By Steve Musal
Contributors to report: Mike Bacos, Aryn Braun, Jasmine Cen, Kayla Daugherty, Bian Elkhatib, Misha Euceph, Max Greenwood, Patrick Martin, Emiliana Molina, Meggie Morris, Alexis Myers, Steven Porter, Brooke Rayford, Thomas Vogel and Raquel Zaldivar.
It’s been a little more than a week since the state filed a first-degree murder charge against Jason Van Dyke, the Chicago police officer who shot and killed 17-year-old Laquan McDonald.
It’s also been a little more than a week since the city complied with an order from Cook County Judge Franklin Valderrama to release a dash-cam video of the shooting, showing Van Dyke, who is white, firing 16 shots into McDonald, who is black, over the course of about 15 seconds.
A lot can happen in a week.
Initial protests erupted immediately after the video release Nov. 24, continuing into the morning of Nov. 25. Chanting “16 times” in reference to the shots Van Dyke fired, protesters from a diverse selection of activist groups marched more than 5 miles through downtown.
Though three protesters were arrested — Troy Alim, 24; Johnae Strong, 25; and Page May, 26 — they were later released.
“The racial climate between minorities and cops is very bad,” said Steven Phillips, a black Chicago resident who observed the protest from outside the circle. “But I don’t want to see the city go up in flames like a Baltimore or like a Ferguson.”
Malcolm London, 22, a protester and local activist, was also arrested, though charges of aggravated battery against a police officer were later dropped after the Chicago City Council Black Caucus called for his release at a Nov. 25 press conference.
Also that day, protesters gathered outside Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s office, demanding social change, criticizing Emanuel’s leadership and calling for Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy’s resignation.
“His [McCarthy’s] time has come,” said Roderick Sawyer, chairman of the Black Caucus. “We need to have new leadership at the top. This tape, as horrific as it is, I’m hoping it will be a catalyst for change.”
Emanuel ousted McCarthy on Tuesday, calling him a distraction and saying trust in department leadership had been shaken under his tenure. The mayor said Wednesday at a POLITICO Illinois event that he would not resign, though he said he would “be held accountable for the decisions and actions that I make” in the election process.
Some criticized the ouster as too little, too late, including a Chicago Tribune op-ed that called the move “straight from the playbook” for mayors confronted with a cop charged with murder and an alleged cover-up.
Others, like the Chicago Teachers Union, saw it as a step in the right direction — but only a step.
“Now that Superintendent Garry McCarthy has been removed from power we join the call that is resonating throughout the nation to determine what role did the City of Chicago play in the cover-up of Laquan McDonald’s murder,” the CTU said in a statement.
The ouster followed a weekend of protests, including a shutdown of Black Friday shopping at the Magnificent Mile on Friday.
“We come down here to shut it down and you ain’t gonna shop today,” protesters sang.
According to the Chicago Tribune, stores reported 25 to 50 percent lower profits than they expected as a result of the protests, and several stores shut down up to five hours earlier than usual.
“We are here as part of the protest to make sure that Michigan Avenue is shut down in solidarity with victims of police abuse, and to make sure a movement that reverses this kind of injustices,” said Peter Hudis, a teacher at Oakton Community College.
In addition to removing McCarthy, Emanuel pledged to form a five-person task force to review law enforcement accountability.
“How do we ensure that we are effectively policing the police?” the mayor said.
The task force will comprise Sergio Acosta, a former federal prosecutor; Joe Ferguson, Chicago inspector general; Hiram Grau, former Illinois State Police director and former Chicago Police Department deputy superintendent; Lori Lightfoot, Chicago Police Board president; and Randolph Stone, director of the Criminal and Juvenile Justice Project Clinic at the University of Chicago Law School and a former Cook County public defender.
Lightfoot and Stone are black, Acosta and Grau are Hispanic, and Ferguson is white, Emanuel said.
After several days of mostly peaceful protests, more than 100 gathered Monday evening for a prayer vigil at Chicago Police Headquarters honoring McDonald. Though peaceful, the protests will continue, according to many at the events.
“We’re taking 30 days of action, and the place we’re starting is the Magnificent Mile, the Chicago Board of Trade,” said Mark Carter, a spokesman for the Nov. 26 group. And Carter looks further than that. “These elected officials, they will not have a smooth ride in their next elections,” he said. “We will unseat every single politician in this city until we get results.”
“I’ve had kids [in my classes] who have been killed by gun violence, and anytime that there is a chance for us to speak out, anytime there is a chance for us to put our faith into action, it’s important for our family to do so and we model that for our children as well.”
— Daniel Michmerhuizen, South Side teacher
The crowd at each event ranged in age from the very young to the very old, but tended toward younger people.
“The youth are the future,” said Amanda Askew, a Woodlawn resident at Monday’s vigil. “Before we were here, there was Martin Luther King, there was Coretta Scott King, Shirley Chisholm. There were all these people that paved the way for us. You can learn from the older generation because they blazed a trail for us.”
Askew, who is in her 20s, compared the current social crisis with the issues black and minority communities overcame.
“What did they do to get to that point and what can we use that they used years ago that we can use right now in 2015?” she said, citing voting, peaceful protests and community organizing. “The same thing they were doing back in the ’70s still works. It is still relevant for 2015.”
VIEWER CAUTION ADVISED: Below is the dashcam video released Nov. 24. The shooting occurs shortly after the 5-minute point.