Chicago is preparing to become the latest cauldron of tension after the November 24 release of a dash-cam video that shows the alleged murder of Laquan McDonald, a 17-year-old black male, by Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke. Last week, a Cook County judge ordered the police department to release the video that was recorded by a camera mounted in a police cruiser. The release of the video, said Cook County’s State Attorney Anita Alvarez, prompted her to move up the announcement of charges against Van Dyke on November 24. In a news conference after Officer Van Dyke had been ordered held on no bail. Alvarez said “I felt compelled in the interest of public safety to announce these state charges today.” Van Dyke has been charged with murder and may face a jury trial.
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel is calling for calm, as is Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner. The governor said that Illinois state police are cooperating with authorities in Chicago ensure safety in the Windy City. Gov. Rauner said that the video in question is "very troubling," while he expects public reaction to be "strong." Even so, the governor believes the public will be "thoughtful and peaceful." Rauner refused to say whether he is laying on additional state troopers in Chicago or whether the National Guard is on alert.
Community leaders, religious figures, and politicians are concerned that the video may lead to the sort of unrest seen in Baltimore MD and Ferguson MO following protests over shootings and deaths attributed to police. On November 23, Emanuel huddled with community leaders to appeal for calm. One participant described the meeting with the mayor as "very tense, very contentious," while emotions were running so high that one black minister said there is no stopping major protests upon the release of the contentious video.
According to two ministers who attended the meeting with Emanuel, blacks in Chicago are upset about the shooting and because officials refused for several months to release the video until ordered to do so.
One of the most outspoken civil rights activists in Chicago, Rev. Michael Pfleger – a Catholic priest - told parishioner at St. Sabina Church to engage in "civil disobedience" in protest against the shooting. In homily, Pfleger said "If you really want to make a statement: Black Friday is coming up. The number one business day." Pfleger said, "Don’t shop on Black Friday and go down to Michigan Avenue and sit down in the street and block the street on Michigan Avenue with civil disobedience peacefully, and say 'business as usual can’t go on while our children are dying.'" Police are bracing for a week of increased activity.
The one-page criminal complaint against Van Dyke charged him with shooting McDonald “without legal justification and with the intent to kill or do great bodily harm.” Nevertheless, Van Dyke was assigned to desk duty until the indictment. However, on November 24, he was taken off the police payroll.
"This has been a very thorough investigation," said prosecutor Alvarez. She said she would have charged the officer within one month, even if the video had not been released. Having seen the video, Alvarez said she had never seen anything like it in 30 years of law enforcement. She called it “graphic,” “violent” and “chilling,” and added that it “no doubt will tear at the hearts of all Chicagoans.” Alvarez said, “To watch a 17-year-old young man die in such a violent manner is deeply disturbing.”
Alvarez said that several witnesses saw the shooting. One told authorities that he did not see McDonald lunge for Officer Van Dyke or make any threatening motions while on the ground. “The officer’s actions were not justified and were not a proper use of deadly force,” Alvarez said.
The McDonald family had requested that the video of the October 2014 not be released. Calling for calm, a statement from the family of the victim said, “No one understands the anger more than us but if you choose to speak out, we urge you to be peaceful.” It added, “Don’t resort to violence in Laquan’s name, let his legacy be better than that.”
Prosecutors say that Officer Van Dyke opened fire on Laquan McDonald just six seconds after leaving his vehicle while McDonald was walking away from. Van Dyke allegedly fired 16 rounds into McDonald within 14 seconds. He was reloading when another officer on the scene told him to hold fire, alleged the prosecutors.
According to the prosecutors, Officer Van Dyke received a call over police radio at 9:47 p.m. of a citizen holding McDonald after he had been allegedly breaking into trucks and stealing radios in a parking lot. Another police unit responded first and reported over the radio that McDonald was walking away with a knife in hand, according Assistant State’s Attorney William Delaney said. At 9:56 p.m., another police unit reported that McDonald had “popped the tire on their squad car,” Delaney said.
The dashcam on the squad car that captured the incident showed McDonald jogging south on Pulaski past a Burger King. He then passed another police car and waved his right arm with a knife visible in his right hand, Delaney said. McDonald could then be seen in the video walking away from the officers near the center line of Pulaski Road. Van Dyke and his partner got out of their vehicle with their pistols drawn. Van Dyke took one step toward the teen and opened fire from about 10 feet away, Delaney said. “McDonald's arm jerks and his whole body spins around and falls to the ground,” Delaney said.
The video showed McDonald lying on the ground while shots continued to strike his body and the pavement near him, while his arms and body jerked. Van Dyke’s partner told Van Dyke to hold his fire so he could approach and disarm him. In the video, an officer can be seen kicking the knife away from McDonald.
Chicago Police claimed McDonald, who had PCP in his system when he died, was behaving erratically and refused commands to drop a folding knife with a 3-inch blade. At the time of the shooting, the police union has maintained the officer fired in fear of his life because the teen lunged at him with the knife.