Scandal Envelops Chicago

Screen shot of Officer Jason Van Dyke raising his weapon to shoot Laquan McDonald on a Chicago street.

The October 2014 video of Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke fatally shooting Laquan McDonald became available only after a court battle and was first made public on November 25, 2015.

Everyone is more comfortable talking about ‘the video’ than about the killing of Laquan McDonald.  But the video is important only as ‘the thing left behind’—a messy artifact revealing that, for more than a year, Chicago’s police force and political establishment have all been complicit in covering up a dirty killing.

With this artifact as key, events of the past year have taken on a whole new meaning, one filling all Chicago with disgust and outrage.  This clue to ‘what really happened’ gives the public a yardstick, empirical and moral, for measuring all the related actions that our officials took subsequently.  The callousness, cowardice, and banality of their actions are enveloping the city in shame.

In a town used to corruption, this scandal is different, implicating the mayor, the police, the City Council, the state’s attorney, a complacent media, even, arguably, the victim’s family.

No one of the parties responsible for declaring Laquan McDonald’s death an unjustifiable mistake and demanding that his killer be appropriately punished rose to the occasion.  For various reasons, everyone involved shirked this basic responsibility, efficiently burying the facts of the case in such a way that a gross miscarriage of justice was, in the end, nobody’s fault,’ as Dickens would say.

Now the guilty parties are rushing to save themselves, stab others in the back, and shift the burden of responsibility.  The mayor fired the police chief the other day.  The feds will step up their investigating.  But will the guilty be punished?  Will Chicago ever change?  As all Chicago wakes to the reality of its government’s systemic corruption, we’re about to find out whether any entity has the wherewithal to hold the police union, the mayor, or the City Council responsible for actions that amounted to an obstruction of justice.

Image: Screen shot from dashcom video,
which can be viewed in its entirety here.

7 responses

  1. Indeed. I find the mainstream media’s complacency especially scandalous.

    Who, in fact, forced the city’s hand into releasing the video? One Brandon Smith,
    a very young freelance journalist who worked doggedly to bring this evidence to light, eventually suing the city for its release.

    According to the Daily Southtown:

    “Who is Brandon Smith? He writes part-time for whoever will buy his work and also has worked in restaurant kitchens and drives for Uber to support himself.

    Smith broke this story without working for any news organization. In fact, this small-town Ohio native, who has set the Chicago’s political establishment on its ear, hasn’t even earned his bachelor’s degree yet.”

    • The guy should be in line for a Pulitzer.

      The scandal illustrates the continuing salience of Hannah Arendt’s concept of the banality of evil.

      Just like Germans did when carrying out official Nazi policies, those involved in the Laquan McDonald case are going to argue that they were merely observing bureaucratic customs and precedents, that they were merely following orders or ‘doing their duty.’

      The city’s lawyer justified the pre-emptive settlement to McDonald’s family on the grounds that it would save the city a lot of money. Whereas police on the scene had been requesting a Tasar to subdue McDonald, they never got one; instead, he was shot. Alderman Ed Burke was subsequently recorded in the finance-committee meeting as observing, “It would appear had the Taser been available in this case, the taxpayers wouldn’t be shelling out $5 million.” While the aldermen of the finance committee were being being briefed on the unpleasantness and expense of the killing being discussed in a courtroom setting, they were also being plied with arguments having to do mainly with efficiency and money-saving. In the light of those considerations, their action could be seen as ‘responsible’ and ‘prudent.’ Unfortunately, this is a kind of deal involving police misconduct that the city has become all too accustomed to making.

  2. Please see the recent article in The University of Chicago Magazine Fall 2015, “Share and Protect” on the work of Craig Futterman in the Law School. The Law School’s Civil Rights and Police Accountability project represented Brandon Smith.

    • Thanks, Margie.
      Another video, showing the fatal police killing of Ronald Johnson, is also about to be released. Lawyers for the victim’s mother say the video will show her son was unarmed.

  3. Craig Futterman is one of the few heroes in this sorry situation. He did indeed help Brandon Smith file his lawsuit to force the city to release the L. MacDonald video. Together with Jamie Kalven, also of the University of Chicago, Futterman also runs the Invisible Institute, a non-profit journalistic production company on the South Side of Chicago. Their Citizen Police Data Project and Youth/Police Project are gathering important information on the relationship between police and Chicago communities, in order to help hold institutions accountable.

    I heard Futterman speak a few months ago at an event where he screened video of Chicago teenagers recounting their everyday encounters with the police. Powerful.

  4. Susan, a very well written and powerful essay ! . . . I was watching Chicago Tonight yesterday and all the panelists ( 4 ), who have been covering Chicago news for decades, agreed that the McDonald murder coverup is the very worst of the worst they have ever “seen.” The corruption is, as you say, so horribly blatant, from the cop on the street to the top of the city’s political hierarchy. The situation is horrible, awful and terrible. . . . Just today The Tribune reports on its front page the details of Van Dyke’s official report after he shot McDonald sixteen times; it is nothing but one lie after another, the video cam proving it. . . . I hope you will write more about this ongoing tragedy.

    • The mayor will try to put it all on the police department, though he actively covered up what had happened in order to get something he wanted for himself, which was re-election. I have lost all trust in him. He is neither honest or courageous.