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Journalist on Shooting of Laquan McDonald by Chicago Police Officer: "It Was an Horrific Execution"

November 24, 2015
Story
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Guests

Jamie Kalven

founder of the Invisible Institute and a freelance journalist who uncovered the autopsy report showing Laquan McDonald was shot 16 times and who first reported on the existence of the video of the shooting.

Chicago is bracing for several new developments in the police-involved death of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald, who was shot and killed over a year ago. Officer Jason Van Dyke will reportedly be charged with first-degree murder on Tuesday, and the city has until Wednesday to release the video footage of the shooting, ordered last week by Cook County Judge Franklin Valderrama. An autopsy report shows McDonald was shot 16 times on October 20, 2014, including multiple times in the back. Police have said that the teenager lunged at the officer with a small knife. But people who have seen the video from police dash cam footage say it contradicts the police account, instead showing Van Dyke opening fire on the teenager while he was walking away, and continuing to shoot him even after the teenager was lying on the pavement. Despite the fact that McDonald’s family did not file a lawsuit, the city paid them $5 million in April and fought to conceal the video, even after The Wall Street Journal, the Chicago Tribune and a freelance journalist all filed FOIA requests for its release. Van Dyke remains on paid desk duty as the shooting is investigated by the FBI and the United States Attorney’s Office in Chicago. For more, we are joined by Jamie Kalven, founder of the Invisible Institute, a nonprofit journalism outlet that recently released tens of thousands of pages of civilian complaints filed against the Chicago Police Department—97 percent of which resulted in absolutely no disciplinary action. Kalven is also the freelance journalist who uncovered Laquan McDonald’s autopsy report.


TRANSCRIPT

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We begin today in Chicago, where the community is braced for several new developments in the police killing of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald, who was shot and killed over a year ago. Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke, who remained on desk duty, will reportedly be charged with first-degree murder today. On Thursday, Cook County Judge Franklin Valderrama ordered the release of the video showing McDonald being shot by Van Dyke on October 20th, 2014—over a year ago.

An autopsy report shows McDonald was shot 16 times, including multiple times in the back. Police have said the teenager lunged at the officer with a small knife. But people who have seen the video from police dash cam footage say it contradicts the police account, instead showing Officer Van Dyke opening fire on the teenager while he was walking away, and continuing to shoot him even after the teenager was lying on the pavement.

Despite the fact that Laquan McDonald’s family did not file a lawsuit in April, Chicago paid the family $5 million. The city fought to conceal the video, though, even after The Wall Street Journal, the Chicago Tribune and a freelance journalist all filed FOIA requests for its release. The city of Chicago now has until Wednesday—that’s tomorrow—to release the footage.

Meanwhile, Officer Van Dyke remains on paid desk duty as the shooting is investigated by the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Chicago. On Monday, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel said Officer Jason Van Dyke’s actions were hideous.

MAYOR RAHM EMANUEL: This officer didn’t uphold the law, in my view, took the law into his own hand, didn’t build the trust that we want to see, and wasn’t about providing safety and security. So at every point he violated what we entrust him. And when you’re entrusted as a police officer to provide safety, build trust and uphold the law, and you violate it, you’re going to be, in my view, held accountable for that action. The second thing is, you know, whether you see it, hear about it or read about it, in my view, I would express that this is a—it’s also a violation of your conscience, and it is wrong. And it was hideous.

AMY GOODMAN: For more, we’re joined by two guests in Chicago. Jamie Kalven is the founder of the Invisible Institute, a nonprofit journalism outlet that recently released tens of thousands of pages of civilian complaints filed against the Chicago Police Department—97 percent of which resulted in absolutely no disciplinary action. Kalven is also the freelance journalist who uncovered the autopsy report showing that Laquan McDonald was shot 16 times by Officer Jason Van Dyke.

We’re also joined by Charlene Carruthers, the national director of the Black Youth Project 100, which declined a meeting with Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s office on Monday, as the city tries to quell impending protests.

Jamie and Charlene, we welcome you both to Democracy Now! Jamie Kalven, this may be the first time people around the country outside of Chicago and around the world are hearing this story of a 17-year-old African-American teenager killed more than a year ago by a white police officer in Chicago. Can you take us through what actually happened and when you discovered the discrepancies in the reports?

JAMIE KALVEN: So, the initial report that came out following the incident on October 20th of last year was that a young man in erratic and, one spokesperson said, crazed condition was trying to break into cars on the Southwest Side of Chicago. Officers confronted him, followed him for a time. Ultimately, he was described as lunging at the officers, who defended themselves. It was a matter—it was described as a clear-cut case of self-defense. This is the story that was put out by the police department within hours of Laquan McDonald’s death, and it has been the narrative of the city until—until recently. I was struck by the mayor’s remarks in the item a moment ago, because everything that we now know, or that we will know once the video is released, was known by the city within hours of this horrible event.

