16 SHOTS: A Review by Joseph C. Abraham

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I recently watched 16 Shots, a documentary which provides an in-depth look at the 2014 shooting of seventeen-year-old Laquan McDonald by Jason Van Dyke of the Chicago Police Department.  The shooting took place on October 20, 2014.  Immediately following the shooting, media reports indicated that officers initially responded to a call of a suspect breaking into vehicles at a local truck yard.  Witness accounts allege that when two men attempted to confront Laquan McDonald about stealing radios from trucks parked in the lot, he pulled out a pocketknife and swung wildly at the witnesses.  When officers arrived, they observed Laquan McDonald leaving the scene with what appeared to be a small knife in his right hand.

 

As one officer tracked his movements on foot, another shadowed the pair in a patrol vehicle as they proceeded several blocks to the 4100 block of South Pulaski Road in the Archer Heights neighborhood.  The police presence grew, and a short foot chase ensued during which Laquan McDonald allegedly used the pocketknife to stab the sidewall of a tire and strike the window of a police vehicle responding to the scene.  It is at that point where dashcam footage shows Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke exiting his patrol vehicle proceeding towards Laquan McDonald, who appeared oblivious to his presence. 

 

In fact, as several officers approached, Laquan McDonald could be seen walking away from the officers.  Officer Jason Van Dyke alleged that he was in fear for his life as Laquan McDonald turned to face the officer, raising the knife across his body towards the officer (who appeared to be 12-15’ away).  He then emptied all sixteen rounds from his duty weapon into Laquan McDonald.  Dashcam footage clearly showed Laquan’s motionless body, on the ground, continuing to be riddled with bullets fired by Officer Jason Van Dyke. 

 

It took nearly an entire year for Officer Jason Van Dyke to be charged in the shooting death of Laquan McDonald.  Initial reports had immediately ruled the shooting to be justified and requiring no additional investigation by the department.  Witnesses to the incident were allegedly coerced and threatened by police detectives in the hours following the shooting.  A massive cover-up ensued. 

 

Laquan’s family, who retained legal counsel, pressed for dashcam footage from the scene and after enduring bureaucratic delays they were mistakenly provided the footage.  The footage showed the brutal circumstances surrounding the death of Laquan McDonald and in short order the City of Chicago offered to settle their civil case for an unprecedented $5,500,000. 

 

The proposed civil settlement drew the attention of local media (Jamie Kalven had successfully petitioned for an Autopsy Report and brought attention to the existence of dashcam footage months earlier, but a robust discussion in the media did not occur until the settlement was proposed).  A Freedom of Information Act request was filed by Community Activist, William Calloway.  Once a judge granted his request and ordered the release of the footage a series of events took place including Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez announcing First Degree Murder charges against Officer Van Dyke.

 

Activists called for Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez, Superintendent of the Chicago Police Garry McCarthy, and Mayor Rahm Emanuel to resign immediately as each was intimately aware of the dashcam video prior to its release.  Though all three refused, Anita Alvarez would soon lose her re-election bid to Kim Foxx, Superintendent McCarthy would be terminated by Rahm Emanuel, and just days before the trial of Officer Van Dyke would commence Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced he would not be seeking re-election.

 

Ultimately Officer Jason Van Dyke was found guilty of second-degree murder and sixteen counts of aggravated battery.  He was sentenced to eighty-one (81) months.  There are reports that after being transferred to Federal custody he was placed in ‘General Population’ and attacked by fellow inmates.

 

Having viewed the documentary and read numerous media accounts, I have several observations.  

 

  • Officers on the scene, police detectives, immediate supervisors, and the Command Staff of the Chicago Police Department actively conspired to conceal the events which resulted in the death of Laquan McDonald on October 20, 2014. 

 

  • Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez and Mayor Rahm Emanuel were notified of the incident yet took no immediate action. 

 

  • Police Unions and fraternal organizations came to the defense of this officer even in the face of such incredible evidence proving his guilt. 

 

  • The Chicago Police Department actively stonewalled the Freedom of Information Act request.

 

  • Even after being terminated Superintendent McCarthy had the audacity to run for Mayor of Chicago in 2019. 

 

  • And even when found guilty of SecondDegree Murder and sixteen counts of Aggravated Battery, Officer Jason Van Dyke was only sentenced to eighty-one months for murdering Laquan McDonald. 

 

  • The case, itself, may have never been brought against Officer Jason Van Dyke were it not for the efforts of community activists.

 

To those who don’t understand why we protest…I point to this as EXHIBIT 1.

 

Below are additional articles regarding certain aspects of this case.  Please feel free to peruse each as they may provide you additional insight.

 

Timeline of Events on October 20, 2014

 

Freedom of Information Act Request filed by Attorneys for William Calloway

 

Terminated Superintendent Garry McCarthy wants to be Mayor of Chicago

 

The Inspector General’s Report regarding the Murder of Laquan McDonald

 

Officer Jason Van Dyke in Federal Custody

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