A Chicago police officer shot Laquan McDonald as he walked away from him, carrying a knife. Officer Jason Van Dyke emptied his service weapon in McDonald's direction less than 30 seconds after his vehicle arrived on scene. McDonald was hit 16 times, with a majority of those coming after he was already laying on the ground.
The dashcam video -- buried by the city for 13 months as it fought Uber-driving citizen journalist Brandon Smith's FOIA lawsuit -- directly contradicted reports written by multiple officers.
The report quotes Van Dyke saying: “(Laquan), raised knife across chest over shoulder, pointed knife at (me)…(I) believed (Laquan) was trying to kill (me).”
Van Dyke’s partner and driver, Officer Joe Walsh, raced around the car, pointed his weapon but didn’t shoot. He told an investigator he: “believed (Laquan) was attacking Van Dyke with knife attempting to kill (him).”
In the video released two weeks ago, Van Dyke and Walsh are seen driving up, as McDonald walks down the centerline of Pulaski Road, the officers getting out of their SUV and Van Dyke almost immediately opening fire on McDonald as he angled away from them.
Officer Dora Fontaine said:”(Laquan) raised (his) right arm toward (Van Dyke) as if attacking (him).”
The dashcam video was buried so the official narrative could take hold: a threatened officer killed a man in self-defense. To aid in this, a nearby Burger King was raided by officers
to confiscate footage caught by its CCTV cameras.
This footage was eventually released as well, but every recording from every Burger King camera included an 80-minute gap covering the time the shooting took place.
The released dashcam video flipped the narrative. It was no longer Officer Van Dyke defending himself from a dangerous suspect. It was Officer Van Dyke dumping 16 bullets into a person walking away from him. Van Dyke was charged with murder
shortly before the video was released. Had the court not ordered the release of the video, it's very likely Van Dyke would still be employed by the Chicago PD and not facing any criminal charges.
The mayor's office immediately went into damage control mode, immediately throwing Police Superintendent Gerry McCarthy under the nearest bus
. Notably, Mayor Rahm Emanuel claimed McCarthy was a "distraction," rather than the failed "leader" of a police force that ran its own "black site"
and has been synonymous with abuse and corruption for years.
Critics also noted Emanuel had fought the release of this video for months, dating back to his re-election run where he claimed its release would "taint" a federal investigation.
Rahm Emanuel wants to have it both ways: defend his city's frequently horrendous police force and be the bold reformer who will finally clean up the cesspool it's become under his (and his predecessors') watch. Consequently, he's failing at both.
The police already see Emanuel as a fair-weather tool of the media and general public -- much like most politicians. The public's view of Emanuel is nearly identical, even if it's more concerned about
the city's cops, rather than for
His apparent complicity in the recording's cover-up make his new claims of unprecedented transparency very suspect. So do his actions.
Brandon Smith, who forced the video out of the city's hands, wasn't notified by the city that the video was being released. He ended up locked out of the press conference
announcing the release because he had no press credentials. Officials issuing statements on the release never mentioned his name.
This doesn't sync up with the mayor's public statements
Mayor Rahm Emanuel proclaimed the arrival of a fresh new era of sincerity and openness concerning policing in Chicago. "I know that personally, I have a lot of work to do to win back the public’s trust, and that words are not enough," the mayor told the City Council.
Referring to the video of the fatal shooting of Laquan McDonald by Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke, Emanuel said: "Every day that we held onto the video contributed to the public’s distrust. And that needs to change."
And he wasn't content to wait for change, he made clear: "It starts today. It starts now."
"Now" is a meaningless word in Mayor Emanuel's mouth, as Steve Bogira of the Chicago Reader points out.
The mayor fought for months to suppress the video showing the slaying of the 17-year-old McDonald. And now he's continuing to fight to suppress videos of the fatal police shooting of 17-year-old Cedrick Chatman almost three years ago.
The video Bogira is seeking involves Officer Kevin Fry, who has a history of shooting unarmed citizens and being named in civil rights lawsuits. Chatman was carrying an iPhone box. In 2007, he shot an unarmed 17-year-old because he believed he was reaching for a gun. It turned out to be the teenager's belt buckle. In that case, the teen who was shot received a $99,000 settlement.
Emanuel's new transparency apparently hasn't filtered down to the PD. Bogira notes its FOIA denial tactics remain largely unchanged.
The police department is on even shakier ground in withholding the Chatman videos. There is no ongoing criminal investigation: the state's attorney's office in May 2013 declined to prosecute Fry, citing "insufficient evidence of criminal intent." Nor is there a pending disciplinary investigation: in June, IPRA closed its investigation of Fry, concluding that his shooting of Chatman was justified.
Bogira may be expecting a bit too much from a PD likely besieged by FOIA requests, but he's not wrong to call out the mayor for talking big about reform while doing nothing to ensure his works are followed by meaningful actions. The new transparency will likely last only as long as it has to -- until the furor dies down, the DOJ packs up
and heads back to Washington, and everyone can go back to pretending gunning down citizens is just the natural side effect of everyday police work.