Hundreds Protest recent Chicago teen shooting
CHICAGO — Hundreds of protesters chanting “16 shots” wove their way through downtown streets Tuesday night after the city released a dramatic video showing a white police officer firing a fatal barrage of 16 bullets at a black teenager.
Police and elected officials are bracing for more possible backlash and strong public reaction, even after the officer was charged with first-degree murder. An angry crowd of demonstrators at times shouted obscenities at Chicago police, as the video went viral on social media.
The announcement of the charges against Officer Jason Van Dyke come as the city faced a court-ordered Wednesday deadline to release video from a squad car dashcam of the Oct. 20, 2014 incident. Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez described the video, which shows Van Dyke unloading 16 shots on 17-year-old Laquan McDonald, as grim.
“It is graphic, it is violent, it is chilling,” Alvarez told reporters after Van Dyke appeared in court Tuesday.
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and city Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy said at a press conference that the video is now available to the public and that residents should remain calm and collected in the days ahead. The city’s download link provided to the media was beset by heavy traffic and did not seem able to keep up with the demand for the video.
McCarthy said the department was ready to help facilitate peaceful protests but would not tolerate criminal activity.
“We as the city of Chicago, all of us, have to make an important judgment about ourselves and our city as we go forward,” Emanuel said.
Scores of protesters clashed mildly with police late into the evening. One throng of well over 200 activists assembled at Roosevelt Road and Michigan Avenue, with the Chicago skyline as their backdrop, and occasional pushing and shoving with police officers led to heated confrontation and a few arrests. At one point, someone set off a smoke device in the crowd.
Among those at the protest scene was Rev. Michael Pflegar, a prominent Catholic priest and activist on the city’s South Side. For the most part, the clashes with police seemed to be verbal and non-violent.
In the video, McDonald can been seen walking down the middle of a thoroughfare. He appears to be walking away from police when he’s first struck. About two seconds after he falls and is lying on his side, two puffs of smoke can be seen. Prosecutors said the puffs of smoke were clouds of debris caused by fired bullets. The last visible shot was fired about 13 seconds later and his body has jerked and his arms have moved slightly, while he lays on the ground. At that point, an unidentified officer, who prosecutor’s identified as Van Dyke’s partner, approaches McDonald and kicks a small knife the teen is holding in his hand.
Alvarez said she made her decision weeks ago to charge Van Dyke, but had delayed announcing while federal authorities completed their parallel investigation of the incident.But after a judge ordered the release of the dashcam video by Wednesday, Alvarez said it was necessary to move up her office’s timeline even as her federal counterparts continue to their investigation.
“I felt compelled in the interest of public safety to announce these state charges today, ” Alvarez said.
Van Dyke arrived at the Cook County criminal courthouse on Tuesday morning with his lawyer by his side to turn himself in, and ignored questions shouted to him by reporters who awaited his arrival. It marked the first time in more than 30 years that a Chicago police officer had been charged with first-degree murder for a fatality while in uniform.
The Cook County State’s Attorney’s office said Van Dyke repeatedly shot McDonald after the young man had an encounter with police officers.
Cook County Judge Donald Panarese, Jr. ordered Van Dyke be held without bail until at least Monday, when he called on prosecutors to return with the dashcam video from a police squad car that captured footage of Van Dyke shooting McDonald.
“I believe it is pertinent,” Panarese told attorneys during the bail hearing.
Van Dyke’s attorney Daniel Herbert said his client feared for his life after police answered a call about a young man who was acting erratically. A Chicago police union official also told reporters soon after the incident that McDonald, who had PCP in his system at the time of his death and was holding a knife with a three-inch blade, lunged at the officer.
Prosecutors told the court the video clearly shows that McDonald was not advancing on Van Dyke, who started firing six seconds after he got out of his squad car. The shots were fired over 14 to 15 second period. During 13 of the 15 seconds, McDonald was on the ground, prosecutors said.
The city had resisted releasing the video, citing federal and state probes into the incident. A Cook County Circuit Court judge, however, set the deadline last week after independent journalist Brandon Smith sued the city. Smith argued the city had violated state’s open record law by failing to release the video.
“I would just state that judgement made the comfort of their living room on their sofa is not the same as the perspective from my client’s,” Herbert said.
Michael Robbins, an attorney for McDonald’s family, said the video shows that the teen was walking away from Van Dyke when he fired. Five other police officers at the scene did not fire a shot. In April, Chicago’s city council approved a $5 million settlement for McDonald’s family.
City officials expect a sharp reaction to the video’s release, which comes as police treatment of African-American men has become hot-button issue nationally in the aftermath of high-profile incidents in New York, Ferguson, Mo., Baltimore, North Charleston, S.C., and elsewhere in the last 18 months.
“Across Chicago there are thousands of police officers who protect our communities every day with the highest professional standards,” Emanuel said in a statement Tuesday. “As the State’s Attorney made clear, Jason Van Dyke’s actions violated those standards and also the moral standards that bind our community together. Rather than uphold the law, he took the law into his own hands and it’s now up to the justice system to hold him accountable.
Herbert, Van Dyke’s attorney, criticized Emanuel, who on Monday called the officer’s actions “hideous,” for being “irresponsible” with is public statements against the officer.
“They are unfair and prejudicial to my client,” Herbert told reporters. “Thankfully, politicians will not be deciding the fate of my client.”
Herbert told the the judge that Van Dyke is a longtime Chicago-area resident. He is married and has two children.
Herbert added that Van Dyke’s wife was preparing to hand over his service weapon on Monday. He said his client, who has never traveled out if the country and doesn’t have a passport, would not be a flight risk.
Rep. Bobby Rush, a Democratic lawmaker from the South Side, said the video followed along a disturbing path of police misconduct he’s witnessed over the years. He also called on Alvarez to step down from her post as county prosecutor, saying she moved too slowly in charging Van Dyke.
“It’s going to take true, true repentance,” Rush said after viewing the video. “There’s a wide, wide gap between the Chicago Police Department and my community.”
Emanuel on Monday met with several pastors, community leaders and activists, to urge peaceful protests. In a separate move, McCarthy announced he would move to fire a police officer who was found not guilty of involuntary manslaughter earlier this year for the 2012 shooting death of Rekia Boyd.
Boyd, 22, was killed when off-duty officer Dante Servin fired five shots into a crowd after getting into a dispute. Servin said he was reacting to a man who had reached for his waistband.
Rev. Michael Pflegar, a prominent Catholic priest and activist on the city’s South Side, applauded the murder charge and announcement that Servin would be fired. But Pflegar said the city should have taken action earlier.
“We can not ask the Community to trust the Police, if the police do not Police themselves,” Pflegar said in a message he posted on social media Tuesday morning. “You can’t ask the Community to give information on a shooting, if the Community feels the Police cover up and protect their bad actions…..Hoping this pressure from the Community will begin a new day of Accountability!!!!”
Gov. Bruce Rauner announced Tuesday that his office had been debriefed on the video and that he expected public reaction to be “strong,” the Associated Press reports. The governor directed Illinois State Police to work with Chicago Police to make sure the public remains safe following the release of the video. The governor, however, declined to say whether he has deployed any additional state troopers or put the National Guard on standby.