Wednesday, 25 November 2015


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The Chicago police shooting of Laquan McDonald, explained
Updated by German Lopez on November 25, 2015, 8:45 a.m. ET

Scott Olson/Getty Images
Laquan McDonald didn't appear to pose a threat to the people around him as he haphazardly ran down a Chicago street, allegedly carrying a knife but keeping his distance from the police cars parked around him. But a video released Tuesday, more than a year after the October 20, 2014, incident, shows a police officer nonetheless approaching McDonald from at least 10 feet away and firing 16 shots, even after the black 17-year-old fell to the ground.

The video was released hours after Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez announced she would press first-degree murder charges against Jason Van Dyke, the officer who shot and killed McDonald. Prior to the release of the video, the city braced for potential protests and perhaps violence in response to the footage — Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy said at a press conference Tuesday that they were prepared for the worst.

The release of the footage comes after months of pressure by local activists and an independent journalist, Brandon Smith, who pushed in court to have the video released to the public. But the shooting has also drawn nationwide scrutiny, elevated by the Black Lives Matter movement that's protested racial disparities in police use of force following the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, in August 2014. It is just the latest example, then, of what many critics see as a systemic problem in the criminal justice system.

Jason Van Dyke shot Laquan McDonald while the 17-year-old was on the ground

Warning: Graphic footage of a police shooting:

Only one police car's dashboard camera caught the McDonald shooting, according to the state's case against Van Dyke.

The grainy video shows McDonald running and then walking down the middle of a street. At one point, Van Dyke appears to open fire when McDonald is about 10 feet away. McDonald twirls around, apparently struck by bullets. He then falls to the ground, where he briefly moves before lying still. An officer then approaches the body and kicks away an object — allegedly a knife with a 3-inch blade that the teen held as he moved down the street and until he fell to a barrage of bullets.

According to the autopsy report, 16 bullets struck McDonald. The charging documents claim Van Dyke spent 14 or 15 seconds shooting McDonald. Van Dyke continued firing for 13 seconds while McDonald was on the ground, according to forensic evidence. Only two of the 16 shots could be definitively linked to when McDonald was standing, and Van Dyke fired all the shots.

The charging documents also claim that Van Dyke was on the scene for less than 30 seconds before he began firing.

Police officers on the scene claimed that McDonald didn't respond to commands to drop the knife. He reportedly had a glazed look in his eyes, and a toxicology report later found he had the drug PCP in his system.

But McDonald never seemed to threaten the officers, and in fact appeared to move away from them before Van Dyke opened fire. Still, Van Dyke's attorney told the New York Times that the officer feared for his safety.

The charges against Van Dyke were filed 13 months after he shot McDonald, and it's likely the video played some role in landing those charges. The video was released after months of pressure by activists and journalists, eventually pushing Cook County Judge Franklin Valderrama to order the city to release the footage by Wednesday.

Alvarez, the top prosecutor in Cook County, claimed she decided to charge Van Dyke weeks ago but was hoping to hold off on the announcement until federal authorities completed their part of the joint investigation into the shooting. She said she "moved up" the announcement after the judge's order to release the video, according to the Chicago Tribune.

"The officer's actions were not justified and were not a proper use of deadly force," Alvarez said.

As troubling as the video and charges are, they're not the first time Van Dyke came under criticism for his work as a police officer.

Jason Van Dyke has a long history of complaints

 Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy speaks to media.
Scott Olson/Getty Images
Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy speaks to media.
According to a University of Chicago database, civilians filed at least 18 complaints against Van Dyke since 2001, although he was never disciplined for the complaints:

One complaint dealt with racial or ethnic verbal abuse.
Ten complaints were about arrest and lock-up procedures.
Three complaints alleged First Amendment violations and illegal arrests.
One complaint was search-related.
One complaint pertained to operation and personnel violations.
Two complaints noted other misconduct, but the details are unknown.
Still, these complaints are only the minimum. Alison Flowers from the University of Chicago Invisible Institute told ABC 7, "Our data tool does not encompass all of Van Dyke's complaints. There are still more that exist that we don't have access to, that we've not been provided by the city, because of the injunction by the Fraternal Order of Police."

Beyond the particulars of the specific charges and complaints against Van Dyke, critics of police use of force argue that the shooting of McDonald represents a much broader problem in the US: Black people are, compared with their white peers, disproportionately likely to be shot and killed by police.