Over the holidays I received an email from a reader asking why my posts about law enforcement are always so critical of policemen? She went on and on about policemen, telling me about all the good they do and how difficulty and danger their jobs are. She told how they put their lives on the line every day and that I should be ashamed of myself for attacking them. In closing she suggested that in the future I go easier on them because “the police are the only thing that stands between us and them.” Sounds a bit ominous doesn’t it? Them? I sat there wishing that she had been a bit more forthcoming in her description of ‘them.’ I sure would have liked to know who she thinks they are.
It was an interesting email. I was a little surprised by her response and actually found it a bit odd, as I believe my assessment of police and police agencies have always been fair. I truly believe that police departments across the nation are doing an outstanding job. I also believe that the vast majority of police officers employed by these agencies are out there doing their very best to protect and serve. But like any other job, sometimes individuals who are not fully qualified make it through the tests, interviews and training and make their way to the streets where they protect and serve as they choose rather than by the book.
These are the officers I’ve written about on several occasions, that small percentage of police officers whose abuse of authority and use of excessive force “under color of the law,” has resulted in the questionable death of suspected perpetrators. I have long referred to them as “cops who kill.” My criticism of these “cops who kill” is in no way meant to diminish the incredible job done by law enforcement officers across the nation, and so admirably demonstrated last month in San Bernardino.
Yet while we celebrate a job well done close to home, in Chicago a grand jury is hearing testimony in the questionable police shooting of Laquan McDonald that took place in October 2014. The initial police report stated that the knife wielding suspect was acting crazed and began to raise the knife above his shoulder in a threatening manner then lunged at the officers. Fearing for his life officer Jason Van Dyke, standing 10 – 12 feet away, opened fire hitting the suspect who died later in route to the hospital. Several officers on the scene reported seeing the same thing. The case was ruled a justifiable homicide and as far as the police were concerned, a closed case, a clean cover-up. But that didn’t happen.
The cover up began to unravel almost immediately as witnesses came forward with contradictory versions of the shooting that raised many questions. Then the independent autopsy photos were released. They revealed that Laquan had been shoot 16 times, meaning that the officer had emptied his 9mm hand gun into the suspect. It was also revealed that as many of 10 shot had struck the suspect after he was already down. Months later we learned that after emptying his handgun Van Dyke immediately reloaded but was urged by his partner not to fire again. One has to wonder if he would have continued to fire if his partner had not been near him? Of the eight officers on the scene Van Dyke was the only one who felt threatened enough to fire.
Then the shit hit the fan when it was learned that a dash-cam tape of the entire incident existed and was being held back by the police. A tape that would prove that the killing was unjustified. It took over a year but the video was finally released to the public in late November. Coincidentally officer Van dyke was arrested and charged with first-degree murder on the day before the videos release. The video completely contradicts the official version of the shooting and clearly shows the suspect moving away from Van Dyke and has his back to him when he begins to fire. There was no raising of the knife, no life threatening lunge towards the officer, just one pissed off cop bringing a quick end to a police pursuit.
Since the video’s release and the release of 5 other security videos there have been more questions raised than answered, questions like why did the police wait for the tasers they’d radioed for before confronting the suspect? Why was he shoot so many times? Why were witnesses ordered to leave the scene under threat of arrest without statements being take?Why did officers secure the Burger King surveillance immediately following the shooting and how did said tape develop an 86 minute gap spanning the time before during and after the shooting? Why did Lacquan have to die that night? Why did it take so long for Van Dyke to be charged? Authorities knew exactly what went on right from the beginning? They also knew Van Dyke had a history of excessive force with more than twenty complaints filed against him and a $350,000 excessive force settlement paid by the city. Why indeed?
We all know there’s a code of silence among police officers, but how far do you let it go and just how high up did this cover up go? In April the city agreed to pay the McDonald’s a $5 million settlement even before the family had filed a law suit, sort of a preemptive strike. And in December the mayor of Chicago fired the Police Superintendent. I wonder who will be next? So now we await not only the outcome of officer Van Dyke murder trial. the first murder trial of a police officer in 35 years, but the findings of the grand jury investigation as well. Will justice be served or will a jury acquit Van Dyke? Will the grand jury move to clean up the city? or will Chicago streets explode in violence? Only time will tell.