On Tuesday, more than a year after the incident took place, the city of Chicago finally released dashboard camera footage of the fatal police shooting of black teenager Laquan McDonald. And it's had a colossal impact: anti-police violence activists have been in the throes of impassioned, righteous protest since its release, not least of all because what's shown in the video sharply contradicts what Chicago police officials had claimed over the last year — here's how the Laquan McDonald video compares to police descriptions of the shooting.
It's important to familiarize yourself with precisely what the video shows, and how the reality differs from what the authorities portrayed, because while this is an especially graphic, grisly example, the issue of police officers and departments covering for themselves and each other is a hugely consequential, unacceptable status quo.
But at the same time, you might not want to watch the video yourself — it is, after all, footage of a young black teen being shot to death, which could be upsetting to anyone, let alone if you're black in America, and have been repeatedly exposed to these kinds of traumatic images before. For that reason, neither the video nor images of the shooting will be displayed here — if you want to see it for yourself, here you go.
So, here's the deal: McDonald was killed on the night of October 24th, 2014, shot to death by 37-year-old Chicago Police Department officer Jason Van Dyke, reportedly a 14-year veteran of the force. In the aftermath of the shooting, authorities in Chicago detailed what's now been exposed as a crucially false retelling of the night's events, one which if believed could've saved Van Dyke from facing any criminal charges.
Namely, as Chicago police union chief Pat Camden told the media at the time, they claimed that McDonald — who was walking down the middle of a street carrying a small knife when he was encountered by multiple police vehicles — has "lunged" toward the cops, forcing them to use deadly force. The initial Chicago Tribune article detailing the shooting described McDonald as having been "shot in the chest."
In the run-up to the video's release, however — which, it bears mentioning, the city of Chicago fought every step of the way — it became pretty clear that whatever was shown probably wouldn't sync up with that description. Any video that wholly exonerated a police officer, or even presented a convoluted sequence of events that nonetheless showed a strong self-defense case, likely wouldn't have prompted the tension and hand-wringing this one did. It only became public thanks to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request from independent journalist Brandon Smith.
In reality, what's shown on the video contradicts the initial claims from Camden and the department — McDonald was not moving towards the officers when he was shot, nor was there any "lunging" involved. Rather, McDonald was ambling down the street at a slow pace, and had begun to move away from the officers when Van Dyck opened fire. After what's presumably the first shot (the audio is muffled and virtually useless), McDonald's body twists like a rag doll, propelled by the force of the bullet's impact, before he hits the ground.
For the next several seconds, Van Dyck continues to fire, noticeable from a couple small, white puffs rising from McDonald's prone body, reportedly the result of the bullets striking the ground. In addition to the big lie in all this — McDonald was in no sense approaching the officers, was and made no aggressive move towards them — he was also shot a staggering 16 times, in the chest, legs, arms, head, and stomach, even though the first bullet was enough to send him crashing to the pavement. Some outlets have characterized it as an "execution," and frankly, it's hard to argue.
Van Dyck has been charged with first-degree murder for killing McDonald, the third high-profile instance of a cop being charge with murder this year — he joins officers Michael Slager of South Carolina and Ray Tensing of Ohio, who fatally shot unarmed black men Walter Scott and Sam Dubose, respectively.