The Big Lie Americans Tell Themselves

On October 17, 2014, a 17-year-old black man named Laquan McDonald died after being shot 16 times by a Chicago police officer named Jason Van Dyke. Laquan, who was armed with a 3-inch folding knife, and who alleged to have tried to break into a car, was undoubtedly “no angel.” Neither is Jason Van Dyke, who, on On November 24, 2015, was indicted on the charge of First Degree Murder. Whether or not Van Dyke will spend any time in prison remains to be seen.

And yes, you need to watch the video.

The issue is not so much the massive overkill Van Dyke used, although it was indeed massive. I’ve had a pocket-knife pulled on me, and I found that getting a chair between me and my attacker was much more effective than ventilating his body with a 9mm. The devil is in the dates, and the cover-up. Not only did Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez wait over a year to bring Jason Van Dyke up on charges, the Chicago police had refused to release a dash cam video that eventually proved that, contrary to Van Dyke’s statements, McDonald did not “lunge at police” when he was gunned down. While the dash cam video is horrifying enough, since it shows Van Dyke repeatedly shooting McDonald after he fell to the ground, it eventually came to light that the Chicago Police confiscated, and subsequently destroyed the tapes from a security camera in a nearby Burger King.

The problem isn’t merely that Jason Van Dyke is “a bad apple,” even though he certainly is that, having had over 20 citizen complaints lodged against him since 2001. It’s that the Chicago Police Department is a criminal organization. Laquan McDonald, who at 17 would have been better described as a “child” than a “man,” was murdered by Van Dyke, a racist thug armed with state power, and then murdered a second time by a criminal conspiracy involving the Chicago Police, the Cook County District Attorney, and most of the local newspapers. Indeed, the dash cam video would not have been released at all had it not been for a lawsuit filed by freelance journalist Brandon Smith.

Over the coming months, the usual scenario will be played out. The newspapers will dig up dirt on Laquan McDonald. We will be shown photos of Chicago Police officers rescuing kittens and feeding homeless people. Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, and Martin O’Malley will make tepid, non-committal statements. Even if Anita Alvarez, who is reputed to have a pro-police bias, doesn’t deliberately tank the case, as so often happens, she will limit the prosecution to Van Dyke, and make no attempts to punish the officers responsible for bullying a Burger King manager and destroying the store security tape. If Jason Van Dyke is convicted and sent to prison, the American people will pat themselves on the back and say “you see. The system works.” If he isn’t, we’ll forget about it.

The problem isn’t so much that white Americans are racists, although, as evidenced by the rise of Donald Trump, many of us are. It’s that, when confronted with the undeniable fact that every big city in the United States is occupied by a heavily armed military force passing themselves off as a “police department,” we refuse to believe it. White Americans want to believe the world is basically a good place. The more outrageous the action of a big city police force like the NYPD, LAPD, or the Chicago Police Department, the more we try to convince ourselves that it must, somehow, have a rational explanation, that there must be a good reason. There isn’t. It doesn’t. Our refusal to confront reality is the “big lie” in action.

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12 comments

  1. No, it’s not rational at all. Regardless of what Laquan McDonald was doing, it is the job of police officers to know how to respond appropriately. If a grown up white man do not know how to respond with appropriate force depending on the situation he’s faced with then he needs to be fired. The whole ‘I was scared’ excuse especially if the alleged perpetrator (or victim in this case) is a semi-grown up black boy, it’s grounds for fear.

      1. The police is a criminal organization where they are protected from prosecution, especially cops in these big cities. There is an old saying in Chinese, which loosely translates to ‘only losers go and become cops’ because they can’t do anything else.

        1. But who wants those corrupt, violent, militarized police? It’s no actions these kinds of incidents (and awareness of them) have increased along with gentrification.

          It’s kind of an unholy marriage between the gentrifiers, who want those “sketchy” people out of their neighborhoods, and the white working-class, who get relatively high paying jobs, all kinds of toys, and the ability to play soldier without any of the risk.

          1. Some other blogger, don’t remember the name, he said (he’s black) the way cops police black (and brown) neighborhoods is the same way the overseers used patrol slaves.

  2. Funny how when I see a police officer these days, I feel more frightened then secure. Or maybe it’s sad…

    1. It reflects the accurate perception that the police these days are more an occupying army than public servants, that we are, in some sense, subjects not citizens.

      1. That’s very true! It’s also sad how many people believe that the law enforcements have a role in society, to protect them and make sure there is peace in their community, when in reality the police are more focused in issuing citations and making arrests which is resulting in an increase in militarized policing techniques, which is resulting in more deaths.

      2. I disagree with that perception. I have worked along side many integral and law abiding officers. It is just that, they do not make the news for their dedication to the community.

  3. Wow…..I feel a blog coming on….

  4. […] week I wrote about “the big lie that Americans tell themselves.” Whenever the police kill an innocent young black man or woman, many white Americans are […]

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