The day before Thanksgiving, the city of Chicago experienced its first arrest of a police officer in 35 years after an officer was charged with first-degree murder for an on-duty fatality, according to The New York Times. Yesterday, Chicago’s Police Superintendent was fired by Mayor Rahm Emmanuel. These events are both due to a homicide that occurred about a year ago on Oct. 20, 2014, when a police officer Jason Van Dyke shot Laquan McDonald 16 times. The officer opened fire on the teenager while he was walking down the street holding a small knife, and continued to fire after McDonald was lying on the pavement.
The charges appeared a couple hours before the release of a video of the incident from the officer’s dash-cam, a video that was suppressed from the public and the media for over a year now. With the $5 million settlement including a clause to keep the dash-cam video confidential to McDonald’s family on top of the thousands of dollars in legal expenses, the video was suppressed from the public and the press at a large financial expense, according to The New York Times.
Perhaps the rationale was that Chicago had become so desensitized to cases such as this that no one would be there to question the situations of the case. Or perhaps, the fear of riots parallel to those experienced in Ferguson, Missouri motivated the leaders. Unfortunately, the reasons seem to be more self-centered than even those theories. Like remake of a murder-mystery board game, we see a series of time-sensitive reasons from city leaders to keep the homicide quiet.
According to The New York Times, Emmanuel was running for re-election at the time. On Aug. 14, 2014, the Chicago Tribune reported that support was steadily declining for Emmanuel. On Nov. 17, 2014, NBC Chicago reported Emmanuel leading the polls with 33 percent of the vote, followed by Jesus “Chuy” Garcia with 18 percent and Bob Fioretti with 13. If the race were narrowed to Emmanuel and Garcia, the vote would be split between 36 and 31 percent. With a race that close, I don’t think the incumbent would want the headlines to be tainted with a story that may depict his loss of control over the police department.
The state’s prosecutor, Anita Alvarez, upon seeing the video would have had enough cause to indict Van Dyke on Oct. 20, 2014. However, according to The New York Times, she had her own re-election to win, while her job depends on the cases police officers bring her and testify in court for her: the same police officers that would have to be involved in the trial.
With the order of the release of the video from Judge Franklin Valderrama, the city officials had to release the video, despite the 15 known Freedom of Information requests that the police department received and rejected. In this entire cover-up, the least guilty person, I’d say, was McCarthy. His motivation was to keep his job; yet, he’s the first to lose it.
So we see another brilliant, manipulative move by Emmanuel, in which the consequences of the choices made to suppress the video and indictment of the police officer only furthers his career. Even Alvarez hasn’t suffered any major consequences other than the press and the public calling for her resignation as well. Although, I’d be wary if I were she, as the mayor’s self-preservation may need another sacrifice from a public official. Garcia, Emmanuel’s former running mate who had given him such trouble in the last re-election, has made a statement where he and a group of Latino leaders would call for Alvarez to step down, according to USA Today.
The headline of a white police officer being indicted for the unnecessary murder of a black teen may come as a relief, as a seemingly progressive move from previous similarly tried cases. However, the timeline of events provides a shocking look into the politics that surround such cases, and the extent at which government officials goes to protect the guilty for their own benefit.
Jesseba Fernando is a staff columnist for The Daily Campus opinion section. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.