What in fact happened is the police got a call, young man breaking into cars in a deserted industrial area on the Southwest Side of the city. Two officers responded and initially handled this obvious law enforcement situation very appropriately. They asked the young man to drop the knife. He didn’t. He kind of walked away from them. He seemed in an odd state. It was later learned that he had PCP in his system. But the officers handled it really appropriately. So, for some minutes, they followed him as he walked along the street, one of them in the car, one of them walking alongside him with a flashlight. They called in that they needed a Taser. They perhaps needed a Taser, didn’t have one. That was the extent of force that they anticipated using.

A couple of blocks into this journey, other police officers converge on the scene at a fairly busy intersection in Chicago, and this is the moment where everything accelerates and just goes out of control. They have the young man, Laquan, essentially corralled—several police cars. He’s up against—there’s also a construction fence that restricts his movement. They have superior force. A situation that moments ago required a Taser now becomes this, as one witness described it, execution. So, Officer Van Dyke and his partner get out of their vehicle, draw their guns. Laquan sees them, veers away from them, and that’s what the video will ultimately show and why it’s so important. He veers away. Van Dyke shoots him once or twice—it’s not clear, because there’s no audio on the video. He falls to the ground, lies on the street in what has been described as fetal position, clearly immobilized. There’s an extended pause, and then a barrage of bullets from Van Dyke’s gun. He is ultimately shot 16—there are 16 independent gunshot wounds, front and back. That’s the—we now know definitively that that is what happened. Yet—

AMY GOODMAN: Have you seen this video, Jamie?

JAMIE KALVEN: I have not. I have had it described to me in almost frame-by-frame detail by those who have.

AMY GOODMAN: So, describe how you discovered that the police account, in fact, was not correct.

JAMIE KALVEN: So, a colleague and I—a civil rights lawyer, Craig Futterman, I work with closely—we received a tip from—this is some weeks after the event. We received a tip from a city employee who was concerned that this case was not going to be vigorously investigated. He told us there was video. He told us that it was just a horrific execution. And it gave me enough information to be able to track down a witness to the event, a civilian witness. So that was the initial impetus. And at that point, Futterman and I wrote a piece making known that video existed and calling on the city to release it. Some months later, the autopsy became available. And remember, the city’s account, the official account, was boy lunges at police, police shoot in self-defense, shoot him in the chest in self-defense, and he dies some time later in a nearby hospital. When the autopsy became available, there was now definitive information that he was shot 16 times.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about this autopsy and then what you did. Now, we’re talking about, for people to understand, today it’s expected that the officer will be charged with first-degree murder and that the video will be released. But talk about just what this autopsy said, the piece you wrote, and what has happened over this past year. In the next few months, the city approaches Laquan’s family. They don’t sue, but they give him five—they give them $5 million.

JAMIE KALVEN: Right. So there are a couple of contexts for what unfolds in recent months. One is that there’s an election campaign going on for mayor. So, you know, this incident—imagine the full implications of what happened on October 20th of last year coming out in the midst of the election campaign. There’s also—and I think these are legitimate concerns, and the whole city is talking about them right now—you know, these events have unfolded against the backdrop of Ferguson last fall, when—or in the fall of 2014, when this occurred, Ferguson dominated the news; at various other junctures, Baltimore, other sites of civil disobedience and unrest. So, you know, both of those contexts, I’m sure, have weighed heavily for the mayor and the leadership of the city.

The way they’ve handled it, though, has been so profoundly regrettable. And now we’re going to pay the cost and experience the consequences of that. So what happened with the family of Laquan McDonald is they found lawyers to represent them in a wrongful death suit. And in the course of establishing probate for the estate, the lawyers were able to acquire the video, but kind of a long way around the barn, unexpected. And without having filed a lawsuit, they contacted the city law department and entered into negotiations. And this is in the midst of what was then the runoff election for mayor. And the city entered into an agreement with them, paying the family $5 million, but conditional on not releasing the video and other evidence that they had acquired, that the family had acquired.

So, you know, at every stage—I mean, what I think we’re going to start talking about once we’re past the video is really how the institutions of the city have responded to this, this event, that at every single stage, at every level of the city, from officers on the scene as Laquan McDonald was bleeding out on the street to the mayor and the senior officials in the city, the dominant, controlling impulse has been to circle the wagons, has been to contain information and suppress public information about this crime, and really to maintain and enforce an altogether false narrative that they had to know from day one was false.

Within hours of Laquan McDonald’s death, the city had all of the information that is now available and will be after release of the video. So, I don’t doubt that the mayor is appalled. I think any feeling human being knowing what happened that night would be appalled. But he had that information. That information was available to him the day it occurred and the following day. The autopsy—you know, I got the autopsy months after the incident. But the autopsy was conducted at 8:30 in the morning the following day. All of that information—the video, the autopsy, witness accounts—all of that was available the day it happened.

AMY GOODMAN: And this is now well over a year since the killing. We’re going to come back from break, and we’ll be joined, as well as Jamie Kalven, founder of the Invisible Institute, freelance journalist who broke this story by FOIAing the autopsy of Laquan—Charlene Carruthers will also join us, national director of the Black Youth Project 100. They’re both in Chicago. Stay with us.


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