Paul Beaty / AP Photo

Obama ‘deeply disturbed’ by Chicago police shooting of teen

Dash-cam video shows white officer shooting 17-year-old black man 16 times

President Barack Obama said he was "deeply disturbed" by the graphic video footage of the death in Chicago of a black teen shot 16 times by a white police officer. 

The dash-cam video shows Officer Jason Van Dyke, who is white, shooting 17-year-old Laquan McDonald 16 times. Van Dyke was charged Tuesday with first-degree murder.

In a statement posted to Facebook on Wednesday night, Obama also said he is personally grateful to the people of his hometown —Chicago — for keeping protests peaceful. Local officials had worried that releasing the video would set off violent unrest like that seen in Ferguson, Missouri and Baltimore after the deaths of black men at the hands of police.

Earlier in the day, small groups of demonstrators gathered to protest McDonald's death, and they urged supporters to join them in trying to shut down Chicago's famous Michigan Avenue shopping district during the Black Friday shopping bonanza.

Protesters also gathered outside Mayor Rahm Emanuel's office, holding banners showing photos of other black people fatally shot by police in Chicago and elsewhere. Several said they were parents of black men killed by Chicago officers.

"You cannot kill our children and expect us to be quiet any longer," protester Quovadis Green said. "It is unacceptable."

Activist Mark Carter called on people to "rise up" and shut down Chicago's Magnificent Mile shopping area on Friday. Protesters also planned to target the Board of Trade and other landmarks in the coming days, he said.

Carter and others want the Department of Justice to investigate the Chicago Police Department and its history of covering up bad behavior.

The Urban League of Chicago joined in the call for a federal investigation, alleging a pattern of "discriminatory harassment" against black people.

The Rev. Jesse Jackson said other officers involved in McDonald's death should be fired or at least suspended. He also wants a special prosecutor appointed to the case, complaining that Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez took too long to bring charges of first-degree murder in the shooting, which happened more than a year ago. Van Dyke, 37, was denied bail at a hearing in Chicago's main criminal courthouse on Tuesday. If convicted, he could face 20 years to life in prison.

Members of the City Council's black caucus again demanded the resignation of Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy.

"We want McCarthy gone. We want new leadership," Alderman Roderick Sawyer said at a news conference.

Alderman Howard Brookins said the council, which signed off on a $5 million city settlement with McDonald's family even before a lawsuit was filed, was misled about the content of the video. Brookins said council members were told something was "fuzzy, something grey" about it.

Also on Wednesday, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton said McDonald's family and Chicago residents "deserve justice and accountability."

Clinton, who made the comments Wednesday in an emailed statement, added that police officers across the country are doing their duty honorably "without resorting to unnecessary force."

One of Clinton's rivals, Sen. Bernie Sanders, said in his own statement that all Americans "should be sickened" by the video.

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

You cannot kill our children and expect us to be quiet any longer. It is unacceptable.

Quovadis Green


For months, Chicago leaders had feared that the release of the video could provoke the kind of turmoil that rocked cities such as Baltimore and Ferguson, Missouri, after young black men were slain by police or died in police custody.

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.

Complaints against police are not uncommon. But the number filed against Van Dyke was high compared with other officers. At least one person he arrested was later awarded $350,000 in damages in a lawsuit.

“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.

Van Dyke's lawyer, Daniel Herbert, told CNN that the video was not an indicator of his client's guilt. He said Van Dyke arrived on a street on the southwest side of Chicago 18 minutes after a suspect carrying a knife was reported to have threatened businesses and vandalized police cruisers.

"Video by its nature is two dimensional. It distorts images. So what appears to be clear on a video sometimes is not always that clear," Herbert said. Van Dyke, he said, "truly was in fear for his life as well as the lives of his fellow police officers."

Also Wednesday, a Cook County judge dismissed a charge against a protester accused of hitting a police officer in the hours after the video was made public.

Judge Peggy Chiampas said the state's attorney's office recommended dropping the charge against 22-year-old Malcolm London and told London he was free to go.

London, who was wearing a T-shirt with the phrase "Unapologetically black" on it, walked outside the courthouse to loud cheers.

Prosecutors did not explain why they sought to dismiss the charge. London was among five people arrested on charges that included weapons possession and resisting arrest.

Al Jazeera and wire services


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