National News

Black community outraged as charges of a police cover-up in Chicago shooting of teen grow louder

By Ashahed M. Muhammad -Assistant Editor- | Last updated: Dec 2, 2015 - 5:01:16 PM

What's your opinion on this article?

Protesters shut down Chicago’s “Magnifi cent Mile” as pressure on City officials heats up in the killing of Laquan McDonald by a Chicago police officer. Photo: Haroon Rajaeee

Cook County Judge Donald Panarese Jr. set bail at $1.5 million for Jason Van Dyke, the White Chicago police officer charged with first-degree murder in the death of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald. In order for him to be released, Mr. Van Dyke had to pay 10 percent or $150,000 based on the judge’s decision Nov. 30. He was out of jail that evening.

While a sense of collective outrage seems to pervade the Black community, many wonder how long it will last and is there a willingness to engage in collective action to change conditions faced by Black Chicago?

Protesters display signs calling for accountability from Chicago City Hall. Photo: Haroon Rajaee
Community activists immediately reacted with outrage to the bail decision, marching on City Hall, vowing to keep the pressure on until all involved in what they condemned as a cover-up by the state’s attorney, the police superintendent and the mayor were ousted. Several protesters were arrested for disorderly conduct, blocking La Salle St. traffic in front of City Hall. NAACP President Cornell William Brooks was arrested along with about 10 others.

At Final Call press time, more protests and acts of civil disobedience were planned near Chicago police headquarters and locations across the city. Police officers and the police union were on hand to support, transport and protect Ofc. Van Dyke after a $150,000 cashier’s check was posted.

This came after stores were shut down by protesters who locked arms, blocked streets and stopped people from shopping over Black Friday weekend along the famed Magnificent Mile, an upscale shopping and business district that runs along Michigan Avenue in downtown Chicago. It is a popular tourist destination and the location of many world-renowned hotels and landmarks. Along the stretch of land are 460 stores, 275 restaurants and 51 hotels, attracting over 22 million visitors annually.

Doors were blocked Nov. 27 in front of the nation’s three largest banks that have main branches along the strip: Bank of America, Citibank, and JPMorgan Chase Bank.

Protesters chanted: “‎No justice, no profit!” “Justice or else! Redistribute the pain!” and “Which side are you on? Justice for Laquan!”

Protesters shut down Chicago’s “Magnificent Mile” strip in response of a fatal police shooting of a teen. Photo: Haroon Rajaee
Though the Black Friday boycott had been planned for some time, Chicago became the epicenter of  Black Lives Matter protests after Judge Franklin Valderrama ordered video footage of the October 2014 police involved shooting of young McDonald be released to the public by Nov. 25. The ruling came in response to a request by a journalist under the Freedom of Information Act and followed months of delays by political officials and legal authorities.

In the video, the Black youth, reportedly only armed with a small knife, can been seen walking away from police officers when shot and killed by Ofc. Van Dyke. After his body spins around and crumples to the ground, the officer pumped more bullets into the body and, according to court documents, was reloading, when another officer stopped him.

There is no apparent concern shown for Mr. McDonald, as he lay wounded in the street in the video. No officer moved to check his pulse. The only thing seen in the video after the shooting was a very small shiny object kicked away as the victim bled. He was pronounced dead at Mount Sinai Hospital, at 10:42 p.m. There were reportedly 8 to 12 other police officers at the scene, but only Ofc. Van Dyke fired a weapon. An autopsy showed Mr. McDonald was shot 16 times.

Veteran political leader Danny K. Davis said what takes place in the city spreads, especially when it comes to issues of injustice. “It just happens that this is indeed Chicago and the people of the city are not going to standby and permit—Frederick Douglass said it—if you find the level of oppression for which a people will submit that is exactly what they will get, and people are saying that there has been law enforcement oppression for much too long, and no longer are we going to stand by and submit to it,” said Mr. Davis, who is a U.S. congressman.

