What We Need to Know About the Laquan McDonald Case

Written by on January 13, 2016

“What struck me the most is that Laquan came to school all the time. He probably would have graduated within a year and a half,” said Thomas Gattuso, principal of Sullivan House High School, the alternative school that 17-year-old Laquan McDonald attended routinely. A Chicago police officer shot him 16 times on October 20, 2014, killing him and any chance that he would walk across the graduation stage.

Nationwide demonstrations and firings within the Chicago Police Department have fueled the conversation about whether McDonald’s death and the long-delayed investigation into the circumstances were tainted by racism. After grand juries failed to indict police officers for the shooting deaths of Tamir Rice and Sandra Bland, the desire for justice in unjustified killings is more than urgent.

Here are details you need to know about the Laquan McDonald case:

  • The trial proceedings for former police officer, Jason Van Dyke begins on January 7th, just a few weeks after a grand jury indicted the former officer on 6 counts of first degree murder.
  • Van Dyke has a disturbing history of excessive force complaints dating from 2006, including his use of racial slurs, choking and worse. The Chicago Police Department paid over half a million dollars to settle a case with Ed Nance after a federal jury found Van Dyke guilty of using excessive force on Nance while he was handcuffed.
  • Van Dyke originally stated that McDonald wielded a knife at him and that he feared for his life, only shooting in defense. Reporter Brandon Smith, investigated and sued the Chicago Police Department for the release of dash-cam footage in the case, and the video showed McDonald holding the knife by his side as he walked away from officers.
  • Numerous news sources released McDonald’s criminal record and noted that PCP was found in his system without acknowledging the excessive trauma he suffered during his childhood. The Illinois Department of Child and Family Services removed McDonald numerously from his mother’s care at ages two and five for sexual abuse allegations, resulting in his subsequent upbringing in a series of unstable foster homes. A social worker who routinely checked on McDonald stated that he was working and attending school when he his life was taken.

A little over a year ago, a similar case happened here in Philadelphia, when 26-year-old Brandon Tate Brown was shot to death by a rookie officer during a routine traffic stop. The case became controversial when conflicting accounts  surrounding whether Brown reached for a gun during the stop emerged.

As we begin this new year, we must take steps to ensure that unjust killings of innocent brothers and sisters come to an end. 2016 will also see trials related to the deaths of “The Charleston 9” and Walter Scott. As a community, we are not in control of police procedures, but we can continue to demand accountability and transparency.

To get involved:

Find your local community police watch, join advocacy organizations, pursue criminal charges for officers, organize demonstrations and stay informed about your legal rights.


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