By Erick Johnson, Chicago Crusader
His last minutes on earth ended with 16 gunshots on a busy Chicago street. While Laquan McDonald lay buried in Forest Home Cemetery in west suburban Forest Park, a videotape that shows his brutal death at the hands of his killer is kept from the public, as Mayor Rahm Emanuel gets re-elected to a second term. Meanwhile, McDonald’s killer, Jason Van Dyke patrols the streets and is kept on the city’s payroll without being investigated or charged with murder.
Two hundred and sixty days later after a video was released showing what actually happened, the Laquan McDonald case is slowly taking shape. In recent weeks, several legal decisions and developments have reignited a case that stirred the nation and ended the careers of top officials at the Chicago Police department and the State Attorney’s office. One official who is still hanging to his political life is Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who despite public apologies and police reforms, is still struggling to restore trust and his credibility in Chicago, especially in the Black community.
With emotions running high from police shootings across the country, anger from the McDonald case is not going to go away anytime soon. Recently, the case has picked up steam in the courts and on the streets, where protestors are once again seeking to shake up City Hall, calling for the mayor to step down. And with the recent shooting of 18-year-old Paul O’Neal, concerns are growing whether Emanuel can turn around a city while he remains in office.
“The mayor needs to resign, there’s not but about that,” said activist Tio Hardiman, who led a protest outside City Hall on Tuesday, August 16.The rally included a march and funeral procession around the building on LaSalle Street.
It was a scene that has been repeated many times since a video was released in November 2015. The video showed McDonald walking away from several police officers, who watched Van Dyke commit the crime. The mayor fired then Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy one week after the video was released. Van Dyke was initially cleared by the first police report, but he was charged with first-degree murder one day before the video was released. Police say McDonald was walking towards them with a knife, but the dashcam video contradicted their story.
Protests and outrage in Chicago boiled over before voters ousted Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez in the March primaries. In the Black community, residents also blamed the city’s Black aldermen for not knowing about the video. And many were angry that Alvarez brought charges against Van Dyke 13 months after he killed McDonald. The U.S. Justice Department is conducting a civil rights investigation into the Chicago police department.
During pre-trial proceedings, a number of rulings that have been made may help shape the outcome of the McDonald case. The most recent came August 10 when Cook County Judge Patricia Martin denied a motion by Van Dyke’s lawyers, who wanted to access McDonald’s juvenile court records.
McDonald had been in and out of foster care during his life. Van Dyke lawyers wanted to access his records to show that McDonald was a troubled child who had a history of arrests for drugs and petty crime. But Martin told them no.
The ruling was the latest victory for relatives and supporters of McDonald. A week prior to the move, Judge Vincent Gaughan appointed Kane County State’s Attorney Joseph McMahon as the independent prosecutor to handle Van Dyke’s murder case. He replaces Alvarez who called for a special prosecutor while under pressure from dozens of organizations and civil rights activists. A second special prosecutor, Patricia Brown Holmes, a former Cook County judge and prominent attorney, will investigate the role of the numerous officers who stood by and allowed Van Dyke to shoot McDonald 16 times.
Meanwhile other developments in the McDonald case have provided fresh signs of hope for activists and relatives of the slain teenager. The city of Chicago inspector general is reportedly recommending that at least 10 officers who were involved in the McDonald case be fired.
In another development, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan on August 16, ordered that emails on the McDonald shooting be fully disclosed under the state’s open record laws. Activists viewed the decision as a victory and a solid step towards transparency.