West Side community leaders want a federal investigation into Laquan McDonald shooting’s shooting death and police video of the incident.
At a lively gathering Tuesday night at Austin’s Christ Tabernacle Church, local residents and elected officials said Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s firing of Police Supt. Garry McCarthy’s was a good first step. But it’s not enough to clean up the department and its long history and culture of brutality and discrimination, they said.
Black aldermen called for McCarthy’s firing in October, but the mayor did not act until Tuesday – after a week of national outrage over the Nov. 24th court-ordered release of dash cam video of the 17-year-old being shot 16 times.
Those at the meeting said they want federal investigators to look into whether Emanuel, McCarthy and Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez, among others, conspired to cover-up the shooting and keep the video from the public.
They also want a special prosecutor assigned to the case of Jason Van Dyke, the officer who shot McDonald Oct. 20, 2014 who now faces 1st degree murder charges. Alvarez, they maintained, has a conflict of interest and can’t be trusted to prosecute a case she took more than a year to indict.
“Was there an overt effort with the state’s attorney’s involvement, the mayor’s involvement and the police to suppress this videotape,” asked Cook County Commissioner Richard Boykin, who helped organize Tuesday’s meeting.
Boykin said they also want the department to release any dash cam videos involving other police shootings.
In a recent editorial, the Chicago Tribune called for an independent investigation into the McDonald case, which has made national headlines. And The New York Times editorial page has called for the Justice Department to “investigate every aspect of this case, determine how the cover-up happened and charge anyone found complicit.”
Leaders and residents at Tuesday’s meeting want there to be a Chicago City Council public hearing to determine what the mayor knew about the video and when. Ald. Chris Taliaferro (29th) said he will submit a resolution at the Dec. 9 council meeting calling for that hearing.
The passionate crowd of about 50 included residents, community activists and West Side lawmakers from the county, city and Springfield. Austin 15th District Police Commander Dwayne Betts and former commander Barbara West also attended, but neither spoke.
Many at the meeting expressed anger and frustration over the city’s handling of the McDonald shooting.
Rev. Ira Acree, pastor of Greater St. John Bible Church, said the officers who stood by and watched Van Dyke shoot McDonald also need to be investigated.
“There were nine other police officers who lied about their testimonies, who obstructed justice, and they’re still collecting a check. [McCarthy’s] firing was a start, but who else was involved in this cover-up?” Acree said.
The pastor added that Alvarez might be trying to get an acquittal for Van Dyke by “over-charging” him with 1st degree murder.
Acree and other leaders also criticized Emanuel’s new task force looking into police misconduct. Boykin said the city needs a real independent police review board that includes citizens. The current Independent Police Review Authority, Boykin said, is “useless.”
“IPRA, which is hand-picked by the mayor, is the mayor’s police accountability board. This task force the mayor appointed today; he appointed those folks, not the community,” Boykin said.
The $5 million settlement to McDonald’s family in April also needs to be looked at by federal investigators, leaders and residents said.
Acree called the settlement “hush money” paid to McDonald’s family in an attempt to keep the video private. He noted that McDonald was a ward of the state at the time of this shooting and was not living with his family who received the cash.
Acree and others also want those alderman who signed off on the payment to explain why they agreed to it.
Tuesday’s meeting also drew activists from the South Side.
Camiella Williams of the nonprofit group Concerned Citizens said her group filed Freedom of Information Act requests not only for the McDonald footage but requesting other police shooting videos. She also believes Emanuel and the aldermen who OK’d the settlement were aware of and possibly saw the video.
“I’m not buying that you guys didn’t know. We knew,” Williams said.
State Sen. Don Harmon made one of the night’s most poignant comments.
“I can’t watch that videotape without saying, ‘Oh my God. What did I just see. I just saw that with my own eyes,'” Harmon said. “It’s important for people who look like me, who live in other neighborhoods, to watch that video and say, ‘Oh my God, what if it’s all true. It’s all true.'”
On Friday, Boykin and community leaders plan to lead a march around City Hall 16 times beginning at noon. They’re asking for residents to come out and join the peaceful protest.