There will be no justice for Laquan McDonald. He is dead, shot 16 times point blank by a Chicago police officer. Now, after over a year, after a dashboard camera video was released by judicial order, the police officer who shot him has been charged with murder. But this is only a first step. For Chicago to heal, many unanswered questions and many unmet problems must be addressed. Disciplined, nonviolent protests have demanded answers. Now it is time for action.
This is not simply a case of one bad cop. Nine police officers were on the scene, yet not one reported the police violence. Instead, a police union spokesman alleged that McDonald lunged at the police with a knife. That false statement went unchallenged. Why?
Witnesses were on the scene. But according to various accounts, the police shooed them away without collecting names and questioning them. Why?
The audio from the dashboard camera was indecipherable — as was that of four other dashboard cameras at the scene. According to a district manager, the relevant portion of a video from the security camera of a nearby Burger King went missing after the police were given access to it. Why?
The city fought to conceal the video, contesting Freedom of Information Act lawsuits by independent journalists, by the Wall Street Journal and by the Chicago Tribune. Yet the mayor pushed the City Council to vote a $5 million settlement for the McDonald family before they had even filed a lawsuit. The settlement apparently included an agreement to keep the video secret. Why?
The contrast with last summer’s Cincinnati case could not be more stark. When Samuel DuBose was fatally shot on camera by a University of Cincinnati police officer during a routine traffic stop, the video contradicted the officer’s claim that he had been dragged along the street by DuBose’s car. The video was released, and the officer was charged with murder and fired in less than two weeks. Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez brought charges only after a court ordered the release of the video, after an investigation taking more than 13 months. Why?
The mayor says this was the act of one bad police officer who will now face a jury of his peers. The tape shows us who did the shooting. But the question is who contributed to what looks inescapably like a concerted cover-up.
This can’t be business as usual. If Chicago is to heal, the truth must come out. The protests have made three basic and sensible demands. First, appoint an independent special prosecutor to insure a fair prosecution. Second, the federal investigation should probe not only the shooting of Laquan McDonald but also what appears to be the effort to cover it up. Those implicated from top to bottom should be held accountable.
Third, we need a new police chief and a new police culture. New leadership and comprehensive reform are vital if trust is to be rebuilt.
These are essential and inescapable. Real healing requires even more. We must move from reform to reconstruction. We need a national commission on urban reconstruction. We cannot expect police to provide security in oceans of despair. We need action on housing, schools and jobs. If Chicago is to heal, the police must regain our trust, and the people must regain some hope.