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.
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.