Timing is everything in the Laquan McDonald shooting case

On October 20th, 2014, Laquan McDonald was shot 16 times by a police officer. McDonald was a 17-year-old teenager who was, according to reports, high on PCP and carrying a knife. According to the video released this week, McDonald was walking away from police, not toward them, and 14 of the 16 shots appear to enter Laquan’s body when he was lying in a fetal position on the ground. It took more than 400 days for State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez to charge the officer, Jason Van Dyke, with a crime and also that long for the video to be released and then only because of a judge’s order.

The video is evidence of a horrible crime and in the current climate of racial protest in this country, you’d expect a significant reaction from local activists. If you were Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, you might be worried about riots like those in Ferguson or Baltimore.

It would be almost impossible to draw attention away from release of that video.

And yet…

The day before charges were announced in the Van Dyke case, Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy announced his decision to fire Dante Servin, a Chicago police officer who, while off-duty, shot into a group of people and killed 22-year-old Rekia Boyd. By all accounts, Boyd was unarmed and doing nothing wrong.

The shooting occurred in 2012. Servin had been acquitted of charges in the shooting five months ago on something of a technicality. In the trial, the judge said he had been incorrectly charged. The case, according to the Chicago Tribune, caused “outrage from the black victim’s family and leaders in the African-American community.”

A police review board recommended firing Servin two months ago, but McCarthy seemed to only come to a decision this week, two days before the required release of the Van Dyke/McDonald video. He made the announcement not in a pre-arranged press conference, but unexpectedly after a graduation ceremony for new police officers at Navy Pier.

McCarthy said the timing was unrelated to the Van Dyke/McDonald case.

The day before the release of the van Dyke/McDonald video, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel met with several political, religious and community leaders and activists in an effort to control the expected reaction.

The day after that, a 22-year-old activist named Malcolm London appeared on TV with another member of his activist group, Black Youth Project 100, to explain why they – seemingly alone amongst other invited community activists and political leaders – refused to meet with the mayor. The refusal received a significant amount of attention.

The video showing the killing of McDonald was as awful as it had been described in media reports. It appears as if McDonald is shot twice, causing him to fall to the ground. While on the ground, he is shot several more times. Smoke or debris appears to rise from the area around his body. His body is left in the street while officers walk in the vicinity. No one offers him medical assistance.

It would be almost impossible to draw attention away from that protests over that video.

And yet…

Protests marched through downtown Chicago the night the video was released, mostly organized by BYP 100. They were largely peaceful. Only five arrests were made that evening. Two of the five were members of BYP 100, including London. Police allege London threw a smoke bomb, which fellow activists deny. Many fellow protesters saw London’s arrest as payback for both his group’s refusal to meet with the mayor and their organizing efforts.

The day after the protests, London’s court hearing was the story of the day. Very quickly, London was released and charges were dropped with no comment from either the judge, the prosecutor or police as to why.

Most of the attention around the McDonald/Van Dyke case was focused on London’s arrest though some stories began to circulate about McCarthy and Alvarez’s roles in delaying the release of the video and charges in the case. City Council aldermen within Chicago’s black caucus called for McCarthy to be fired. The National Bar Association, the oldest and largest association of African-American lawyers and judges, called for Alvarez and McCarthy to be fired.

A day before the release of the video, Father Michael Pfleger, a white activist pastor at St. Sabina in Chicago’s predominantly black Auburn Gresham neighborhood, announced his intentions to protest against the McDonald/Van Dyke case along Michigan Avenue on Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving. He called on others to do the same. As the week went on, more groups announced their intention to join him. Protesters would meet at Michigan and Wacker at 11am and march along the Magnificent Mile, a draw for city residents and tourists alike. Blanket media coverage would be a given.

It would be almost impossible to draw attention away from that protests over that video.

And yet…

At 4am on the day of the planned Black Friday protest, Chicago Police announced they had made an arrest in the November 2nd murder of nine-year-old Tyshawn Lee. There was no word as to whether the person arrested was the shooter or an accomplice. Additional information would be made available later that morning.

Tyshawn’s murder was especially heinous. He was gunned down in an alley near his house. Reports said it was retaliatory for his father’s involvement in gang activity. The killing of Tyshawn received national coverage with some commentators suggesting his death did not receive as much attention or protest as the McDonald/Van Dyke case though few in the community see it that way.

As of this writing, the extent of the charges against the person involved in Lee’s shooting or how it will be prosecuted is not yet known. UPDATE: Chicago Police arrested Corey Morgan on murder charges and have a warrant out for a second man. Chicago Tribune has details. The Sun-Times‘s Andy Grimm documented Morgan’s bond hearing on Twitter, which included statements from the prosecutor.

More protests are planned in Chicago while residents still await answers as to why it took 400 days for charges to be filed by Alvarez against Jason Van Dyke in the killing of Laquan McDonald and why McCarthy continued to keep Van Dyke on the Chicago Police force during that time despite the obvious nature of the crime.

Mayor Emanuel has made no public comment on the case since the release of the video. As protests filled Michigan Avenue, he attended the city’s official tree lighting ceremony.

It was impossible to draw attention away from the protests occurring just blocks away.

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