Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel said the police officer who fatally shot Laquan McDonald was not justified in killing the teen.
“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.
Emanuel said the officer involved in the killing, Jason Van Dyke, would be “held accountable for that action.”
Van Dyke could be charged in the teen’s death as early as Tuesday, according to the Chicago Sun-Times. If Van Dyke is charged with murder, the paper reports, it’ll be the first time that an on-duty police officer was charged with murder in Chicago history.
The mayor’s strong condemnation of the officer’s actions in last year’s shooting of McDonald, 17, comes just days after a Cook County judge ordered the city to release dashcam video of the shooting and to do so before Thanksgiving.
The city and the police department for months refused to make the video public, rebuffed a request by the state attorney general for the release of the tape, and denied a number of Freedom of Information Act requests made by journalists.
McDonald was shot 16 times, according to autopsy reports. Police said McDonald was armed with a knife and acting erratically and that he was shot after he lunged at officers with the knife. But lawyers for the teen’s family who have seen the video say it shows Officer Van Dyke firing on McDonald as he walked away and again after he’d fallen to the pavement.
Following the shooting, McDonald has been placed on desk duty as local and federal investigations into the shooting continue. Back in April, the city settled with McDonald’s family for $5 million, stirring renewed interest in the case and bolstering calls by the family’s supporters for Van Dyke to be fired and face criminal charges.
Meanwhile, the judge’s order to release the possibly inflammatory video has some in the city concerned that images of McDonald, who is black, being gunned down by the white officer could spark unrest or even violence.
Camiella Williams, a community activist who has worked closely with McDonald’s family and the loved ones of other young African-Americans killed by Chicago police, said the cry for peace is simply a diversion from the truth.
“People are planting the seed of the potential of violence in the media rather than the fact that this officer shot him 16 times,” Williams said. “People are focusing on the wrong thing thinking it’s going to be violence. No one is really focusing on how can we shift this culture, how can we prevent this from happening again, how can we indict and convict the other officers involved in unjust killings.”
The mayor’s office and the police department did not return requests to comment on the latest in the case.
Williams and other activists are planning 30 days of protest and civil disobedience following the release of the video, as well as a continued demand for Van Dyke to face prosecution.
McDonald’s death is just the latest of a black man at the hands of police to be captured on tape, another in a string of violent encounters with law enforcement that has led to charges of systemic police brutality and a lack of accountability for cops who kill.
While several high-profile cases from across the country have ushered in waves of protest and anger in cities including Ferguson, Missouri; Baltimore; New York; and North Charleston, South Carolina; Chicago has weathered its own measure of scrutiny over police conduct.
Chicago police shot 50 people in 2014, according to the city’s Independent Police Review Authority (IPRA), with the vast majority of them people of color. According to the latest report by the IPRA, 39 were black, seven were Hispanic. Police shot just four whites during the entire year.
As the city prepares for the release of the video, more is being revealed about McDonald, who officials say had PCP in his system when he was killed. The teen reportedly lived a troubled life from an early age, including being abused and neglected as a child.
Before the age of 6, McDonald had twice been removed from his mother’s care because of allegations that her boyfriend abused him. He later entered the foster care system and was allegedly sexually molested in two different foster homes, according to sources that spoke with the Sun-Times.
At the time of his death, McDonald was still a ward of the state.
McDonald’s long, seemingly tragic life came to an end in a hail of police bullets on Oct. 20, 2014. Police officers responded to a call that someone was trying to break into cars on a strip on the city’s South Side. Officers reportedly tried to box him in with their squad cars, but McDonald slashed at the tires with a knife and pounded on one of the windshields. They say that McDonald refused multiple commands to drop the knife and that finally, when he made a move toward them, Van Dyke opened fire.
“Laquan McDonald suffered from mental illness, but there’s no support for him. There’s not support for many of the young people dealing with mental illness, poverty and trauma in this city,” Williams, the activist, said. “They are neglected by the city and then they become victims or they make someone else a victim. But nobody wants to deal with that.”