Two years after Laquan McDonald's death, a proposal to recall elected officials

Amid criticism of how Mayor Emanuel handled the situation, the Laquan McDonald Act underscores some Chicagoans' sense that officials' 'renewed commitment' toward improving relations with community members has not gone far enough.

Charles Rex Arbogast/ AP/ File
In this Nov. 24, 2015, file photo, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, left, and Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy appear at a news conference in Chicago, announcing first-degree murder charges against police officer Jason Van Dyke in the death of Laquan McDonald. The Laquan McDonald Act underscores some Chicagoans' sense that officials' 'renewed commitment' toward improving relations with community members has not gone far enough.

Two years after Laquan McDonald, a young black man from Chicago, was fatally shot in the back 16 times by a police officer, some members of the community are still seeking a better path forward. 

On Thursday, a group of activists commemorated the second anniversary of the 17-year-old’s death by introducing legislation that would allow citizens to recall elected officials if they feel justice has not been served. It would add another layer of accountability to a power structure already dealing with ambiguity in an era of bodycams and civilian cellphone videos.

If passed, the Laquan McDonald Act will create a special election process through which citizens could recall elected public officials, including the mayor and the Cook County state's attorney. Activists proposing the bill hope that it would hold public officials accountable at a time when public trust in once infallible institutions such as police departments is slipping.

"We demand more accountability on our elected officials that we feel co-conspired to cover up the death of 17-year old Laquan McDonald," William Calloway, an activist credited with pushing to obtain police vehicle dash video of McDonald's shooting, said at a news conference.

Since McDonald’s death, the city's new police superintendent, Eddie Johnson, recommended that seven officers be fired for allegedly providing false reports on his death, and the US Justice Department launched an ongoing investigation into the Chicago Police Department. Earlier this month, Mr. Johnson also announced a new set of proposed policies that will update police training to include de-escalation tactics and aim to better protect the "sanctity of life."

"[McDonald's] death was a wake-up call for our city on an issue that has challenged the city for decades, and brought a renewed commitment to a public conversation about policing and community relations," Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel said in a statement this week.

But amid criticism of how Emanuel originally handled the shooting's aftermath, and calls for him to resign, which he has refused, the Laquan McDonald Act is evidence that many do not feel this "renewed commitment" has gone far enough. In fact, one of the intended consequences of the legislation is giving the people a way to recall Emanuel from office.

"There are number of things we can do to help increase accountability," Randolph McLaughlin, a professor at Pace University Law School in White Plains, N.Y., tells The Christian Science Monitor in a phone interview. "Certainly making elected officials know that if they don't hold the police accountable, they can be recalled from office, is a powerful tool to incentivize local district attorneys and mayors to move these cases forward and recognize that there could be a consequence for them, too, if they don't do the right thing."

While polls show that public confidence in police is near a 22-year low, even as it has fluctuated over the past three years in the wake of a string of police shootings of young black men, Professor McLaughlin says this is not a new phenomenon. While social media and the omnipresence of cameras have made people more aware, there has been an ongoing distrust between law enforcement, including police and district attorneys, for much longer.

"The distrust damages the fabric of our society," McLaughlin says. Years of race-based stop-and-frisk policies "lead to a lot of anger in the black community, and then the shootings came. So it is a difficult time for both police officers who want to do a good job and for the community that needs good police officers."

Calloway, who proposed the Laquan McDonald Act, hopes that giving citizens the power to recall elected officials will help restore the community's sense of agency. 

"And most importantly, it would add to the legacy of Laquan McDonald," he said at the news conference, as NBC reports. 

Protesters gathered outside Chicago City Hall and at the site of the shooting on Thursday to support the law that they say would give the community protection against "empty promises."

"It's going to take all of us to help pass Laquan's law," Rev. Catherine Brown, of the activist group Action Now, told the crowd. "They have to know that if we voted you in the seat, we will also take you out."

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