Many who came to the Mag Mile for shopping appeared confused as they walked up to Water Tower Place, a shopping center, and found the door locked during the middle of the day on Black Friday. The Water Tower includes eight levels of shops.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, left, and Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy appear at a news conference, Nov. 24, in Chicago, announcing first-degree murder charges against police officer Jason Van Dyke in the Oct. 24, death of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald. The city then released the dash-cam video of the shooting to media outlets after the news conference. Photo: AP Wide World Photos
In a day set up specifically for commerce, it is clear Mag Mile stores were losing money not only from reduced foot traffic, but also because most had either hired or called in extra workers. Businesses were losing money on both ends—having no shoppers, but still having to pay staff to essentially stand around,  look at protesters outside and have nothing to do inside.

“Today was a massive showing of not only solidarity, but actual engagement with this system and that’s exactly what we need,” said entrepreneur and community activist Hannibal Hereford of the Free Breakfast Movement. “It is going to incite even further action and motivate people to take charge of their own destiny and that’s what we need.”

As a veteran activist, he has connections with activists nationwide and even worldwide with links to Australia and Tanzania. People around the globe have been impacted by what took place on the Mag Mile in Chicago, he argued.

“They are all plugged in and all motivated by what we are doing,” said Mr. Hereford. “American Black folks have always been the tip of the spear, we’ve always had the most sophisticated rebellious spirit and we’re going to continue to incite this kind of rebellious spirit across this planet.”

Those involved with protests said their activity was designed to show Black people will no longer support merchants who uphold White Supremacy. Corrupt cops, vigilantes and ordinary White men who have killed unarmed Black men and women have cost American retailers a lot of money, they said.

Lamon Reccord, a 16-year-old protester, became the face of the demonstrations as national broadcasts showed him intensely staring at a Chicago police officer. In some photos he can be seen yelling at officers. With his fellow protesters marching past and uniformed police keeping careful watch, the teenager wanted everyone around the globe to view the video of Laquan McDonald being shot.

“And when you see that smoke coming from his body that will make you angry! That will make you come out here and shut stuff down!” Mr. Reccord continued. “It will make you do that! It will make you get up in somebody’s face; it will make you get in an officer’s face and curse him out!”

He and others say they are fighting for justice for all, even Black police officers who know what the young Black protesters are saying about police brutality and repression is true.

Protesters march down Chicago’s “Magnificent Mile” shopping strip, Nov. 27 effectively stopping Black Friday shopping. Photo: Haroon Rajaee
“I actually wanted him to feel my pain,” said Mr. Reccord. “We’ve got to think outside of the box and  take it to a whole new level and take it to the farthest extent that we can. And say what if that was your son that got shot 16 times? You would take that badge off, you would take that uniform off, you would get out of that suit and you would come on our side and know how it is to face this everyday life situation! You would know the pain that we’re feeling because right now, we don’t have justice, we don’t have freedom!”

 “How do you shoot Laquan 16 times?” asked Mr. Reccord “You reloaded your gun!”

Laquan McDonald was a ward of the state from the age of six until the day he died. He was removed from the care of his mother at age 3 by the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services and placed in foster care at age 5. According to reports, during a brief time being reunited with his mother, a man who was her live-in boyfriend physically abused him. Like many other young Black boys, he stayed with various relatives during his pre-teen and early teenage years.

Criticism is being leveled at high-ranking politicians, law enforcement officials, and even prominent clergymen who urge people to “trust the system.” In reality, the system does not work, said protestors and activists.

At a late November press conference announcing release of the video, Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy seemed to acknowledge systemic failures, but stopped short of admitting departmental responsibility. Nor did he deliver any assurances to those who wanted to see the officer dealt with swiftly.

“In this case, we have a tragic ending unfortunately to a tragic life of a young man who was betrayed on a number of different levels,” Supt. McCarthy said. “Typically, these cases end up in the police department’s hands and in this case, it ended up in his death,” he said.

Muriel Sosa is a professional woman, but with anger in her voice, she shared what motivated her to join Black Friday protests. “I’m sick and tired of them killing our babies! It has to stop!” she said. “Would they shoot a White kid 16 times and let him die in the street like a dog? Hell no! They would never do that! We’re sick and tired of it and it needs to stop! McCarthy, he should go, Anita Alvarez and Rahm Emanuel—he should not be mayor again! We’re ready for him to go! Anita Alvarez? She’s out of here!” Ms. Sosa said defiantly.

