On Oct. 20, 2014, Laquan McDonald was shot and killed by Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke. After filing a lawsuit against the Chicago police, McDonald’s family reached a settlement of five million dollars with the city government. Both parties agreed that it was in the best interest of the family and the city to not release the dashcam footage of the shooting. However, activist William Calloway believed that the decision not to release the footage continued the Chicago’s long history of refusing to acknowledge officer misconduct, and reached out to journalist Brandon Smith in an attempt to release the footage.
Calloway and Smith filed a lawsuit, claiming that the footage needed to be released under the Freedom of Information Act. The pair won the lawsuit, and on Tuesday, Nov. 24, the Chicago Police Department released the footage.
The footage is disturbing, but if you want to watch it I encourage you to do so with care. It is easily available online.
Laquan Mcdonald, a 17-year-old black kid high on PCP, was walking down a Chicago street while brandishing a small knife. Officer Van Dyke exited his squad car with his gun drawn, and as McDonald did a small spin Van Dyke fired at him several times. McDonald hit the ground, at which point Van Dyke fired 13 more shots into his immobile body.
This situation was not only a murder, it was a cover up. State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez, Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy allowed Van Dyke to resume his post as an officer of the law. They allowed him to patrol the streets of the Chicago with a badge and a gun.
The Black Youth Project, a Chicago organization of young black activists, immediately organized protests, beginning on the day of the video’s release. BYP member Malcolm London was arrested on false charges of assaulting a police officer Tuesday night, in what was a thinly veiled attempt to disband the protests. It took a matter of hours to charge London, a peaceful young black man at odds with the Chicago Police Department. It took 13 months and a lawsuit for the CPD to arrest Van Dyke for murder.
On the Wednesday night after the release of the footage, I attended another protest in downtown Chicago. We attempted to shut down the freeway but were blocked by police, at which point an 18-year-old black man named Omari Ferrell began to yell at an officer.
Was he being “disrespectful?” Yes. Did he ever make an attempt to harm this officer? No. Did this officer throw Omari to the ground by the neck as at least ten of his fellow officers swarmed him and began to punch and kick him? Yes. At this point, I dove into the swarm to block Omari from any further police abuse, and was thrown to the ground. We were both handcuffed and arrested, and after seven hours in the precinct we were released and charged with resisting arrest.
As a white man, I have the option to ignore the racism in our justice system. I can ignore the persistent police brutality against people of color in our country. I am not the one at risk of being brutalized or killed. I could listen to the officer who said “you’re stupid for getting yourself arrested for a black kid.” I could choose to believe what he told me, that “white people bend over backwards to give black people equal opportunities, but they don’t want to work.” Or I can pay attention to what’s going on around me.
I can open my eyes to the socioeconomic conditions with which we oppress people of color. I can recognize the persistent abuse of minorities by those we trust to serve and protect. I can recognize that as a white man, it is my duty to give people of color a space to speak their experience and give their testimony. Police brutality didn’t start with Michael Brown and it won’t end with Laquan McDonald. It will end when we refuse to let abusive and murderous police go free. It will end when we put money into poor minority neighborhoods instead of funneling it into the highest performing schools and richest neighborhoods. It will end when we stop electing rich, white men to decide what is best for people of color.
Listen to and learn from activists like Omari Ferrell, Malcolm London and the thousands of other POC risking their lives to fight for justice. Refuse to sit idly by as injustice continues to occur.
Max McKune ’18 (firstname.lastname@example.org) is from Chicago, Ill. He majors in psychology.