Over a year ago in October, 2014, 17-year-old Laquan McDonald was shot 16 times by a Chicago policeman and killed. With the support of Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez, the city fought several attempts to have the dashcam video of the incident released to the public. By Wednesday, the video will be released by judicial order. An entire city now girds itself for possible demonstrations and riots. Once more community leaders anticipate that Chicago citizens will take to the streets — hopefully in nonviolent, disciplined demonstrations — to demand that Black Lives Matter.
Those who have seen the video agree that it is devastating. Local elections were a month away when the shooting took place. The tape was withheld from the public pending official investigation. But to date, there has been no action on that investigation. The police officer who shot and killed McDonald reportedly may be charged Tuesday. He remains on the police payroll.
Yet even while the tape remained secret, the Chicago City Council, acting on advice of a city attorney who had seen the tape, according to local media reports, voted for a $5 million settlement for the McDonald family before the family even filed a lawsuit. Officials continued to oppose release of the video until a judge finally ordered its release under the Freedom of Information Act laws.
In Chicago, officials offered no remedy. Instead they sat on the tape for more than a year, buried the killing in an unending investigation, gave the officer a pass, and got through the elections. Having failed to take action, they now lead a city that awaits a fearsome reaction.
Jeffrey Neslund, one of the attorneys for McDonald’s family who has seen the video, says, “It will have a powerful impact on anyone seeing it.” It apparently shows that McDonald was carrying a small knife but was walking away from police when he was shot repeatedly. Neslund argues that “the bigger story is the process. That needs to change. If the mayor and people in his administration know how devastating this is, and they can’t fire this officer and recommend that he be disciplined and charged, it is ridiculous.”
People want a remedy, not a riot. It is utterly irresponsible to do nothing until the courts make the tape public and then shudder at the anticipated outraged response by Chicago residents. Long ago, the mayor should have announced a complete shakeup of the Chicago Police Department. Only that can begin to revive any trust in the police. The unending secret investigation should make its findings known. If the tape is as damning as reported, the police officer should be charged and relieved of his duties.
Black lives do matter. If there are demonstrations when the tape is released on Wednesday, I hope citizens will protest with discipline, and demand a remedy. Chicago’s citizens should not have to demonstrate in the streets in order to be treated justly. Citizens of color should feel protected not threatened by the police whose salaries they help pay. Elected officials should worry less about covering up the horrors than about remedying them. Only action will heal the city’s wounds, and the time for it is long overdue.