Police Abuse

Chicago Police Indictments Show Importance of Making Videos Public

Would anybody have been held accountable for Laquan McDonald's death if we hadn't seen the shooting?


Laquan McDonald and Jason Van Dyke

Three more police officers in Chicago face charges for the shooting death of Laquan McDonald in 2015.

Everything that has followed McDonald's death has emphasized the importance of the role of dashcam video in attempting to pursue justice and accountability in response.

McDonald's death at the hands of police and the way Chicago responded at the time demonstrated multiple problems with government transparency and accountability for misconduct that drives conflict between citizens and law enforcement.

The "official" story that McDonald, 17, had lunged at police with a knife in a Burger King parking lot did not add up based on stories from other witnesses and the facts presented by the autopsy. McDonald's shooting was also captured on a police dashcam. The City of Chicago (the mayor's office, not just the police) resisted releasing the footage until a judge finally ordered them to do so.

Once the video was released, it became clear to the public that story it had been told about the shooting was wrong. Now three Chicago police officers (two of whom have already left the force) face state charges of conspiracy and obstruction of justice for their alleged role in trying to cover up what actually happened that night.

A fourth officer, Jason Van Dyke, was charged with murder in 2015.

The three facing charges include two officers who were there at the shooting, Joseph Walsh and Thomas Gaffney (Walsh was Van Dyke's partner), and the detective who investigated the shooting and declared it justified, David March.

But these three are far from the only officers who were aware of what actually happened, The New York Times notes, and other officers also supported Van Dyke's description of what happened.

It's worth noting these three additional indictments illustrate the ongoing struggles to implement and enforce mechanisms to keep police conduct publicly transparent and accountable.

There were five police cars at the scene when McDonald was killed. Only two produced dashcam videos of the shooting, neither with sound. Subsequent reporting and investigation showed a serious problem with dashcams not being on or not functioning properly. The department itself classified some of it as "intentional damage."

It feels as though we were lucky to get any footage of McDonald's shooting.

The same problems occur when police officers have not turned on their body cameras or for some other reason video footage isn't captured. If police management fails to hold officers accountable for not properly recording encounters, issues of misconduct will fester.

And getting the city to release the video for public viewing is just as serious a threat to government transparency. We're seeing concerning trends. Pennsylvania is giving law enforcement agencies broad authority to conceal police recordings from disclosure and exempt them from public records laws.

These laws are sold to the public as protecting the privacy of citizens during sensitive police encounters. But those who want to protect the public from police misconduct must fight those same police and municipalities and prove to a judge that a video should be released.

Pennsylvania's legislation has the potential to create another Chicago every time somebody asks to see controversial footage. Self-interested authorities insist that they're protecting privacy when they're cynically using the rules to protect themselves from accountability.

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  1. Would anybody have been held accountable for Laquan McDonald’s death if we hadn’t seen the shooting?

    “But one thing’s sure. Laquan McDonald is dead, murdered, and somebody’s responsible.”

  2. The thing that pissed me off about this case (aside, of course, from the dead dude and the police lies) was the professional grievance class here in Chicago that made this case first into a race thing and then into a catchall for other planks of the progressive platform (e.g., protesters wearing shirts that read “Fund Black Lives”).

    Meaningful police reform ain’t gonna happen until white, middle-income suburbanites, whose gut reaction is to support the police and to be wary of people asking for more money, recognize just what in the fuck is going on. The schizo messaging isn’t helping.

    1. There are hundreds of white men shot and killed by cops every year and the cops get off in those cases every time as well. Do you know a single one of their names? Police do shoot blacks at like 3X the rate, but then again black men commit murder 7X the rate of white men. The media’s need to only push narratives is the biggest thing preventing police reform. They insist on making it entirely about race. Race is one factor, for sure, but not even close to the main problems with police abuse. Police abuse stories we hear about also tend to happen in big liberal-run cities with poor minority populations where our news industry is concentrated.

      1. And the white guys had it coming because they were filthy Polacks, Micks, Greaseballs, etc. Divide and conquer.

      2. I do partially blame the media, but part of it is, in my opinion, an inevitable consequence of the disproportionate concern about this issue across racial groups. When black people are, in general, far more likely to notice and care about police abuse and misconduct than white people are, it’s not surprising to me that the issue gets racialized to the extent it does. Again, I agree that police abuse/misconduct is not an entirely racial issue the way it often gets portrayed, I’m just saying it doesn’t surprise me that race features so heavily in the discussion given the racial disparity in opinions stacked on top of hundreds of years of American history.

  3. These laws are sold to the public as protecting the privacy of citizens during sensitive police encounters.

    This is the same reason they do not reveal names of those arrested but not yet convicted. Also why police certainly don’t post on social media the mugshots of any accused caught in prostitution stings.

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