It took over 13 months for video footage in the McDonald case to be made public. On the federal level a long investigation has produced nothing. Illinois states attorney Alvarez appears to have dragged her feet on the investigation, leading to little faith in the system and calls for a special prosecutor. Murder charges against officers discharging their weapons in the line of duty are extremely rare. Many are more concerned with how long it took for the states attorney to act—the murder charges followed the judge’s order that the chilling video be released.

It is clear Ms. Alvarez will be fighting to remain in her position until elections take place March 15, 2016. She was the first Latina and woman to hold the office and is backed by powerful Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan.

But she isn’t the only one demonstrators view with disdain. Supt. McCarthy stuck by his officer until the last minute—and has vowed not to step down. Lies told early are also coming back to a police department that enjoys little confidence among Blacks. Officers at the scene stood by the claim Mr. McDonald attacked police. Police union spokesman Pat Camden very matter-of-factly repeated what is now seen as carefully crafted fiction to protect the cop who filled teen McDonald’s body with bullets. Despite Mr. Camden’s words at the time, it is clear Laquan McDonald did not lunge at officers.

According to the Citizens Police Data Project, there have been 20 misconduct complaints against Ofc. Van Dyke and recently allegations of his use of racial slurs have emerged. None of the charges have resulted in disciplinary action.

It is also troubling that dashcam video supplied by police lacked audio as part of a series of failure. Despite repeated questions, no one can explain why video footage supplied to the public lacks audio. Multiple police vehicles are on scene in the video and observers say it is highly unlikely all of the cars had audio malfunctions.

And then there’s the question of missing surveillance video near the location where Mr. McDonald was killed. Supt. McCarthy denied reports that officers tampered with video from a nearby Burger King restaurant that might have provided additional insight into what happened. According to multiple accounts, some 86 minutes of video footage from the Burger King went missing. The restaurant’s district manager has testified before a federal grand jury. He said members of the Chicago Police Department deleted video following the shooting. Surveillance footage was missing between 9:13 p.m. and 10:39 p.m. The shooting occurred at approximately 9:50 p.m., according to lawyers for the McDonald family.

This is more of the same from a Chicago Police Department with a long and sordid history of torturing, killing, and covering up crimes, said activists.

Powerful Mayor Rahm Emanuel is being accused of suppressing the release of the video. He like others heard concerns the video could have raised tensions in the city as protests against police brutality were going on almost daily across the country last year. Few believe Mayor Emanuel’s story of not seeing the McDonald shooting video prior to presiding over a $5 million settlement with the youth’s family. The settlement was approved by the City Council in April. The shooting took place on October 20, 2014, and Mayor Emanuel was facing a nonpartisan election February 24, 2015. Then a runoff election with County Commissioner Jesús “Chuy” Garcia was held on April 7. Mr. Emanuel won a second term, receiving 55.7 percent of the vote, which included a large amount of Black support. Such support could have been hard to come by had the video and the details of the case been public.

The city has paid millions in taxpayer dollars settling cases of police misconduct, fighting charges of excessive force and making restitution for wrongful imprisonment. But some of these cases have taken decades to resolve. The speedy $5 million settlement approved by the council in six months of the shooting raised even more suspicion.

Were some Chicago council members pressured to approve the $5 million settlement and not raise any questions before the election?

While there are also calls for Mayor Emanuel to resign, that seems unlikely. More immediately Supt. McCarthy, who seemed to be involved daily in damage control, was on the hot seat and the most vulnerable. There was speculation that if for no reason other than political expediency for Mayor Emanuel and the opportunity for the mayor to release some of the political pressure, the police chief's job was in jeopardy. It came as no surprise December 1 when in a morning news conference, Mayor Emanuel announced he had asked for and accepted McCarthy's resignation. McCarthy's temporary replacement is 1st Deputy Superintendent John Escalante, a 29-year veteran of the force who has held the second-highest post in the department since October 2014.

Nation of Islam Minister Louis Farrakhan talked about the Laquan McDonald shooting Nov. 29 calling it a “reprehensible murder.”

“The cover-up began the day it happened,” said Min. Farrakhan. “So many liars, so many conspirators involved!”

The police are not trained to keep the peace in Black communities, they are charged with ensuring that criminal activity and violence is restricted, confined to specific areas and away from business districts downtown, he said.