Chicago Protests Mostly Peaceful After Video of Police Shooting Is Released

Monica Davey and Mitch Smith, New York Times, November 24, 2015

Demonstrators took to the streets of this city’s downtown in tense but largely peaceful protests after the release of video on Tuesday showing the fatal shooting of a black teenager by a white Chicago police officer.

Into the early morning hours of Wednesday, protesters led clusters of police officers on a march through the streets of Chicago’s Loop, blocking intersections, chanting outside a police station and, along a major road to the city’s largest highways, unfurling a banner that cited deaths at the hands of the police.

The night of protest followed a day of fast-moving events: first-degree murder charges against the officer, Jason Van Dyke, in the shooting of Laquan McDonald, 17, and, hours later, the release of graphic video from a police dashboard camera of the 2014 shooting, which a judge had ordered the city to make public by Wednesday.

{snip} “While on the whole last night’s demonstrations were peaceful, a few isolated incidents resulted in five arrests related to resisting arrest and assaulting police officers,” a police spokesman said on Wednesday.

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The grainy, nighttime dashboard camera video, which a judge ordered released last week, shows the young man running and then walking past officers in the middle of the street and spinning when bullets suddenly strike him down. For a moment, lying on the ground, he moves but then is still after he appears to be shot several more times. An officer kicks an object away from his body. The video shows none of the officers on the scene offering Mr. McDonald assistance.

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Officer Van Dyke, 37, who has been with the Police Department for 14 years, is the first Chicago police officer in decades to be charged with murder in an on-duty shooting. The city previously fought to keep the video private, citing a continuing investigation into the shooting.

Officer Van Dyke was charged and the video released just over a year after Mr. McDonald was shot 16 times, even after he had stepped slightly away from the officer, prosecutors said. Witnesses said Mr. McDonald, who was carrying a three-inch folding knife, never spoke to Officer Van Dyke or any of the other officers and did not make threatening moves toward him. None of at least seven other police officers on the scene fired their weapons.

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Dan Herbert, a lawyer for Officer Van Dyke, has said the officer believed the shooting was justified because he feared for his safety and that of other officers. Mr. Herbert said his client “absolutely” intended to go to trial. {snip}

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In April, the city agreed to pay $5 million to the McDonald family, even before a suit had been filed in the case.

On the evening of Oct. 20, 2014, police officers approached Mr. McDonald on the city’s Southwest Side, prosecutors said, after a resident reported seeing him breaking into trucks and stealing radios. Mr. McDonald, who had the folding knife in his hand, walked away as officers arrived. Someone called for a police unit with a stun gun, though it was not clear whether anyone ever appeared with one. At one point, Mr. McDonald “popped” the tire on a police car, apparently with his knife, the prosecutors said.

With more officers arriving car by car, Mr. McDonald kept walking and jogging along, not responding to orders to drop the knife, prosecutors said. Near a Burger King along a busy stretch of Pulaski Road, Officer Van Dyke’s marked Chevrolet Tahoe pulled up alongside other police vehicles, including one containing a dashboard camera. Officer Van Dyke was on the scene for fewer than 30 seconds, prosecutors said, before he began shooting his service weapon, which had a 16-round capacity.

The shooting spanned 14 or 15 seconds, and in about 13 of those seconds, prosecutors say, Mr. McDonald was lying on the ground. He was hit 16 times, including in his backside. An autopsy showed the presence of the drug PCP in his system.

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Mr. Herbert, the officer’s lawyer, said Officer Van Dyke was highly decorated with an excellent record and numerous awards. But records show that the officer had been the subject of numerous complaints from residents, including allegations of using excessive force and making racial slurs.

Mr. Herbert said that no merit had ever been found by the authorities in any of the allegations against Officer Van Dyke.

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