President Obama's Thanksgiving Day Message About Laquan McDonald's Death Is Poignant & Important
President Barack Obama couldn't avoid addressing important political issues even on Thanksgiving Day. Obama's Thanksgiving message was about Laquan McDonald's death, and what he had to say was thoughtful and important. McDonald is the most recent face of the Black Lives Matter movement, which claims that white police officers disproportionately use deadly force against black people.
The Chicago Tribune released video of McDonald's death Tuesday. The video shows McDonald, who was 17 at the time, walking in the middle of what looks like a mostly-deserted road on the southwest side of Chicago on Oct. 20, 2014, according to the Tribune. Chicago Officer Jason Van Dyke gets out of one of the police vehicles that responds to the scene and, within seconds, begins shooting at McDonald. Van Dyke's lawyers say he was acting in self defense. They say McDonald was armed with a knife, that he lunged at Van Dyke, and that he was on hallucinogenic drugs, according to NBC News.
Van Dyke was charged with first-degree murder Tuesday, according to CNN. Prosecutors are using the fact that he fired 16 shots in 15 seconds to support their argument that Van Dyke's action was too extreme to be called self defense, according to CNN. They say the video clearly shows that McDonald was actually walking away from police cars and that he certainly didn't lunge at anyone. In his Thanksgiving message on Facebook, Obama said he was disturbed by the video of McDonald's death:
Like many Americans, I was deeply disturbed by the footage of the fatal shooting of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald. This Thanksgiving, I ask everybody to keep those who’ve suffered tragic loss in our thoughts and prayers, and to be thankful for the overwhelming majority of men and women in uniform who protect our communities with honor. And I’m personally grateful to the people of my hometown for keeping protests peaceful.
Responses to Obama's message were mostly positive. People who commented on the post were glad that he pointed out that most police officers do not react with disproportionate force. Some commenters said those officers who do their jobs well should more often speak out against their fellow officers who are "bad apples," according to the post.
Protests erupted in Chicago Wednesday, but, like Obama said, they have remained peaceful. Protestors walked around Chicago's business district Wednesday night chanting and sat in the streets, according to CNN. Jay Travis, who has lived on Chicago's south side for 43 years, told CNN that he was protesting because the issue of disproportionate force may be small overall, but it isn't small within the black community. Travis said that when disproportionate force is used, it is more often used against people of color, according to CNN:
Unfortunately, this has been a persistent problem in terms of excessive force being used by police and the murder of black people with impunity by the police. So we're out here for love of our city. We're out here pushing for change.
And this isn't the first time Obama has spoken out about the issue of police brutality against black people. He defended the use of the phrase "Black Lives Matter" in October, according to PBS:
I think everybody understands all lives matter. I think the reason that the organizers used the phrase ‘Black Lives Matter’ was not because they were suggesting nobody else’s lives matter. Rather, what they were suggesting was there is a specific problem that’s happening in the African-American community that’s not happening in other communities. And that is a legitimate issue that we’ve got to address.
Obama's Thanksgiving Day message showed the same empathy and kindness that his defense of Black Lives Matter showed. His words made it clear that he will not stand behind a system that isn't disturbed by deaths like McDonald's, but he also is deeply thankful for the police officers who do amazing work every day.