West Side elected officials, clergy members and community leaders urged calm ahead of the court-ordered release of a video that even Mayor Rahm Emanuel has described in no uncertain terms. On Nov. 23, the mayor said the actions of Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke — seen shooting 17-year-old Laquan McDonald on dashboard-cam video footage — were "profoundly hideous" and unjustifiable.
In April, the city decided to pay a $5 million settlement to McDonald's family before a lawsuit had been filed. Today, Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez announced that Officer Van Dyke would be charged with first-degree murder.
She said she had made the decision to charge him weeks ago and that it had taken so long because she was waiting for federal authorities to wrap up their part of a joint investigation that had been launched — which is also the main factor cited by city officials in their explanation for why they refused to release the video to the public.
According to prosecutors' testimony in bond court, Van Dyke "fired 16 rounds at McDonald in about 14 seconds and was reloading when another officer told him to hold his fire," the Chicago Tribune reported. McDonald reportedly had a knife, but according to witnesses at the scene of the murder, the 17-year-old never lunged or started in the direction of the officers.
"In all, Van Dyke was on the scene for less than 30 seconds before he started shooting," the Tribune reports, "and the first shot was fired about six seconds after he exited his squad car, Alvarez said. About 14 or 15 seconds passed between the first and last shots fired by Van Dyke, and for 13 of those seconds, McDonald was on the ground, she said."
In a press conference held today at MacArthur's Restaurant, 5412 W. Madison, Ald. Emma Mitts (37th) said she was outraged by the shooting incident — even calling the McDonald's murder an "execution" — but urged residents to channel their anger into pushing for a change in the way minority residents are policed.
"We want to see the video. We want you to be angry, and rightfully so. The abuse and mistreatment of African-Americans has to stop," she said.
"The death of Laquan McDonald represents one of the darkest moments in the history of relations between the police and the community," said Cook County Commissioner Richard Boykin (D-1st). "It really represents the [depth] of inhumanity to the mankind."
Boykin said he was nonetheless optimistic that McDonald's murder can become a catalyst for the change Mitts called for.
"Out of this tragedy, something good can come, if we force it to come," he said. "We stand here united to say we demand change. We demand change in the [Chicago Police Department]"
Ald. Chris Taliaferro (29th), a former Chicago police officer, said that police officers who abuse the laws and citizens should be "dismissed from the police department."
Boykin also advocated for much more comprehensive environmental changes in areas, like Austin, that suffer from a lack of mental health resources, inadequate employment training and an insufficient supply of jobs.
Rev. Marshall Hatch, pastor of the New Mt. Pilgrim Missionary Baptist Church in West Garfield Park, noted that McDonald was a ward of the state.
"We need to make sure that he at least gets advocates in death [and] that he gets justice," he said. "He had a brief, tragic life. He was abused twice before he was 10 years old. He was molested in foster care."
The leaders also used the press conference as an opportunity to preempt any destructive fallout that might come in the wake of the video.
"I want to speak to the young people who are frustrated, who are feeling violated," said Rev. Ira Acree, pastor of the Greater St. John Bible Church in Austin. "We feel your voices. We feel it loud and clear. We are praying that you turn your pain into power. We're praying that you don't turn the city upside down."
Some leaders in attendance emphasized the city's responsibility for resolving McDonald's death and for holding those in power accountable for Van Dyke's actions. Boykin said, while the issue of police violence is larger than Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy, he still needs to be held responsible.
"I will stay that Superintendent McCarthy has got to go. He should've been gone yesterday," he said.
"As a whole, we need to figure out what's wrong," said Ald. Michael Scott (24th). "It's our job as elected to officials to make sure that the process is as transparent as possible."
Some residents who were at MacArthur's during the press conference shared their own sentiments on the McDonald video.
Tanesha Manuel, a marketing professional, said she was saddened, but hopeful that something good would come out of the tragedy. She also said she didn't have anything against police officers in general.
"It breaks my heart," she said. "We definitely want to respect [McDonald's] family, respect their wishes. [But] it's an opportunity for us to come together and to make sure our people have what they need. [But] our officers deal with [violence] every day, so we have to respect them as well."
Pamela Hunt said she didn't believe the elected officials and community leaders who spoke didn't address the source of what she considers to be most problematic about McDonald's murder.
"When reporters come to the black community, they always ask black people what we're going to do about the violence," she said. "What about the white people? Where is the white clergy? Where is the white community who are outraged at [Van Dyke's] actions? Don't tell me how wonderful Chicago is when racism permeates it. White people need to end racism and they need to end it now."
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