Chicago police on Tuesday released video footage of a police shooting that killed a black teenager in October 2014, just hours after the white officer who fired the shots was charged with first-degree murder. The officer’s prosecution was apparently expedited in hopes of staving off a fresh burst of the turmoil over race and police use of deadly force that has shaken the United States for more than a year.
Officer Jason Van Dyke, 37, was denied bail at a hearing in Chicago’s main criminal courthouse earlier Tuesday, hours after top Cook County prosecutor Anita Alvarez announced charges of first-degree murder. If convicted, Van Dyke could face 20 years to life in prison.
At the brief court hearing, prosecutor Bill Delaney told Cook County Circuit Court Associate Judge Donald Panarese that the video of the Oct. 20, 2014 shooting doesn’t show 17-year-old Laquan McDonald, who was allegedly armed with a knife, advancing on Van Dyke. He said witnesses also concur on that point.
Small bands of protesters reacted to Tuesday’s events, taking to the streets a few hours after the video’s release.
“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 … criminal acts,” Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy said.
Several hundred people blocked traffic Tuesday night on the city’s near West Side. Some shouted marching on Michigan Avenue shouted at the officers they encountered, and many filmed the scene with cellphone cameras. After one short standoff, the crowd turned around and headed west, away from Lake Michigan. Some protesters circled police cars in an intersection and chanted “16 shots” in reference to the number of times Van Dyke shot McDonald.
Hundreds of protesters gathered outside a Chicago Police Department building Officers on Tuesday night as officers formed a line in front of the department’s District 1 headquarters in the South Loop, blocking anyone from entering.
Protesters yelled at police, with some chanting, “Don’t shoot me.”
A police spokesman said that two protesters had been arrested on Tuesday evening. The spokesman said he didn’t know on what charge.
Among the protesters was 32-year-old Niama Malachi, who said she hopes the protests remain peaceful, saying, “I don’t think you resolve violence with violence.” She added that the video was worse than she had expected.
The relevant portion of the video runs for less than 40 seconds and has no audio.
McDonald swings into view on a four-lane street where police vehicles are stopped in the middle of the roadway. As he jogs down an empty lane, he appears to pull up his pants and then slows to a brisk walk, veering away from two officers who are emerging from a vehicle and drawing their guns.
Almost immediately, one of the officers appears to fire from close range. McDonald spins around and crumples to the pavement. The second officer simultaneously lowers his weapon.
The car with the camera continues to roll forward until the officers are out of the frame. Then McDonald can be seen lying on the ground, moving occasionally. At least two small puffs of smoke are seen coming off his body as the officer continues firing.
In the final moments, an officer kicks something out of McDonald’s hands.
Police have said the teen had a knife. Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez said Tuesday that a 3-inch knife with its blade folded into the handle was recovered from the scene.
McDonald was shot 16 times by Van Dyke, who emptied his gun and prepared to reload, prosecutors said. Van Dyke has said through his lawyer and the police union that the shooting was justified because he felt threatened by McDonald.
“Clearly, this officer went overboard and he abused his authority, and I don’t think use of force was necessary,” prosecutor Alvarez said at a news conference after the hearing on Tuesday.
The judge scheduled another hearing for Monday and asked to see the video then in order to reconsider the issue of bond.
Twenty misconduct complaints were made against Van Dyke in the past four and a half years — but none has led to disciplinary action from the Chicago Police Department. according to research by Craig Futterman, a University of Chicago law professor and expert on police accountability issues.
“The Chicago Police Department refuses to look at potential patterns of misconduct complaints when investigating police misconduct,” Futterman said. “If the department did look at these patterns when investigating police abuse, there is a great chance right now that 17-year-old boy would still be alive.”
He believes Van Dyke is the first Chicago police officer to be criminally charged for an on-duty shooting.
Alvarez also said prosecutors moved up the timing of the charges ahead of the release of the video.
“With release of this video it’s really important for public safety that the citizens of Chicago know that this officer is being held responsible for his actions,” she said.
Last week, a court ordered the release of the video, taken by a police patrol car’s dashboard camera. The police union objects to its release.
McDonald’s death came at a time of intense national debate over police use of deadly force, especially against minorities. A number of U.S. cities have seen protests over police violence in the past 18 months, some of them fueled by video footage of the deaths.
The uproar was a factor in the rise of the Black Lives Matter civil rights movement, and has become an issue in the 2016 U.S. presidential election campaign.
In Minnesota on Tuesday, police arrested two men, one white and one Hispanic, related to the shooting of five people near a Minneapolis police station where demonstrators have gathered for more than a week to protest the shooting of an unarmed black man by officers.
Calls for calm
McDonald’s family on Tuesday called for calm, as did Mayor Rahm Emanuel and black community leaders.
“No one understands the anger more than us, but if you choose to speak out, we urge you to be peaceful. Don’t resort to violence in Laquan’s name. Let his legacy be better than that,” McDonald’s family said in a statement through their lawyer.
But in Baltimore and Ferguson, Missouri, family appeals for peace were not always heeded. Black community leaders in Chicago said they feared violent protests in reaction to the video. Politicians and church leaders in the Austin neighborhood urged potential demonstrators to protest peacefully.
“We feel your pain, but we challenge you to turn your pain into power. We know protests are coming, please allow them to be peaceable,” the Rev. Ira Acree said at a news conference.
Police shootings are frequent in Chicago, the third-largest city in the United States with 2.7 million people, roughly one-third of them white, one-third black and one-third Hispanic.
From 2008-2014 there were an average of 17 fatal shootings by police each year, according to data from the Independent Police Review Authority, which investigates police misconduct. Almost all shootings, fatal and non-fatal, have been found to be justified.
Prosecutor Delaney told the judge that Van Dyke’s partner, identified as “Officer A,” saw Van Dyke preparing to reload his weapon and told him to hold fire. Prosecutors said that McDonald was on the ground for 13 seconds between the time he first hit the ground and the moment Van Dyke stopped shooting.
Van Dyke’s lawyer Daniel Herbert said his client would prevail in court.
“This is a case that can’t be tried in the streets, it can’t be tried in the media, and it can’t be tried on Facebook,” Herbert said.
Van Dyke, who wore a brown sweatshirt and faded blue jeans as he stood with his hands behind his back in court, has been on administrative duty. Federal prosecutors were also investigating the shooting.
The altercation between McDonald and police officers on Chicago’s southwest side began with a call that a knife-wielding man was trying to break into trucks to steal radios. Chicago police have said McDonald threatened them with a knife and slashed at the tires and windshield of a patrol car. McDonald ignored a warning to drop the knife, officials said.
The city has already paid McDonald’s family a $5 million civil settlement even though they did not file a lawsuit.