An organization is a reflection of its leadership. I firmly believe this to be true. Part of wearing the mantle of leadership is accepting responsibility for the things that happen under your watch — both good and bad. The revelations surrounding the LaQuan McDonald case demonstrates failed leadership at all levels and, more bluntly, it demonstrates cowardice.
A video that shows the brutal killing of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald was released — against the wishes of a city administration that tried adamantly to keep the tapes from the public. The dashboard-cam video reportedly shows the teenager being shot 16 times by a Chicago police officer, with several of the shots taking place after the boy was already immobile on the ground.
Most of us were taught as children that ‘honesty is the best policy.’ When I was taught the phrase, there were no conditions to it. Truth is freedom and honesty allows one to operate freely and with boldness. The response to the LaQuan McDonald case is the height of cowardice.
A mayor denied he saw the video, yet knew enough about it to exclaim that it was “hideous.” A city council quietly approved a $5 million payout to the family in the absence of a lawsuit. A police superintendent only now, with the pressure of the tape’s release, found it appropriate to fire a police officer who killed a 21-year-old girl in cold blood 2 years ago. That same superintendent has not provided details on any disciplinary measures taken against the officers who purportedly erased significant portions of video surveillance from a Burger King near the location where McDonald was killed. A Cook County state’s attorney not only botched the charges for killer Dante Servin, she did not see fit to charge McDonald’s killer until yesterday with the video’s imminent release.
We also cannot leave out the scores of people who were aware of these details throughout the latest election cycle, but still supported these same individuals for reelection (by the way, the details of the Homan Square detention facility were also revealed during the election cycle — with no meaningful response from our elected officials).
So far, warnings have been issued about possible violent protests since the video has been made public. But I can’t help but think that city and county officials are overemphasizing the potential of violent protests in an effort to shift attention away from the true heart of the issue in this entire ordeal.
The quality of the protests may be the most immediate concern for city and county officials, but the big issue that should have officials shaking in their boots is the massive cover-up and stall tactics that dragged on for over a year.
It’s unfortunate that it took a court order to force the police superintendent, the mayor, and the state’s attorney to do what they should have done months ago. It’s amazing to see them all scrambling like headless chickens to do damage control out of fear of how the city will react to the release of the video.
If all of the individuals involved in covering up this case truly believed in transparency and integrity, they would have been committed to doing the right thing — not just the politically expedient thing that would ensure they were safely ensconced in their elected positions.
Now, the string has been pulled as a result of the tenacity of activists and journalists who would not let this issue be swept under the rug. The tattered cloth has come undone and has embarrassingly revealed just how unscrupulous our leadership has become.
Those who stand on principles must, in all things, continuously ask: Is it the right thing to do? That question is even more critical for those in leadership positions — especially those in public positions who are beholden to maintaining the public trust.
All too often, however, the question they seem to ask is, ‘Is it politically expedient for me?’ Because of this, we see over and over again how the right thing to do is superseded by the politically expedient thing to do and those in power move hell and high water to execute that expediency — even to the point of cover-ups, lies, and misdirection.
Leadership, public leadership, is like any relationship. It’s built on trust. Communication. Mutual respect. Right now, none of those things exists in our relationships with so many of our elected officials.
Where these factors are missing in our personal relationships, we advise our loved ones to move on. We say things like ‘you deserve better.’ ‘There’s someone out there who will respect you and will be honest with you.’ This situation is no different.
We deserve better. LaQuan McDonald deserves better. The families living in Chicago’s most neglected communities deserve better. The children attending Chicago’s public school system deserve better.
We’ve accepted the dereliction of duty for far too long and our city as a whole is suffering. In our worst relationships, we know in our heart when it’s time to move on. It doesn’t mean the decision is easy, but we know that at some point we must choose between indefinite misery and at least the hope of something better than what we have.
Chicago, it’s time to break up and break free. We can do better.