Some background on the scandal surrounding the shooting of 17 year old Laquan McDonald by Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke.
On October 20th, 2014, around 10pm, Chicago police were called to a trucking yard near Midway Airport in the South Side of Chicago after receiving a report that someone with a knife was breaking into trucks and stealing radios. Upon arriving on the scene officers confronted a troubled black teenager named Laquan McDonald, 17. The city reports that McDonald, who had suffered child abuse throughout his childhood, was high on PCP, was carrying a 3-inch blade, and had popped the tires and damaged the windshield of a police vehicle. Seeing a teenager with a small blade, the eight officers on the scene felt no threat to their lives and did not open fire. Instead, the officers attempted to encircle McDonald, who was now in the street, and get him to drop his knife. It was at this time, while McDonald was walking in the middle of the street, away from police officers, with a full lane of traffic separating him and the officers that were following him, that white officer Jason Van Dyke arrived on the scene. Within six seconds of getting out of his car, Van Dyke proceeded to empty his entire 16 round pistol clip into McDonald. After expending his first clip at close range into the teenager, officer Van Dyke then reloaded and continued firing into McDonald's near lifeless body on the ground. McDonald was pronounced dead at a hospital a short time later.
The initial story about the killing in the media was a simple one. McDonald posed “a very serious threat to officers”, he “lunged” at officers with his knife, and was shot in self-defense. The story went unchallenged and received little coverage.
However, at the highest levels of city government the killing of Laquan McDonald was causing some panic. The killing had taken place in full view of 5 police dashboard cameras with full audio and video capabilities, a surveillance camera at a nearby Burger King, and several horrified eyewitnesses. It is likely that within days of the shooting footage was viewed by the city of Chicago’s mayor and Barack Obama’s former Chief of Staff, Rahm Emanuel. Recently released emails show that as of December 2014 Emanuel at least knew about the video footage of the killing (although he continues to deny he actually watched the footage). One can only imagine how Emanuel, who was smack in the middle of a re-election campaign, reacted to the footage which if released would have assuredly damaged his credibility with the city’s African-Americans. For the time being Emanuel stalled. He ordered that the tapes be kept secret and that the issue be sent to the Police Review Authority where it would languish hopefully forever in secret.
However, even for a battle-hardened politico like Emanuel, this case would prove to be extremely hard to just shove under the rug. Emanuel, a long time Democratic Party hack who worked closely with Bill Clinton to shove the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) through congress, was essentially appointed the mayor of Chicago by the Party establishment in 2011 as a reward for his help on the Obama campaign. And while he had powerful friends in Washington, his appointment was opposed by certain sectors of the local Party elite who have long controlled the Chicago political establishment. If it should leak at any point that Emanuel had in any way himself ordered a cover up of the McDonald case then not only would Emanuel’s shaky hold on the Chicago political scene be destroyed, but also anyone who had close connections with Emanuel (notably Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama) would suffer. In short he was sitting on a serious scandal.
In order to at least uphold the bare minimum standards of the judicial process and to not be seen to be utterly sabotaging any attempt to view the videos, the City of Chicago was forced to show the footage of the killing to the McDonald family’s attorneys. After viewing the footage the attorneys urged the family to sue the city, insisting that the video evidence was damning. However, the family did not want to sue fearing that the release of the video may trigger riots.
On April 15th, 2015, just days after Emanuel’s re-election, the Chicago City Council “quickly and without debate” approved a $5 million settlement for the McDonald family, despite the family not even filing a lawsuit against the city. Information began to slowly emerge from various sources that there was a major cover-up taking place. By May of 2015, journalists were sending in Freedom of Information Act requests to the city, asking that the footage from police cars at the scene of the shooting be released. The city stalled on the responses to the requests, and eventually denied a total of 15 of them all on the same grounds; that releasing the footage would interrupt an ongoing investigation being conducted by the Police Review Authority. An independent reporter by the name of Brandon Smith, who had his request rejected along with everyone else, sued the City of Chicago demanding that they release the video. The lawsuit would be decided not by the city government, but by the state.
This would prove to be the straw that broke the camel’s back. The Democratic Party establishment in Chicago was committed to a cover-up, but the lawsuit had now involved the Democratic Party as a whole. Nobody in the Democratic Party elite wanted to get within 10 feet of the scandal. Hillary Clinton issued a public statement saying that the footage should be released. Soon after, Illinois State Attorney General Lisa Madigan ruled that the City of Chicago must release the footage.
On November 24th, 2015, after 13 months of delay, video footage of the killing was finally released. Of the 5 police cars with working video and audio recordings, two police cars had their video footage without audio released to the public. The other three recordings and the audio from released video footage are still inexplicably missing. Also missing is 86 minutes of footage from a surveillance camera at a nearby Burger King which police have assuredly either destroyed or have locked away somewhere.
The released footage shows McDonald, aged 17, the son of teenage parents who grew up moving from foster home to foster home, shot sixteen times while walking away from police officers.