Things could get very ugly in Chicago if the cop that killed Laquan McDonald is set free by a jury that includes only one Black person.
“Van Dyke and his wife have been presented as if they are the real victims.”
Sometimes you can only shake your head in dumb amazement at the extent to which oppressors will go to defend the carnage they inflict. Look at the case of Laquan McDonald, the Black youth fatally shot sixteen times – sixteen times– by white Chicago police officer Jason Van-Dyke on October 20th, 2014. Van Dyke’s murder trial started this week, nearly four years after the crime.
You can watch the tape of McDonald’s execution. It’s been viewed by millions. You watch the young victim walking away from his murderer. You see 17-year-old Laquan’s prone body lying on the ground, curled up in a fetal position and jolted again and again as the cold-blooded killer Van Dyke pumps one more bullet after another into the Black teenager. You can discern smoke rising out of Laquan’s body with each shot.
"Only thirty seconds after arriving on the scene, and six seconds after exiting his car,” the political scientist Anthony DiMaggio writes in a forthcoming study of U.S. social movements, “Van Dyke fired numerous shots that brought McDonald to the ground, after which the officer emptied his clip into the suspect, despite McDonald being in a fetal position, not posing any danger to police. In total, Van Dyke shot McDonald 16 times in 15 seconds, with the suspect on the ground for 13 of those seconds."
“Van Dyke emptied his clip into the suspect, despite McDonald not posing any danger to police.”
Hundreds of Black people, usually young Black males, are killed by white police officers in the U.S. each year. Very few of the cops who carry out these liquidations face murder charges. They are routinely cleared by their own departments, police review boards, and/or grand juries. What sets Van Dyke apart is the palpable and widely-viewed heinousness of his crime and the outrage it elicited in Chicago’s Black community and around the world. The Van Dyke-McDonald shooting tape is certainly the single most inflammatory and broadly observed film evidence of racist police brutality to make its way into the mass media since the video that showed a large group Los Angeles police officers beating Rodney King nearly three decades ago.
It was despicable how long -- one year -- it took for serious news and the tape of McDonald’s murder to reach the public. Following the long-standard “blue code” of urban police departments, Van Dyke’s fellow cops did their best to keep his crime secret and its video evidence under wraps.Chicago’s arch-corporatist, white, Zionist, and pro-gentrification Mayor Rahm Emmanuel (a classic elitist sociopath) and Cook County States Attorney Anita Alvarez tried to squash public release, but an intrepid journalist and citizen-activists forced the video-recording (a smoking gun if ever there was one) into the open and demanded that Van Dyke be tried.
“Van Dyke’s fellow cops did their best to keep his crime secret and its video evidence under wraps.”
Thanks to their cover-up efforts, Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy commissioner lost his job and Alvarez was defeated by a Black female candidate (Kim Foxx) in 2016.
Sparked by the Van Dyke-McDonald tape and the mass protests it elicited in Chicago in late 2015, the U.S. Justice Department conducted and released in Obama’s final days an official Investigation of the Chicago Police Department. The DOJ reported as follows:
“Chicago Police Department (CPD) officers engage in a pattern or practice of using force, including deadly force, that is unreasonable…[and] in violation of the Constitution, [reflecting]… a collection of poor police practices…used routinely within CPD. …Officers engage in tactically unsound and unnecessary foot pursuits [that]…too often end with officers unreasonably shooting someone—including unarmed individuals. …Officers shoot at vehicles without justification…Officers exhibit poor discipline when discharging their weapons and engage in tactics that endanger themselves and public safety, including failing to await backup when they safely could and should; using unsound tactics in approaching vehicles; and using their own vehicles in a manner that is dangerous. Among the most egregious uses of deadly force we reviewed were incidents in which CPD officers shot at suspects who presented no immediate threat…CPD’s pattern or practice of unreasonable force and systemic deficiencies fall heaviest on the predominantly black and Latino neighborhoods on the South and West Sidesof Chicago…CPD uses force almost ten times more often against blacks than against whites.As a result, residents in black neighborhoods suffer more of the harms caused by breakdowns in uses of force, training, supervision, accountability, and community policing” (emphasis added).
“CPD uses force almost ten times more often against blacks than against whites.”
Mayor “Rhambo’s” approval ratings fell dramatically after the Laquan kill tape was released. His racially tone-deaf, arrogant, and authoritarian response to local Black protests over the killing and the cover-ups soured further his already poor relationship with Black Chicago. That bad relationship is a big factor in Emmanuel’s recent announcement that he will not be seeking a third term as the city’s mayor next year.
Here we are three years after the video’s release and four years after the actual murder. The city’s white corporate media tried to help Van Dyke’s lawyer pollute the jury pool prior to jury selection by printing his prattling about how (in the murderer’s words) “Any loss of life was extremely difficult…You don’t ever want to shoot your gun. It doesn’t matter if it’s to put down a stray animal or something like that. Nobody wants to shoot their gun,” Van Dyke told the Chicago Tribune: “I never would have fired my gun if I didn’t think my life was in jeopardy or another citizen’s life was.”
