CHICAGO — Laquan McDonald was lying in the fetal position when Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke pumped more than a dozen bullets into the 17-year-old boy’s body, killing him.
After being turned around by the first shots, McDonald hits the ground. Puffs of smoke can be seen rising from his body as bullets penetrate and strike the pavement behind him. At the end of the 16-second ordeal, Van Dyke’s partner kicks away a knife McDonald was carrying, which was the only thing that prevented Van Dyke from reloading his weapon.
This is tantamount to first-degree murder, according to Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez, who charged Van Dyke on Tuesday.
On the dashcam video, McDonald first comes into the view while he’s jogging in the middle of a southwest Chicago street. Van Dyke and his partner exit their police SUV, and Alvarez said that Van Dyke began firing six seconds later.
Investigators could only attribute two of the 16 shots fired by Van Dyke as striking McDonald while he was standing. The rest—as many as 14—struck McDonald as he lay wounded on the ground.
After emptying a 15-round magazine plus one bullet in the chamber, Van Dyke began to reload before being called off by his partner, who approached McDonald and kicked the knife away.
At a press conference before the video was released, Alvarez was asked if Van Dyke, his partner, or any of the other six officers on scene that night attempted to give medical aid to McDonald as he lay dying.
“No,” she said.
The video comes after more than a year of calls for its release among police-accountability advocates and journalists in Chicago and across the country. If not for the efforts of independent journalist Brandon Smith, the footage may not have been made public. After all, the city paid McDonald’s family $5 million over the shooting—and as part of the deal, the video would not be released.
Even before its horrific images were shown, many feared the video would cause riots, looting, unrest, and violent clashes with police.
While that remains to be seen, one fact is now abundantly clear: McDonald didn’t deserve to die.
“The young man was stopped by the first bullet,” says Lorenzo Davis, a former Chicago police commander who has since become a whistleblower against the Independent Police Review Authority, the agency that investigates all officer-involved shootings and claims of misconduct. “The other shots were an execution.”
Davis, who served 23 years on the force and lost a partner to gunfire, said Van Dyke was not justified.
“The officer’s reason for using deadly force was a lie,” Davis told The Daily Beast early Friday. “His and his partners’ lives were never in danger.”
After the shooting, Fraternal Order of Police spokesman Pat Camden arrived to tell reporters what had happened in the eyes of the officers he represents.
McDonald “lunged” at them, he said. The officers were in fear for their lives, he said. Van Dyke “discharged his weapon, striking the offender,” he said in anodyne cop-talk.
Such is the language of almost all police shootings—until an autopsy occurs, or an eyewitness comes forward, or video evidence contradicts an officer’s statement. The first of those scenarios is what broke the McDonald case wide open, when it was revealed that McDonald was shot 16 times, all over his body.
Following events in Ferguson and Baltimore over police killings, activists and community organizers in Chicago have been preparing for the release of the footage that was made public today in anticipation of the unrest that some expect will occur now that McDonald’s death is available for the world to see.
Corey Brooks, a black pastor in Chicago’s Woodlawn neighborhood, traveled to Baltimore to meet with clergy and community leaders there in order to prepare for what may be an even more chaotic reaction to another black death at the hands of a white cop here.
Brooks said rumors about the McDonald video and an encounter his son had with police prompted “The Talk.”
“I told him that when police tell you to stop, you stop. If they tell you to put your hands up, you put your hands up. Don’t reach into your pockets for your cellphone. If they arrest you, you wait until you get a phone call, then you call me,” Brooks told The Daily Beast in June. “It’s no sir, yes sir, no ma’am, yes ma’am.”
McDonald didn’t really get that chance. Police trailed him for about a half-mile while waiting for Tasers to arrive. The Tasers didn’t come fast enough for Van Dyke, who waited all of six seconds to blast away.
Whether or not Chicago will experience the riotous aftermath of the grand jury’s decision in Ferguson, Missouri, to not indict officer Darren Wilson, or the brief chaos that took over parts of Baltimore following the death of Freddie Gray is uncertain, but the video of McDonald’s death is sure to cause activists to take to the streets.
What happens after that is anyone’s guess.