Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke was charged Tuesday with first-degree murder in the shooting death of Laquan McDonald, the Cook County State’s Attorney announced.
Anger has been simmering for months about the shooting of Laquan McDonald, a black teenager, by a white Chicago police officer. Will it erupt when video showing McDonald’s death goes public?
Chicago will soon find out.
A judge in the northern Illinois city has given the city until Wednesday to release police dashcam video that shows the October 20, 2014, shooting. It’s a move Chicago officials have resisted, claiming it could jeopardize any ongoing investigation.
That’s a moot point now, though. Instead, the focus is on preparing for reaction to a video that even the lawyer for the officer who fired the shots has said is “graphic, disturbing and difficult to watch.”
This is why Mayor Rahm Emanuel met Monday with activists and community leaders to discuss the coming release and what it might mean for the city. One of those who attended, the Rev. Ira Acree, said the mayor urged him and others to use their influence to ensure that any subsequent demonstrations are peaceful.
“Many in the community feel betrayed,” Acree, a pastor at the Greater St. John Bible Church, told reporters after the meeting. “Protests are imminent.”
It’s not like Chicagoans don’t know already, at least in general terms, McDonald’s story. But it’s another thing to see it with their own eyes — a fact that’s been illustrated again and again in recent years, with everything from a New York police officer’s chokehold of Eric Garner to Ray Rice hitting his then-fiancee in an elevator. The release of the video usually stirs up fresh outrage and indignation.
For this reason, Chicago Tribune columnist John Kass has said the video “could tear Chicago apart.”
“Chicago is on the tipping point,” the Rev. Roosevelt Watkins said, according to CNN affiliate WLS. “We could be just like Ferguson.”
Authorities: Teen had knife, didn’t listen to police
Watkins is referring to Ferguson, Missouri, which imploded in protests and riots after a white police officer shot to death unarmed black teen Michael Brown in 2014.
Unrest in the St. Louis suburb lasted for months afterward, with activists pointing to the incident as an example of African-Americans’ suffering, and in this case dying, at the hands of white police officers. The tensions still linger, even after a grand jury decided not to charge the then-Ferguson officer, Darren Wilson, with anything related to the shooting.
But while Laquan McDonald was black and the officer who shot him is white, what happened in Chicago differs from what happened in Ferguson in a few key ways.
Michael Brown also was accused of acting out, and he was also shot dead by a police officer. Yet authorities say that the 17-year McDonald was armed — with a 4-inch knife.
Officer Jason Van Dyke confronted him knowing that McDonald had “punctured a tire on a police car” and had “not complied with numerous police orders to drop the knife,” the officer’s lawyer, Daniel Herbert, told the Chicago Tribune. He then opened fire, shooting the black teen 16 times.
Unlike Michael Brown’s final moments, Laquan McDonald’s death was captured on video.
City bracing for protests
The city of Chicago spent months trying to keep the video from becoming public, fighting a Freedom of Information Act request filed by freelance journalist Brandon Smith.
On Thursday, Cook County Judge Franklin Valderrama sided with Smith’s camp. And the city announced it would not appeal.
“There’s a tremendous public interest in this,” an attorney for Smith said. “The public should not be at the mercy of when the police department dictates the video should be released.”
Acree, the pastor and activist, said “we know” that there will be demonstrations after the video comes out.
“If there would be no protest, that would mean that we have become immune to this madness,” he said.
Dean Angelo, the president of the Chicago Fraternal Order of Police, told CNN affiliate WBBM he is concerned protesters from outside the city may converge to “disrupt and cause problems.”
“This is my city. We all live here,” Angelo said. “I’m concerned about the safety of my officers. I’m concerned about the safety of the civilian population. … I think local people don’t want to see their neighborhoods damaged.”
Mayor: Officer violated public trust
In addition to what happens in Chicago, the question also looms about what will happen with Jason Van Dyke.
As of now, he has not faced charges and still works for the police department in a “limited duty position.”
Herbert has defended his client, saying he “was in fear for an attack and for the safety of anyone else on the scene.”
Yet not everyone thinks he acted properly, including the Mayor Emanuel’s office.
“Police officers are entrusted to uphold the law, and to provide safety to our residents,” the mayor’s office said in a statement last week. “In this case, unfortunately, it appears an officer violated that trust at every level.”
The city agreed in April to pay $5 million to McDonald’s family, though the family had not filed a lawsuit. McDonald was a ward of the state at the time of his death, according to a spokeswoman with the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services. A few days before he was killed, DCFS gave him over to the custody of a relative, she said.
Authorities said in April that a joint investigation into McDonald’s death would be conducted by federal and state authorities, spearheaded by the Chicago branch of the FBI.
CNN reached out to the U.S. attorney’s office investigating the case, which said it had nothing new to report since the April announcement. And the Cook County State Attorney’s office would not comment to CNN.
Van Dyke doesn’t think he did anything wrong, though that doesn’t mean he’s not worried.
“He’s scared to death, but more than himself he’s scared for his wife, his two kids,” Herbert said of his client. “He knows in his heart of hearts that his actions were appropriate.”
CNN’s Greg Botelho, Sonya Hamasaki, Jason Kravarik, Sheena Jones and Joshua Berlinger contributed to this report.
By Ashley Fantz and Bill Kirkos