Police Abuse

Chicago May See an Officer Charged with First-Degree Murder for First Time in 35 Years (Updated)

Laquan McDonald, 17, shot 16 times.


I count nine entrance wounds in the back.
Cook County Medical Examiner

A case coming out of Chicago may well be the ultimate "If not for the video" example of how authorities deal with police aggression. Chicago Police officer Jason Van Dyke is expected to be charged with murder today in the shooting death of Laquan McDonald, 17. And we will all be able to see the most important piece of evidence by tomorrow at the latest, as a judge has ordered dash camera footage of the shooting to be released.

Here's how the Washington Post described the situation:

Like so many deaths at the hands of police, Laquan McDonald's seemed at first destined to be mired in an unending he-said, she-said.

The Chicago Police Department initially stated that McDonald, a 17-year-old African American, "lunged" at officers with a knife in a Burger King parking lot. The department's longtime spokesman, Pat Camden, said at the scene that McDonald posed "a very serious threat," leaving one officer no choice but to lodge a fatal bullet into the teenager's chest.

Reporters and a few witnesses were skeptical of this account, especially after the Cook County Medical Examiner announced that McDonald in fact had "multiple" gunshot wounds. An autopsy later revealed that McDonald had been shot 16 times, in different places all over his body.

Jamie Kalven, the freelance journalist who first obtained the autopsy through a Freedom of Information Act request, called these details "the silent testimony of Laquan McDonald's corpse."

Gunshot wound of the left scalp. Gunshot wound of the neck. Gunshot wound of the right upper leg. And so on.

McDonald had PCP in his system at the time of his death and was allegedly holding a knife as reported. People are so used to scare stories about the drug turning people into superhuman monsters that it would be easy for them to believe the police's claim the young man lunged at them. But those who have seen the footage see a different story. The shooting actually started as McDonald was walking away from the police. Here's what the McDonald family's attorney saw:

"He is walking. … When the officer begins shooting, the first shots spin McDonald around. The officer continues to fire from a distance of between 12 and 15 feet. McDonald falls. The only movement is the puffs of smoke coming from the teen's torso and his head. The police officer comes into view and kicks the knife out of the boy's right hand."

Interestingly, even before this video has been released and the officer charged, Mayor Rahm Emanuel had offered the McDonald family a $5 million settlement, all while fighting the release of the footage.

Van Dyke has a history of complaints against him but no discipline. But then, according to the a police accountability nonprofit named the Invisible Institute, more 99 percent of the thousands of misconduct complaints against Chicago police this year have led to no discipline.

The Chicago Police Department has a notoriously corrupt history. But it also has a problematic present. Read more about other terrible Chicago police behavior and its secret detainment facility where it separates suspects from legal representation here

Update: Van Dyke has formally been charged with murder.