Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Van Dyke, DCFS & The Tragic Death of Laquan McDonald

Chicago PD officer Jason Van Dyke
It's late Tuesday night at as I write this and it's about 40 degrees out in Chicago but there are reportedly hundreds of people assembling on the streets in response to the release of the police dash-cam footage showing the violent death of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald.

Personally speaking, after watching the video a couple times myself, the presence of protesters on the streets shouldn't surprise anyone. 

You can see it on The New York Times Website, but with millions of people off on Thursday and Friday for Thanksgiving it's going to be replayed a lot in the coming days as people try to understand why a teenager brandishing a three-inch knife while traipsing down a busy street in full view of at least 6 armed Chicago PD officers in two separate vehicles needed to be shot.

Chicago officials, including Mayor Rahm Emmanuel, tried to keep the footage from being released and now it's clear why - the video clip completely contradicts previous police statements that the shooter was in fear for his life after the teenager lunged at him. 

The video showed no lunge, in fact McDonald was actually walking away when he was shot.

At 7:41am this morning, thirteen months after fatally shooting the teenager during a confrontation in Chicago on October 20, 2014, 37-year-old Chicago PD officer Jason Van Dyke walked into the Leighton Criminal Court Building and turned himself in to investigators.

While he'd been on paid desk duty during an extensive 12 month investigation, today he became the first CPD officer in 35 years to be charged with murder. 

Van Dyke and his partner were only on the scene about thirty seconds before the veteran officer jumped out of the car six seconds later and began firing shots at McDonald; who'd been accused of breaking into cars in the area and was holding a 3-inch knife which he'd used to punch a hole in the tire of a police vehicle at some point during his foot chase.

According to an article in The Chicago Tribune, autopsy reports reveal that nine of the sixteen shots that entered McDonald's body entered at a downward trajectory; meaning Van Dyke fired at least nine shots as McDonald, already wounded, lay on the ground.


To me, part of what's chilling about the video, aside from the teenager being gunned down like an animal, is the reaction of the officers on the scene.

After McDonald is on the ground, there's a pause before one of the officers walks over and kicks the three-inch knife away from the teenager's hand - then not one of the officers bothers to approach McDonald to check his pulse, or see if he might still be alive.

The shooting wasn't some kind of behavioral anomaly for Officer Van Dyke.

According to data complied by the Citizens Police Data Project (CPDP) Website, at least 18 separate civilian complaints have been filed against Van Dyke since he joined the CPD in June, 2001 - charges that include verbal abuse (including multiple charges of using of the word 'nigger' while performing arrests or serving warrants), excessive force, misconduct and violations of arrest & lockup procedures.

Check out this article on if you want to read some more details about Van Dyke's extensive record of physical violence and excessive use of force.

The shooting wasn't an anomaly for the Chicago PD either, they were responsible for 70 fatal police shootings between 2011 - 2014, the most in the U.S. and more than New York and Los Angles which both have larger populations.

In contrast, non-military police in Germany have shot and killed fifteen people since 2009.

Protest against gun violence in Chicago,  2014
When you consider the extent of the global reaction to the approximately 128 people killed in the terrorist attacks in Paris recently, it seems like there should be more of a public outcry over the huge number of gun deaths that have taken place in the city of Chicago, Illinois this year.

Back in July, Rolling Stone explored that very question in a searing piece titled 'Inside Chicago's Endless Cycle of Gun Violence.

Without minimizing the horrific death toll of approximately 128 people in Paris at the hands of ISIS killers, according to the latest statistics tracked by staff members of The Chicago Tribune, as of today November 24th, approximately 2,712 people have been victims of gun violence in the Windy City this year.

Is it the race or social class of the victims in Chicago that doesn't seem to warrant global outrage? The neighborhoods they live in?

Think you had a rough Monday? At least seven people were shot on Monday November 23rd in various parts of Chicago. 

As statistics compiled by The Guardian project The Counted have revealed, 2015 has been a horrific year for the use of deadly police force against American citizens and the data is alarming.

According to The Counted: over 1,000 people have been killed by members of American law enforcement this year; and there are still six days left in November.
  •  883 of those were killed after being shot by police
  • 47 died after being shot by a taser
  • 36 people were killed while in custody
  • 102 people were unarmed
  • 26% of the 248 African-American people killed by police were unarmed
  • 18% of the 490 white people killed by police were unarmed
Disturbing stats like that are one of the reasons that the deaths of people at the hands of the police is often a focus of this blog.