A local television station broadcast a pre-jury-selection interview in which Van Dyke’s wife tearfully told viewers that she is “petrified” over the prospect of tragically losing her husband to prison just because he did “the job for which he was trained.”
“Mayor ‘Rhambo’s’ approval ratings fell dramatically after the Laquan kill tape was released.”
Van Dyke and his wife have been presented as if they -- a supposedly virtuous white public servant and his family -- are the real victims in the killing of Laquan McDonald.
Van Dyke’s defense attorney failed to get the trial moved out of Chicago, where he feared that too many Black jurors might find his murderous defendant guilty. But not to worry. The killer cop’s lawyer somehow succeeded in securing a twelve-person jury that includes just one Black person! This is an astonishing and disturbing development in a city that is 32.9 percent Black and home to the second largest urban Black population in the nation. The ominous meaning of this egregious and racially inflammatoryBlack under-representation on the jury that will decide Van Dyke’s fate is not lost on Black Chicagoans and civil rights activists.
The opening trial statement from Van Dyke’s attorney Daniel Herbert was equally provocative. It was mind-blowing. “Ladies and gentlemen, if the decision to shoot was lawful, there is no crime,” Daniel Herbert, Van Dyke's lawyer, told jurors. As the Tribune reports:
“Herbert maintained that Van Dyke and his partner blocked Laquan McDonald with their police car from entering a Burger King restaurant…Herbert replayed a portion of the dashcam video in which Laquan flings his arm out. That showed McDonald opening up the switchblade of [a] knife, he said…While prosecutors emphasized that Van Dyke fired so many shots, Herbert said, an average officer can fire five or six times in just a single second…Van Dyke fired many of the shots before even realizing McDonald had fallen to the street, he told jurors. Herbert said Van Dyke paused to reassess after firing 14 of the 16 shots. He didn’t know if they were lethal gunshots. He didn’t know if Laquan McDonald had the ability to get back up and attack him,’ he said. ‘McDonald holds on to his knife the whole time he’s on the ground, despite being shot 14 times he starts making movements’” (emphasis added).
“The killer cop’s lawyer somehow succeeded in securing a twelve-person jury that includes just one Black person!”
That was gaslighting straight from the Twilight Zone. In what bizarre universe was McDonald a threat to the gun-wielding Van Dyke as the bullet-riddled teenager lay curled up on the ground, his body jerking with each new shot? What kind of bright white magical thinking could create such a bizarre and outlandish scenario? Does Herbert think the disproportionately white jury will imagine that McDonald was a Marvel Comics super-villain able to rise from imminent death to miraculously slay his attacker with a knife? Seriously?
Yes, Herbert probably does think that. As DiMaggio explains, “There's a well-documented practice on the part of whites and corporate media of depicting Blacks as supernatural or superhuman, as related to Hollywood depictions and commercials (Magic Johnson; Air Jordan; King James; Morgan Freeman as God/the universal narrator looking from below). This fits that to a T. The supernatural McDonald, a black demon, had to be shot 16 times…”
The Van Dyke defense isn’t content to rely only on racialized Hollywood and NBA fantasy, however. On day two of the trial, Herbert rolled out Van Dyke’s former partner, officer Joe Walsh, to claimthat McDonald “raised [his] knife to shoulder height and swung it moments before Van Dyke opened fire.” The video clearly shows Walsh’s testimony to be a bald-faced lie. Walsh also preposterously testified that McDonald posed a danger after he was shot and fell to the street.
“What will happen in the city if Van Dyke get off?”
That’s the fascist blue/white code in operation, under oath in front of a racially rigged jury.
Could Van Dyke get off? Sure. The bigger question, perhaps, is what will happen in the city if that occurs. We know the militarized police state champion Rahm Emmanuel and his police chief will have extra riot squadrons on fully equipped duty and a phone line to the right-wing Illinois governor handy (in case the National Guard needs to be deployed) after the verdict is read. Having announced his de facto resignation in 2019, Emmanuel has no fear of losing Black votes by responding with vicious repression. Things could get very ugly in Chicago if Van Dyke is exonerated.
But, frankly, maybe that’s the spark we need in the savagely unequal and hyper-segregated urban heart, the great Midwestern Metropolis, of this rotting creeping fascist Empire. This city, state, and nation are so badly overdue for a popular uprising it’s not half-funny. No. Rodney King, we can’t “all just get along.” Racist cops have got to go and so do the corporate, financial, imperial and racist power systems -- the interrelated de facto dictatorships of money, empire, white supremacy and eco-cide -- that the police and other members of the vast gendarme apparatus serve and protect.
Paul Street’s latest book is They Rule: The 1% v. Democracy (2014).
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