After a judge's order earlier this week, the graphic video of a white Chicago cop shooting black teen Laquan McDonald was finally released on Tuesday. Officer Jason Van Dyke, who was charged on Tuesday with first-degree murder, shot the teen 16 times under murky circumstances. Protesters and legal officials have been calling for the release of the footage ever since. But this was no recent incident. The fatal shooting occurred in October 2014, and Tuesday's release of the video happened 400 days after the incident. Now, besides the many questions still surrounding the circumstances of Van Dyke's actions and McDonald's death, another burning question now looms: why did Laquan McDonald's shooting video take so long to be released?
On Tuesday, just ahead of the video's release, Van Dyke turned himself in to authorities and was subsequently charged. In announcing the charges, Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez said in a press conference, "It is my determination that this defendant's actions ... were not justified and they were not a proper use of deadly force by this police officer."
Her announcement came one day before Cook County Judge Franklin Valderrama's deadline for the police to release the video, which Van Dyke's own attorney has described as "graphic, disturbing, and difficult to watch."
After waiting 400 days, it came as no surprise that many criticized Alvarez for the timing of the charges and the footage release. Just why did it take so long to happen?
Alvarez explained to reporters:
Maintaining public safety is my No. 1 job, and I do not want the public to view this video without knowing this very important context that with these charges we are bringing a full measure of justice that this demands.
But many felt that a video showing the incident under question would actually help clarify the context. It's difficult to imagine how knowing more about the situation could have muddled the context surrounding it. However, Alvarez continued to defend the timing of the release, giving an explanation that amounted to bureaucratic patter.
The public needs to know that while it would seem to some that the 12 months of investigation with our federal partners has taken too long, investigations of police shootings and misconduct are highly complex matters that carry with them very unique legal issues that must be fully examined and taken into consideration.
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel has also opposed releasing the video, echoing that it could compromise the FBI's ongoing investigation.
While the public will never know how the video would have impacted the investigation if it had been released earlier, what we do know is that the delay has allowed tensions between the Chicago police and the community to brew. And it has most certainly left McDonald's family feeling let down by a system that had already taken their son.