It's not because I'm anti-cop or anything, I hold members of law enforcement in the highest regard as I was one of those kids raised to respect police officers and recognize the essential public service they perform.

In fact, it's because I hold them to such a high standard that I consider it critical to examine the alarming disparity with which people of color loose their lives during confrontations with police officers.

Because the more these incidents happen, there's a proportional loss of respect for police authority that undermines the essential relationship that must exist between the community and those sworn to protect and serve them.

As the excessive use of deadly force has reached epic proportions in this country and police departments have come under increased scrutiny by the media, politicians, citizens and activist groups like Black Lives Matter, opportunistic push-button reactionaries like New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and Donald Trump have been quick to vilify and demonize activists who oppose police violence.

Not because what they say reflects truth, but because it reflects a warped perception of America, reinforces their internalized beliefs and fears; and serves their trite political objectives.

Laquan McDonald
In the coming days as the video of Laquan McDonald becomes the central focus of mainstream media coverage, watch how people like Christie and Trump react.

Watch who they vent their anger at and how they frame this shooting.

Despite the truth of the dash-cam footage showing McDonald wasn't actually threatening anyone when he was shot 16 times (and what was he going to do with a three-inch pocket knife anyway with three police vehicles around him??) you can be sure that conservative media will be hard at work vilifying the 17-year-old teenager.

Like Tryavon Martin, the news that traces of drugs were supposedly found in McDonald's system is already being offered up like some sort of iron-clad scientific proof that he was some kind of raving maniac on a deadly rampage.

Punching a hole in the tire of a Chicago PD cop car wasn't the brightest thing he could have done; but it was a tire, not a human being.

Only time will tell if Officer Jason Van Dyke is held accountable for taking McDonald's life.

But at the least, his being a member of a major metropolitan police force facing murder charges represents a significant step for growing public demands that members of law enforcement be made to take responsibility for their actions.

Regardless of the color of the victim's skin.

It's just sad that such a step had to come as the result of such a horrific and violent end to the life of a teenage kid who'd already faced such uphill battles in his young life.

As The Chicago Sun Times reported:
"Twice, the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services removed him from his mother’s care — once when he was 2 years old and again when he was 5 — because of abuse allegations leveled at the mother’s boyfriend. As is too often the case, McDonald was allegedly sexually molested in two different foster homes, according to a source familiar with his juvenile court record."

Laquan McDonald didn't just morph out of thin air on that Chicago street with a knife in his hand, he'd faced unspeakable horrors in his young life before he ever had the misfortune to meet Officer Jason Van Dyke.

Maybe people should take a few minutes to read The Sun-Times piece by Mary Mitchell before simply dismissing this kid as some kind of monster.

Perhaps the folks at Fox News preparing to portray him as a knife-wielding criminal who was threatening a cop's life should learn a little about Laquan McDonald's life before condemning him.

Like the fact that "McDonald was particularly close to his grandmother, Goldie Hunter, and was in her care until she died last year. His daily life seemed to unravel after her death" 

Oh, and as Mitchell reports in her heart-breaking article, even though the Department of Child & Family Services reports that McDonald was a ward of the state at the time of his death and had been the subject of two separate abuse investigations in 2000 and 2003, “DCFS never did anything in terms of following up on the sexual abuse,”

As Mitchell reported, just two days before being shot on October 20, 2014, "DCFS had given custody of McDonald and his sister to an uncle. “The uncle had a live-in girlfriend, and the sister had spent the night away from home,” said the source familiar with this case. “When she came back the next morning, the girlfriend wouldn’t let her back in the house.

“DCFS came and took the sister and was trying to take Laquan. For the third time, he was made a ward of the state. It was a pretty upsetting thing.” 

Upsetting? I think that's a monumental understatement considering the sexual abuse he'd suffered as a ward of the state of Illinois when he was 9-years-old and 12-years-old.

Unfortunately, it appears that the last representative of the City of Chicago to follow up on Laquan McDonald was Chicago PD Officer Jason Van Dyke who used the only tool he knew how to use to deal with this troubled teenager; a gun. 

That's the teenager who was running down the street that night with a three-inch knife in his hand.

It's just too bad those Chicago PD officers didn't know or understand what Laquan McDonald was running from that night, had they known they might have treated him like a human being.

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