An Illinois state prosecutor charged Jason Van Dyke, a white Chicago police officer, with first-degree murder on Tuesday for the fatal shooting of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald in October 2014. Mr. McDonald was shot 16 times by Van Dyke, prosecutors say. His family received $5 million from the city, though family members never filed a lawsuit.
A video of the shooting, which has been deemed graphic and deeply disturbing, will be released Wednesday, on orders of a judge.
Now, Chicago is bracing for what could quickly escalate into violent protests after the video is released. Mayor Rahm Emanuel has condemned what he called a “hideous” action on the part of the police officer, and urged protestors to express themselves peacefully. Mr. Emanuel called on community and religious leaders Monday to prepare for the public reaction to the video.
“It’ll be out there and people will see it dozens and dozens and dozens of times. Then you have to go to that same population and select a jury pool,” said Dean Angelo, president of the Chicago lodge of the Fraternal Order of Police.
Mr. Van Dyke’s arrest is a monumental step for Chicago – one of the most segregated cities in America that has emerged virtually unscathed as Black Lives Matter protests rocked New York, Baltimore, Ferguson and Minneapolis. Rarely have police officers been indicted or faced charges for misconduct against black residents in Chicago, who said a group of officers abused and tortured them in the 1970s and 80s under the command of Jon Burge, a former Chicago Police Department detective who was charged with torturing more than 100 criminal suspects to coerce confessions.
Van Dyke’s case is the first time in roughly 35 years that a police officer has been charged in a case of fatal violence.
“The officer’s actions were not justified and were not a proper use of deadly force,” said Anita Alvarez, the state attorney in a live press conference on Tuesday. Alvarez defended taking a year for the trial, but has pushed charges in light of the video release. “I felt compelled in the interest of public safety to announce these state charges today.”
The video has been held from the public in the interest of public safety. But after a freelance journalist filed a petition, the city announced it would release the video on Wednesday.
Van Dyke is pleading innocent to first-degree murder charges and claims he was acting in self-defense after McDonald brandished a 3-inch folding knife. None of the other five officers on the scene fired a shot.
The charges, video release, and anticipated protests come just one day after five protesters were allegedly shot by white supremacists at a Black Lives Matter protest in Minneapolis. Two suspects have been arrested.
“Everything is being taken from us, nothing is being given to us and everyone is trying to tell us how to act and respond to that,” Timothy Bradford with Black Youth Project 100 told the Chicago Tribune. “There’s always focus on how black people perform and respond to being abused and exploited and oppressed politically, economically and socially. There’s very little focus and investment in addressing the root causes of everything that precedes this.”