Today we learn Chicago’s top cop Garry McCarthy was fired overnight by Mayor Rahm Emanuel in a case which now adds 17-year-old Laquan McDonald’s name to the long list of black people dead at the hands of police. Before McCarthy was defining – with Emanuel – Chicago Police Department’s policies, he was Newark’s top cop. And his years running Newark PD fall in the U.S. Justice Department’s finding of a “pattern and practice of unconstitutional policing” in the department, which Justice has appointed a federal monitor to oversee.
The Justice Department and U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman announced the investigation of Newark PD on May 9, 2011, just days after Chicago’s newly sworn-in mayor, Rahm Emanuel, chose McCarthy to run Chicago PD. Problems here in NJ – first flagged by Newark residents and the ACLU-NJ, which petitioned the feds to investigate McCarthy’s department in 2010 – included reports of police brutality and improper force. The issues raised by Newarkers – particularly people of color – simply shifted west.
Emanuel can get rid of McCarthy, but that doesn’t erase his own blame, because he did everything he could to delay the video’s release. Laquan’s execution – that’s essentially what it was – took place just one month before Emanuel was up for re-election. Chicago Trib columnist John Kass makes the case that he’d have lost that election if Chicago had seen the video in a timely way, because watching a white cop gun down a black teen for no good reason would have lost him the black vote. For sure.
The dash-cam video (no audio) Emanuel fought to conceal, which clearly shows smoke rising from Laquan, is horrific. And we’re only seeing it now because a Cook County judge ordered it released. Officer Jason Van Dyke, who is white, has been charged with first-degree murder and is now out on bail. Laquan had a 3-inch knife on him but was no threat to the officers. Sixteen bullets from Van Dyke’s gun were fired into Laquan’s back from 10 feet away, within 30 seconds of his arrival in a police cruiser.
Laquan’s name joins the national conversation centering on racial profiling, police brutality, and racial inequality in the criminal justice system, and the sense among many black people that they and their children are being hunted by law enforcement officers who do not value their lives. I’ve talked to a few people I know in Newark today; they know the deal, and they’re mourning with Chicago.