Chicago activists plan Black Friday protest over deadly police shooting

Officials released video showing a white officer, now charged with murder, shooting a black teen 16 times

Activists in Chicago plan to protest the fatal police shooting of a black teenager by shutting down a major retail corridor on Black Friday. The plan was announced on Wednesday, following the release of a dash-cam video showing Officer Jason Van Dyke, who is white, shooting 17-year-old Laquan McDonald 16 times.

Van Dyke was charged with murder on Tuesday, just hours before authorities released the graphic video — timing that was apparently meant to prevent rioting seen after similar cases in cities like Ferguson, Missouri.

The footage of the shooting, which occurred in October 2014, prompted mostly peaceful street demonstrations in Chicago. President Barack Obama said Wednesday night in a Facebook post that he was "deeply disturbed" by the video footage, adding he is personally grateful to the people of his hometown — Chicago — for keeping protests peaceful.

Activists said the Black Friday protest would also be peaceful. Their goal is to shut down Michigan Avenue, known as Chicago's "Magnificent Mile" on Friday, the most important shopping day of the year, in part to pressure the Department of Justice to investigate McDonald’s killing.

"You cannot kill our children and expect us to be quiet any longer," said activist Quovadis Green.

Van Dyke, 37, was denied bail at a hearing in Chicago's main criminal courthouse on Tuesday, hours after top Cook County prosecutor Anita Alvarez announced charges of first-degree murder. If convicted, Van Dyke could face 20 years to life in prison.

At the brief court hearing, prosecutor Bill Delaney told Cook County Circuit Court Associate Judge Donald Panarese that the video of the shooting doesn’t show McDonald, who was allegedly armed with a knife, advancing on Van Dyke. He said witnesses also concur on that point.

Small groups of protesters reacted to Tuesday's events, taking to the streets a few hours after the video's release. 

“People have a right to be angry. People have a right to protest. People have a right to free speech. But they do not have a right to … criminal acts,” Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy said.

Shortly after the video's release, protesters began marching through city streets. Several hundred people blocked traffic on the near West Side. Some circled police cars in an intersection and chanted “16 shots” in reference to the number of times Van Dyke shot McDonald. 

“I'm so hurt and so angry,” said Jedidiah Brown, a South Side activist and pastor who had just seen the video. “I can feel pain through my body.”

Small groups of demonstrators marched up Michigan Avenue with a police escort before being stopped by officers as they headed toward Lake Shore Drive. After a short standoff, the crowd turned around.

At one point, demonstrators also gathered outside the police department's District 1 headquarters in the South Loop. Officers formed a line in front of the building, blocking anyone from entering.

Later, again along Michigan Avenue, at least one person was detained, which led to a tense moment as protesters tried to prevent police from taking him away. Some threw plastic water bottles at officers and sat behind a police vehicle, refusing to move. Officers pulled them away, and the vehicle sped off.

By 11 p.m., a crowd that once numbered in the hundreds had dispersed except for a smaller group affiliated with Black Lives Matter.

Aislinn Sol, an organizer for Black Lives Matter in Chicago, said at least three, possibly four activists were taken into police custody.

The footage

The relevant portion of the video runs for less than 40 seconds. Technical issues were blamed for a lack of audio.

McDonald swings into view on a four-lane street where police vehicles are stopped in the middle of the roadway. As he jogs down an empty lane, he appears to pull up his pants and then slows to a brisk walk, veering away from two officers who are emerging from a vehicle and drawing their guns.

Almost immediately, one of the officers appears to fire from close range. McDonald spins around and crumples to the pavement. The second officer simultaneously lowers his weapon.

The car with the camera continues to roll forward until the officers are out of the frame. Then McDonald can be seen lying on the ground, moving occasionally. At least two small puffs of smoke or dust are seen coming off his body as the officer continues firing.

In the final moments, an officer kicks something out of McDonald's hands.

Police have said the teen had a knife. Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez said Tuesday that a 3-inch knife with its blade folded into the handle was recovered from the scene.

McDonald was shot 16 times by Van Dyke, who emptied his gun and prepared to reload, prosecutors said. Van Dyke has said through his lawyer and the police union that the shooting was justified because he felt threatened by McDonald.

“Clearly, this officer went overboard and he abused his authority, and I don't think use of force was necessary,” prosecutor Alvarez said at a news conference after the hearing on Tuesday.

The judge scheduled another hearing for Monday and asked to see the video then in order to reconsider the issue of bond.

Twenty misconduct complaints were made against Van Dyke in the past four and a half years — but none led to disciplinary action from the Chicago Police Department, according to research by Craig Futterman, a University of Chicago law professor and expert on police accountability issues.

“The Chicago Police Department refuses to look at potential patterns of misconduct complaints when investigating police misconduct,” Futterman said. “If the department did look at these patterns when investigating police abuse, there is a great chance right now that 17-year-old boy would still be alive.”

He believes Van Dyke is the first Chicago police officer to be criminally charged for an on-duty shooting.

McDonald's death came at a time of intense national debate over police use of deadly force, especially against minorities. A number of U.S. cities have seen protests over police violence in the past 18 months, some of them fueled by video footage of the deaths.

The uproar was a factor in the rise of the Black Lives Matter civil rights movement, and has become an issue in the 2016 U.S. presidential election campaign.

Calls for calm

McDonald's family on Tuesday called for calm, as did Mayor Rahm Emanuel and black community leaders.

“No one understands the anger more than us, but if you choose to speak out, we urge you to be peaceful. Don't resort to violence in Laquan's name. Let his legacy be better than that,” McDonald's family said in a statement through their lawyer.

But in Baltimore and Ferguson, Missouri, family appeals for peace were not always heeded. Black community leaders in Chicago said they feared violent protests in reaction to the video. Politicians and church leaders in the Austin neighborhood urged potential demonstrators to protest peacefully.

“We feel your pain, but we challenge you to turn your pain into power. We know protests are coming, please allow them to be peaceable,” the Rev. Ira Acree said at a news conference.

Police shootings are frequent in Chicago, the third-largest city in the United States with 2.7 million people, roughly one-third of them white, one-third black and one-third Hispanic.

From 2008-2014 there were an average of 17 fatal shootings by police each year, according to data from the Independent Police Review Authority, which investigates police misconduct. Almost all shootings, fatal and non-fatal, have been found to be justified.

Van Dyke's lawyer Daniel Herbert said his client would prevail in court.

“This is a case that can't be tried in the streets, it can't be tried in the media, and it can't be tried on Facebook,” Herbert said.

The city has already paid McDonald's family a $5 million civil settlement even though they did not file a lawsuit.

Al Jazeera with wire services

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