By Uche Onyebadi
Chicago is an alluring, windy city. But it was a violent wind of sadness, fury and protests that virtually paralyzed the city last week. Protesters, most of whom were African Americans filled the city, angry at what they considered to be another layer in the constantly mushrooming evidence of police brutality against one of their own. This time, it was what could be described as murder laced with sadism on the part of Chicago policeman, Jason Van Dyke. And the victim was 17-year-old Laquan McDonald.
It is not as if Chicago is a murder-free city that one death will compel people to take to the streets in protests. No. Indeed, Chicago belongs to the top five cities in the U.S. where death by gun violence is quite high. Police statistics released in April this year show a significant increase in shootings in the city, from 235 in the first quarter of 2014 to 355 in the same period in 2015. Sixty-two people died in the shooting incidents in that period last year, while 80 died in 2015.
Another set of figures published by the Chicago Tribune last month showed that between January 1 and December 2014, the city recorded 2,587 shooting victims, while as at November 28 this year, the number of such victims was 2,712. In 2014, the Chicago police recorded 434 deaths by gun violence. As of November this year, the figure for 2015 is 440 lives lost in gun violence in the windy city.
So, why did the shooting to death of the teenager evoke so much passion that people defied all odds to occupy the city’s major business districts in protest? It was more because of the brutality of the event and the shoddy aftermath of the criminal activity, and even the somewhat cavalier attitude of the officers who ought to have handled the case with due diligence.
First, Laquan McDonald was killed in October 20 2014. And it took over 400 days for the police dashcam video of his senseless shooting to be made public, not because the police wanted to release it, but because a judge ordered it released and made available to the public. All the while, Jason Van Dyke, the man in whose hands the teenager met his death continued to be employed and paid with tax-payers money for over a year since he committed that murder. Now, his case has been taken to court as he faces a charge of murder.
The more painful aspect of the sordid event is how the teenager was killed on the street. According to the dashcamera, McDonald, armed with a knife, was actually walking away from the police when he was gunned down. Police officer Van Dyke who had just arrived at the scene probably concluded that his colleagues who were there before his arrival, did not know how to handle such urchins as McDonald.
He quickly pulled his gun and shot Laquan. Not satisfied that the teenager now lay on the ground in agony, the trigger-happy policeman unleashed more bullets on to the young man. In all, sixteen bullets were used to snuff out Laquan’s life, and all but one of them hit him while he was already laying down helpless. But for the police camera that was recording the event, Van Dyke may have claimed that he shot the teenager in self-defense; that he was so much afraid for his life that he had no choice but to put down his assailant.
Coming in the wake of innumerable incidents where police officers shot and killed African Americans, it was not unexpected that people of goodwill will march along the streets and make their voices known against such blatant shooting and the conspiracy to keep the matter under wraps until over a year later. But, if it was expected that the protesters would embark on looting and orgy of destruction, such expectations fizzled out when the protests went relatively without incidents.
Chicago Police Superintendent, Gary McCarthy, acknowledged the largely peaceful nature of the protest matches, while conceding that “people have a right to be angry, people have a right to protest, people have a right to free speech. But they do not have a right to commit criminal acts.”
Neither do the police have the right to commit such criminal acts. And if they do, they have to face the outcome of their inelegant behavior. State attorney in charge of Cook County where the murder took place, Anita Alvarez, said this about Van Dyke: “It is my determination that this defendant’s actions — of shooting Laquan McDonald when he did not pose an immediate threat of great bodily harm or death, and his subsequent actions of shooting Laquan McDonald while he lay on the ground after previously being struck by gunfire – were not justified and they were not a proper use of deadly force by this police officer.”
That act of shooting a helpless man on the ground and keeping the issue out of public sphere is the main source of anger among the people. Activist white Catholic priest, Rev. Michael Pfleger, who pastors mostly African American parishioners in the South Side of Chicago was quite angry and told reporters that “We’re tired of this police cover-up and the state’s attorney’s cover-up. People are mad here in Chicago.” This justified “madness” has led the protesters to call for the resignation of all public officers connected to the incident in any way to be held accountable for their inaction. They even called for the resignation of such officers, including the mayor,
Mayor Rahm Emanuel and state attorney Anita Alvarez. So far, there are no indications that any of the public officers will quit.
The manner in which Laquan McDonald was hacked down and his case put in the cold room for over a year, reinforces what the Black Lives Matter movement is campaigning against. There is little doubt that officer Van Dyke would have escaped justice if, ironically, the police dashcamera had not recorded his weird shooting. And it is certainly beyond human understanding that a man who is paid to protect lives was the person who shot Laquan in such a bestial manner. However, the somewhat “happy” outcome is that he now faces the cold grips of justice.
file: onyebadi, nov 30