The city of Chicago made video of the shooting of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald public Tuesday evening after his shooter, police officer Jason Van Dyke, was charged with first-degree murder earlier today.
McDonald was shot 16 times on October 20, 2014, and officers initially cited a concern for their safety as a defense for Van Dyke's actions. But after several months of mounting pressure from activists and journalists to make the police vehicle dashboard camera footage available to the public, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy held a press conference Tuesday, after which they released the video to media. Initial public footage of the video only shows the moments right before McDonald was shot:
Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez said Van Dyke went overboard as he fired shots at McDonald last year. Her office presented the case against Van Dyke Tuesday morning, recounting the content of the video.
According to the state’s case against Van Dyke, a citizen was with McDonald, who was reportedly breaking into trucks and stealing radios. Six minutes after the original radio announcement went out to all officers about McDonald, the radio dispatcher told officers on duty that the suspect was walking away from the original location with a knife in his hand. The radio dispatcher raised the idea of using a Taser with McDonald. Van Dyke and his partner, identified as Officer A, went to the area where McDonald was, reportedly near a Burger King location. The pair were among the last officers to arrive on the scene.
Eventually, several officers are near McDonald as he stands in the street on Pulaski Road. He slowly tries to walk away from the officers, but Van Dyke takes a step toward McDonald. McDonald’s arm jerks, his body spins around, and he falls to the ground. While still standing 10 feet away from McDonald, Van Dyke takes his first shots at McDonald. At this point, the dashboard camera changes angles, and Van Dyke is no longer visible.
McDonald lies in the street on his right side, as more bullets hit him. After Van Dyke finishes shooting, his partner approaches McDonald and kicks the knife out of his hand. At this point, according to Alvarez's case, no other officers had fired at McDonald.
There’s no audio from this dash camera recording, and only one of the vehicles involved was positioned well enough to capture the scene, according to the case. Below is the full video from DNA Chicago.
Warning: Graphic video of a police shooting:
Filming police has been a game changer
The video of the shooting will be one of many in the past year revealing the final moments of a young black man succumbing to a fatal shooting in the name of police defense.
As previously reported, police officers generally tend to exhibit a higher bias against black people, making officers more likely to shoot black suspects than white ones. This bias can eventually be mitigated by training, but that's quite a long-game solution. In the meantime, to keep tabs on officers as well as the public they serve, the use of police vehicle dash cams and body cameras has been on the rise. Cellphone footage has taken off, too, with the proliferation of smartphones and social media. While some of these videos have uncovered hidden truths about the killings of unarmed black people, surveillance can also be helpful to police, as video evidence is statistically more likely to clear officers of wrongdoing.
Naturally, there is the human factor of manipulation of dash cameras and body cameras; the equipment must be turned on to capture the action, after all. Bystander footage can also be manipulated or edited, but on the whole, capturing such footage has been the difference between someone like former North Charleston, South Carolina, officer Michael Slager — who initially claimed he shot Walter Scott this year because Scott grabbed his Taser — going free or being held responsible for his actions, since his initial claims were dispelled by bystander footage. For many high-profile cases of police brutality and excessive force against black men in particular, the deciding factor has been the existence of video footage. Otherwise, it's the officer's word against a witness's — if there was a witness at all.
A peaceful rally was being planned tied to the release of this video, and organizers were assembling following the press conference. Still, the city and McDonald’s family members have expressed concern over the video's release because it could spark unrest similar to the events following the police-involved death of Freddie Gray in the spring in Baltimore. Emanuel urged calm in the wake of the video's release, though Chicago is still girding for possible unrest, ordering hundreds of extra plainclothes officers to don their uniforms in preparation for the video's release.
"Almost all of the several hundred riots that happened between 1963 and 1970 were sparked by confrontations between African Americans and the police," Thomas Sugrue, a historian at the University of Pennsylvania who's also studied the 1960s riots, told Vox earlier this year. But, he added, "There's a long memory of historical injustice — going back to slave patrols, to police officers enforcing racial segregation and arresting nonviolent protesters, and the commonplace tension, conflict, and harassment directed at African Americans by law enforcement officials."