Residents and community leaders are calling for more robust actions to get to the bottom of what many consider to be an attempt by the city and police department to cover-up the details of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald’s murder. McDonald was shot 16 times by Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke on the Southwest Side last October.
During a Dec. 1 town hall meeting at Christ Tabernacle M.B.C. Church, 854 N. Central Ave., residents, community leaders and elected officials from across the West Side called for a public hearing and federal probe into McDonald’s murder — the handling of which by the police department and the city has been widely condemned.
The Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office charged Van Dyke with first-degree murder on Nov. 23. He is the first police officer charged in a fatal on-duty shooting in Chicago history. But growing scrutiny over how McDonald’s case was handled and days of protests following the video’s release cost the city’s top cop, Supt. Garry McCarthy, his job.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel forced McCarthy to resign early on the same day the town hall was held, saying that the superintendent became a distraction and public trust in the police department had “eroded.” But neither Emanuel nor State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez escaped calls from residents that they resign.
“I am totally in support of as many things that we can do to bring transparency and accountability to this process,” said Cook County Commissioner Richard Boykin (1st), one of the town hall’s co-hosts.
Boykin joined a chorus of residents who criticized the mayor and Alvarez for knowing more about the video than they let on in the press. Others questioned why it took Alvarez 400 days to charge Van Dyke.
Community activist and Austin Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Amara Enyia called for a public hearing at the meeting. She questioned the mysterious details surrounding the missing video footage from a Burger King restaurant near where the shooting took place, the lack of audio on the dashboard-cam video and the protracted investigation into McDonald’s shooting.
“These are questions that need to be answered in the spirit of transparency,” said Enyia, a former mayoral candidate who recently opted not to run against Congressman Danny K. Davis (7th).
The City Council, she noted, should support the idea, since some council members raised concerns about not seeing the video even though they signed off on the $5 million payout for the McDonald’s family.
“I believe the City Council members have some questions for the mayor, his administration, corporation counsel and everyone who ushered this thing through,” she said, adding that if the City Council is truly honorable “they would be proactive about getting those answers because the public is demanding it; their constituents are demanding it.”
Ald. Chris Taliaferro (29th) agreed. He announced that the City Council’s Black Caucus is drafting a resolution asking for a detailed investigation to discover “what was known by our police superintendent and what was known by our mayor as well.”
“I do support some type of subject matter hearing as to the incidents surrounding the death of McDonald,” Taliaferro said.
An investigation is not enough for Remel Terry, second vice president of the West Side NAACP. She too demanded a public hearing and claimed that Emanuel is hiding behind McCarthy’s firing and Alvarez’s claim of conducting a thorough investigation.
“I think this matters deserves the public insight … to truly hear directly from the mayor and his office about what happened. An investigation is private and then we hear what happens afterwards,” Terry said.
Terry wants the hearing to be modeled similar to congressional hearings, which she believes will give aldermen an opportunity to grill the mayor about the McDonald cover up.
Boykin wants a special prosecutor — not Alvarez — to try Van Dyke and called for a federal investigation with subpoena power to look into both the mayor’s and Alvarez’s offices. A probe into the mayor’s office, he said, will determine “whether or not there was an overt effort to suppress the video tape to benefit someone’s election campaign.”
The McDonald shooting occurred five months before a heated mayoral election and a subsequent run-off between Emanuel and Cook County Commissioner “Chuy” Garcia. Boykin said, far from taking her 13 months, “it should have only taken [Alvarez] 13 seconds” to try Van Dyke after she saw the video.
“She has become a distraction and people have lost confidence in her ability to prosecute this case. We need an independent prosecutor to do it,” Boykin said.
Boykin also wants a federal investigation into the police department. He questioned the integrity of the mayor’s handpicked police accountability taskforce to thoroughly “look into the patterns and practices of [police] abuse cases” to effect “systemic changes.”