Chicago police and community activists are carefully planning for the release this week of a video showing the shooting death of a black teen at the hands of a white police officer, with some city officials worried the video could spark civil unrest.
A judge last week ordered the Chicago Police Department to release by Wednesday dashboard camera footage of police officer Jason Van Dyke fatally shooting Laquan McDonald on Oct. 20, 2014.
McDonald, 17, was shot 16 times. Police have said he had threatened them with a knife and slashed at the tires and windshield of a patrol car. The patrol car’s “dash cam” video shows McDonald moving away from police at the time he was shot, according to a lawyer for McDonald's mother. The lawyer has seen the video.
Cook County prosecutors are expected to charge Van Dyke on Tuesday, according to The Associated Press, quoting an an official close to the investigation who spoke Monday night on condition of anonymity so as not to pre-empt the charges.
Police and Van Dyke's lawyer, Daniel Herbert, have said other police officers were at the scene when Van Dyke shot McDonald, who police said had refused officers’ orders to put down the knife.
"I can't speak why the (other) officers didn't shoot," Herbert told The Chicago Tribune. "But I certainly can speak to why my client shot, and it is he believed in his heart of hearts that he was in fear for his life and that he was concerned about the lives of (other) police officers.”
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel has pushed prosecutors to conclude their investigation, and said last week that it appeared Van Dyke had violated public trust. Van Dyke has been assigned to desk duty during the investigation.
Chicago has not witnessed civil unrest on the scale that other cities around the county have in response to several fatal police shootings of black men across the country in the past year. The Chicago Police Department, however, said it was planning for possible protests.
Supporters of police reform say the judge’s ruling is a victory for transparency.
“I think the public deserves the right to examine the evidence that’s available,” said Eva Nagao, spokeswoman for We Charge Genocide, a Chicago group critical of police tactics.
Nagao described concerns about widespread looting or violence as “fearmongering,” saying that Chicago has seen many protests transpire peacefully.
“Chicago has a long history of nonviolent and effective protesting,” she said.
But some African-American leaders say the video’s release could prove as pivotal to race relations in the United States as last summer’s unrest after the police killing of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.
“Getting ahead of it, and making sure that we present to the mayor what we expect to happen, I think that’s critical if we’re going to prevent violence from happening in our neighborhoods,” the Rev. Corey Brooks, pastor at New Beginnings Church, told Chicago’s CBS affiliate.
"Chicago is on the tipping point," the Rev. Roosevelt Watkins, a local pastor and activist, said during a demonstration held Saturday by members of African-American fraternity Alpha Phi Alpha. "We can be just like Ferguson."
With wire services