This article has been updated.
The Chicago Police Department on Tuesday released the highly anticipated dashcam video showing the shooting death of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald at the hands of Officer Jason Van Dyke. Earlier Tuesday, Van Dyke was charged with murder in McDonald’s 2014 death. Van Dyke turned himself into authorities on Tuesday morning.
It is believed that the charges mark the first time in Chicago history that a police officer has been charged with murder for an on-duty shooting. Later on Tuesday during a bond hearing, a judge denied Van Dyke bond and asked that the officer return to court on Monday for reconsideration. The judge also asked that prosecutors come to court on Monday with the dashcam video of the shooting, as it will be a factor in the hearing.
The state attorney general’s decision to charge the veteran officer comes within days of a deadline set by a Cook County Judge last week for the city to release dashcam video of the shooting. The footage reportedly shows Van Dyke shooting down McDonald and then firing several more shots as the teen laid prone on the pavement.
The city’s mayor, Rahm Emanuel, in a Tuesday press conference alongside Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy, called for peace and understanding as city officials and citizens reckon with the latest developments in the McDonald case. “People have a right to be angry,” McCarthy said, promising that Van Dyke will “have to account for his actions.”
Police said officers were responding to reports of a man behaving erratically and attempting to break into cars when they came across McDonald, who they said was armed with a small knife. According to the police account of the incident, McDonald refused multiple orders to drop the weapon and that he lunged at officers, at which point Van Dyke opened fire.
Lawyers for McDonald’s family who’ve seen the video said it is disturbing and that it shows McDonald attempting to walk away from the officers when he was shot. The shooting has driven a further wedge between many African-Americans and the police, as a string of other high-profile cases in the city of white cops killing blacks has kindled longstanding distrust and anger.
Up until the judge’s ruling last week, the city had refused multiple requests to release the video, including multiple Freedom of Information Act requests and a request by the state attorney general’s office.
But in the following days, Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the city changed course, saying that they would comply with the judge’s order to release the video before Thanksgiving. On Monday, Emanuel told reporters that he believed that Van Dyke acted inappropriately and that he would be held accountable.
“He was stripped of his police authority,” Emanuel told reporters on Monday. “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 protecting safety and security. So at every point he violated” the public trust.
According to officials, there were five other officers on the scene the night of the shooting, none of which fired a single shot.
Now that Van Dyke has been formally charged by the state attorney general, the police department will likely move the officer to non-paid status and begin the disciplinary and/or termination process. The city’s Independent Police Review Authority will then continue its investigation into the shooting — which had been suspended pending the state’s criminal investigation — and come up with a set of recommendations concerning Van Dyke’s employment status with the department. McCarthy has the authority to accept or reject those recommendations. Ultimately, after the superintendent makes his decision to keep or fire the officer, the decision then goes to the Chicago Police Board, a civilian agency, which decides disciplinary cases involving allegations of police misconduct.
Since the shooting, Van Dyke, 37, has been on paid desk duty. In April, the city settled with McDonald’s family for $5 million. The family and their lawyers had decided not to release the video as the criminal investigation into the case was ongoing.
“I think that this is definitely groundbreaking, but we’ve got a long road ahead because we won’t be completely satisfied until there’s a conviction,” said Jedidiah Brown, an organizer and activist with Young Leaders Alliance. “I know for me and those who I organize with, we refuse to go back to business as usual. One thing we point out is that while there may be some good cops, it seems that the bad cops shape the culture of this police department.”
Brown called the timing of the charges and the mayor’s reversal on the release of the video reinforcing the notion that “we are not important until it’s forced.”
Camiella Williams, another community organizer echoed Brown’s feelings.
“I’m grateful for the charges,” she said, “but will not celebrate until there is a conviction of Van Dyke.”
In the lead up to charges being filed against Van Dyke, the city and some community leaders have expressed concern that the graphic, possibly inflammatory video of McDonald’s violent death could spark unrest or violence in the city. That presumption or concern was roundly rebuked by some activists who said the notion is being used to distract from Van Dyke’s perhaps criminal actions the night of the killing.
Anthony Guglielmi, a Chicago police spokesman, said the police department has a multi-tiered plan to address any community response to the video’s release.
“As you have seen over the past few years, CPD works tirelessly to protect people’s First Amendment rights and residents have exercised those rights in a peaceful way,” Guglielmi told MSNBC. “What we will not condone is any criminal behavior. We will support people’s efforts to demonstrate but we will come down hard on any illegal behavior that disrupts the public.”