Black elected officials Tuesday called for calm in the city as the video of a teenage boy fatally shot 16 times by a Chicago police officer more than a year ago was released tonight.
Earlier in the day, as officials spoke to the media during at MacArthur’s Restaurant in Austin, officer Jason Van Dyke was charged with first-degree murder in the shooting death of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald. Van Dyke has been assigned to paid desk since the shooting in October 2014.
A Cook County judge last week ordered the release of the police car dash camera video that captured the shooting, and Mayor Rahm Emanuel said the city wouldn’t appeal the decision, paving the way for today’s release.
Elected officials representing the West Side joined community leaders in calling for peaceful protest.
“We want you to see the video and let the anger rein, but we want you to talk it out and not be violent in doing so,” said 37th Ward Ald. Emma Mitts.
Mitts and other leaders expressed their own anger about the murder charge coming down more than a year later after the shooting.
“We want you to be angry because, rightfully so, you have a right to be angry, and I’m angry,” Mitts said. “This young man did not need to be shot down. The abuse on African-Americans and the mistreatment of African Americans has to stop.”
McDonald’s family released a public statement also calling for peace and calm after the video’s release, according to news reports Tuesday afternoon. The city has already reached a $5 million settlement with the family over the shooting death.
Mitts and other leaders said blacks are too often stereotyped by police.
“We no longer want to see that in our community: just look at a black person and just because you black you disrespect them. That’s what’s happening in our community,” Mitts said.
Rev. Marshall Hatch of New Mount Pilgrim Church in West Garfield Park also called for peace in the community and urged residents to refrain from violence and looting.
“Do not use his death to conduct criminal acts. That will not honor his memory,” Hatch said.
Rev. Ira Acree of Greater St. John Bible Church in Austin encouraged the community to “turn your pain into peaceful protest. Do not turn your city upside down.”
Cook County Commissioner Richard Boykin (1st) echoed his colleagues’ sentiments, adding that bad police officers need to be taken off the streets, a view expressed by other elected officials at the press conference.
Boykin also called on Supt. Garry McCarthy to step down.
Members of the Chicago City Council’s Black Caucus last month called for the superintendent’s resignation, citing the increase in violence in their wards and low numbers of blacks in leadership positions within the police department.
“We demand change in the police department,” Boykin said. “It’s much bigger than Superintendent McCarthy, but will I stand with the city council and state representatives and state senators who are here, and say that Garry McCarthy has to go. He should have gone yesterday.”
Tuesday’s press conference included other news about a Chicago police shooting involving a white officer against a black victim. Police Det. McCarthy took steps late Monday to fire Dante Servin for the 2012 shooting death of 22-year-old Rekia Boyd, a West Side resident.
In a statement McCarthy released, the police chief said the timing of Servin’s firing was not politically motivated and not related to Tuesday’s announcement of Van Dyke’s murder charge.
Acree and other West Side black leaders, however, said it was a political move and also questioned the release of the video right before the Thanksgiving holiday.
“The timing is very awkward,” Acree said. “It appears that the video’s release was intentionally timed to happen around Thanksgiving. Political motivations appears to be influencing all of these decisions.”
The Independent Police Review Authority, which reviews police misconduct cases, investigated Boyd and McDonald’s deaths. Mitts said the review board had possession of the video and because of its graphic contents turned it over to federal investigations.
But Acree said the review board has no real power to affect change because it’s under the mayor’s purview.
“It has no real independence, it has no real teeth. It can make recommendations, but the city makes any final decisions irregardless of the IPRA says.”
Mark Carter, an outspoken community activist and critic of the police, mayor and black alderman, disrupted Tuesday’s press conference. In an angry tirade directed at aldermen, Carter said police have been killing innocent black people for years while aldermen and the mayor have done nothing.
Carter also showed the media pictures on his laptop reportedly of McDonald’s wounds following the autopsy.
“Look how they butchered this boy,” he said.
The press conference was nearing its end as Carter spoke, but he said he and other critics were planning their own protests against the city.
Tuesday’s press conference included 28th Ward Ald. Jason Ervin and 29th Ward Ald. Chris Taliaferro, a former Chicago police officer himself.
Some at Tuesday’s press conference objected to the way McDonald was portrayed by police. The department said he failed to drop a knife in his hand after being ordered to do so. Police said he lunged at officers and was fatally shot in the chest.
But an autopsy done later by the Cook County Medical Examiner’s office revealed McDonald was shot 16 times in his legs, chest, arms and calf, including two shots in the back. And some who had seen the video before its release said several other officers on the scene did not fire any shots at McDonald, who was walking away from police when he was shot.
Some media outlets reported that McDonald was a drug addict at the time of the shooting.
But Rev. Acree said the teen was molested as a child and still a ward of the state when he was shot. McDonald was also abused as a child that likely influenced his poor mental state, Acree and others noted.
Ald. Walter Burnett said there are many people in the community, and also on the police force, who likely have undiagnosed mental problems that negatively influence their decision making.
Much of the community outrage over McDonald and the mistreatment of other black people stems from history, Burnett said.
“Whenever we see stuff like that it brings about feelings of slavery, racism, hanging people, killing us unjustly,” he said. “It brings about a lot of emotions about the ’60s and the rioting, all of the things that we went through.”
Some residents attending Tuesday’s press conference said they appreciated the aldermen’s anger but want them to follow-up on their promise to demand change.
“It sounds as if they’re passionate about lives being taken at the hands of police, and all lives for that matter, but it’s got to be proven after all the smoke dies,” Melvin Bailey said.
“We got to see if we can keep that momentum going. We don’t want it just right now. The footage of the shooting is going to be aired, but what about seven days after that? Two weeks after that? A month after that; where are we at then?”