Updated: Nov. 24, 2015. 7:07 p.m.
Chicago is on edge and the timing of everything that has us on edge is, frankly, suspect.
We are amazed at the recent news that the police superintendent actually recommended the dismissal of an off-duty white cop who killed a black woman in 2012. We are reeling from ongoing news regarding the gangland murder of 9-year-old Tyshawn Lee. We are wary of the effects of Spike Lee’s new movie, Chi-Raq, which on Sunday held a world premiere. And finally, the city is waiting to see what happens now that the dash cam video has been released, which shows how Black teenager LaQuan McDonald, 17, died after being shot 16 times by on-duty police officer Jason Van Dyke, 37, who is also white. The video was ordered released on Wednesday, but Chicago police released it Tuesday evening.
That Van Dyke was charged at all is remarkable in today’s volatile racial and legal climate. That Van Dyke was charged with murder is absolutely incredible. Why? Well, again, it’s all about timing. The crime happened more than a year ago and this is reportedly the first time in nearly 35 years that a Chicago officer has been charged with murder for an on-duty shooting. Despite the objections of the mayor and per the instructions of a Cook County judge, the video of the shooting is expected to be made public Wednesday. That the officer was charged with murder a day before a judge flat-out required the release of the video is very, very telling. And to many here, sign of a cover up.
That said, some in the city are fearing the worst of its Black and Brown residents. Others are fearing the worst of the White ones. Many more are wondering how activists and anarchists countrywide will react, and if they will descend upon Chicago by the thousands to bring either unity or chaos with them.
The city is calling for calm, as if the reaction to Black death is more dangerous than those who cause Black death. Protests nationwide have people scared – especially when protests are described as riots by certain news organizations, or when calm protests are infiltrated by anarchists who then cause a ruckus and suddenly disappear.
Says The Rev. Ira Acree, who met with the mayor in advance of the city’s “fear” of black protest: “We cannot be distracted by the rhetoric of we need calm. More than anything we need culture transformation within law enforcement.”
“Let’s not fall for the okey doke,” adds Acree, whose Greater St. John Bible Church is also on the city’s West Side, which is a general descriptor of the area where the shooting occurred. “[Cook County State’s Attorney Anita] Alvarez throws one police officer under the bus. Mayor Emanuel throws one officer under the bus. The Superintendent [of police Garry McCarthy] throws an officer under the bus. The police officer must not bear this cross alone and the other responsible parties go free…”
State's Attorney Anita Alvarez said, in a press conference on Tuesday, that the timing isn't questionable at all. Her office's joint investigation with the FBI took over a year because it was officer involved and they needed to be "thorough" to be sure that their evidence held tight. Meanwhile, reporters in the room pressed Alvarez about the timing of the indictment. Why now? Why not three months ago? Alvarez said she refused to be pressured into anything and that her announcement was made in the best interest of keeping calm in the city tomorrow.
"The public needs to know that while it would seem .. that the 12 months of investigation has taken too long, investigation of police shootings and police misconduct are highly complex matters that must be fully examined and taken into consideration."
No matter what the video shows, the response will likely break down racially. Some enlightened White Chicagoans will actually see what’s on tape for what it is: truth. Others will use false logic to assert that because the teen had a knife and looked like a big scary Black man, he deserved to be shot and that, as a result Blue Lives Matter. And Black folk? Well, Chicago’s upper middle class, middle class and working poor Blacks might view things slightly differently, but will likely agree that, if absolutely, concretely, totally necessary, one shot – not 16 – would do.
It’s no secret that Chicago is one of the nation’s most segregated cities. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said it himself after he was bricked while marching for equality on the city’s West Side – the same general area where McDonald was shot in October 2014. It’s also no secret that the city’s police department – under different management, of course – has a long documented history of torturing black men.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel says he has never seen the video of McDonald being lacerated by a barrage of bullets. Yet, in a meeting with city ministers yesterday he called the shooting “hideous” and as having “no justification.” Emanuel, who served in President Obama’s Cabinet from 2008 to 2010, is not well-liked by large pockets of the Brown population. He has introduced or allowed several policies that close neighborhood schools, forcing children to cross gang territories just to get to math class. He also opposed the release of the video of Van Dyke killing McDonald. But police are said to have deleted more than 80 minutes of surveillance tape a Burger King
Emanuel was reelected this past April. He didn’t win until the run-off, a sign that his popularity is waning. Pundits say that if this video had been released pre-election, the city would have had its first Mexican mayor.
Meanwhile, Van Dyke’s wife, Tiffany, started a GoFundMe.com page, seeking money to pay for her husband’s bail. According to the Chicago edition of the hyperlocal news website DNAInfo.com, “Around 11 a.m. Tuesday, the GoFundMe page titled "JVD Bond Fund" was removed from the site after it had generated more than $10,000 in donations.” McDonald’s family, to be clear, was given $5-million (“hush-money,” some sources say) earlier this year by the city. The officer has been on desk duty but has collecting his salary since the shooting. (That’s a lot of money being thrown around to compensate for police actions while the city and county are steadily raising taxes on homeowners.)
Sources who have seen the video say, off the record, that is it “horrible” and “atrocious.” Sources also say the video leaves no room for doubt of wrongdoing on the part of the police officer. According to the autopsy, McDonald was shot in the scalp and neck, twice in his back, seven times in his arms, once in his right hand, twice in his chest and twice in his right leg. The coroner’s report said that nine of the 16 shots appeared to have a downward trajectory. At the time of his death, McDonald had PCP in his system and, according to police, had lunged at an officer with a four-inch folding knife.
If these sources are correct in their assessment, perhaps a call for calm is the wrong thing to do and places the emphasis on the wrong group. The judge ordered the release of the video for a reason.
Adrienne Samuels Gibbs is a Chicago-based journalist whose work has appeared in Essence, The Boston Globe and The Chicago Sun-times. Follow her @adriennewrites.