordered the release of dash cam video.
The video was devastating.
Until the release, the story was that McDonald lunged at Van Dyke, who shot him in self-defense. Sad, of course, that someone was killed, but then, the cop shot in self-defense, and despite the vagaries of what threats justify the use of deadly force, a guy lunging at a cop with a knife certainly seems to make the cut.
Except it was a lie. And the lie wasn’t revealed until the video was released.
The grainy, nighttime dashboard camera video, which a judge ordered released last week, shows the young man running and then walking past officers in the middle of the street and spinning when bullets suddenly strike him down. For a moment, lying on the ground, he moves but then is still after he appears to be shot several more times. An officer kicks an object away from his body. The video shows none of the officers on the scene offering assistance to the teenager, Laquan McDonald.
There was no threat to Van Dyke, and despite a bevy of officers present, no other officer felt any need to shoot. This is Chicago, mind you, where officers are hardly reluctant to use force whenever they want to, making the reticence of the other officers stand out. When cops in Chicago fail to use deadly force, you can bank on there being no threat whatsoever.
And as the first bullet struck his body, and he dropped, he was walking away from Van Dyke, facing obliquely. There was nothing about McDonald’s body position to suggest that he had any intention to do anything other than keep walking down the street, away from the police. So Van Dyke shot him.
Hours before the video was released, it was announced that Van Dyke was indicted for First Degree Murder. Perhaps that was intended to quell the outrage that would inevitably follow the release of the video, which produced peaceful protests last night. Whether they would have been peaceful without an indictment is left to speculation at this point.
Yet, it’s worth remembering that more than a year has passed since the murder, and only yesterday was there an indictment. And no charges were leveled as to the other cops who stood there as Van Dyke continued to pump bullets into Laquan McDonald’s back as he lay on the ground, or did nothing to help this dying teenager.
But the failure of Chicago, of the police, of the mayor, Rahm Emanuel, to face up to what the video revealed is compounded by the efforts made to conceal the truth. You see, there was another video. Except, no one will ever see it.
Many questions have been raised about why prosecutors took 13 months to bring charges — and about whether the police department has tried to bury the incident.
NBC Chicago quoted a district manager for Burger King in May as saying Chicago police deleted separate video from a security camera at a Burger King restaurant less than 100 yards away,
While 86 minutes of the video were missing, the city’s Independent Police Review Authority said there was “no credible evidence” that police tampered with it. Alvarez repeated that assertion Tuesday.
Chicago has already settled with Laquan McDonald’s family, paying out $5 million that won’t come from Van Dyke or the police pension fund. Van Dyke will likely hire an expert, perhaps Bill Lewinski, to explain how mere mortals can’t appreciate the Tueller Drill, the 21 foot rule, for “edged weapons,” to show that it was a “righteous shoot.”
And the only reason this is now coming onto your radar, now being discussed, now being scrutinized, is because a Cook County judge ordered the release of a video.