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Laquan McDonald Video: Is Anything In Chicago Different A Year Later?

By Kelly Bauer | November 23, 2016 6:36am | Updated on November 25, 2016 11:20am
 A still from the dashcam video of Laquan McDonald being shot by a police officer.
A still from the dashcam video of Laquan McDonald being shot by a police officer.
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CHICAGO — The video showing Laquan McDonald's death has "radically changed" Chicago in the year since its release, an activist said.

McDonald was 17 when Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke fatally shot him, hitting the teen 16 times, on Oct. 20, 2014. It wasn't until more than a year later, on Nov. 24, 2015, that the city released a video showing the shooting.

The day the video was released, Van Dyke was charged with murder and protesters took to the streets.

Since then, the protests have continued and there have been calls for Mayor Rahm Emanuel to resign, Police Supt. Garry McCarthy was fired and State's Attorney Anita Alvarez lost her re-election bid. The Independent Police Review Authority, tasked with investigating police-involved shootings, is being replaced by the Civilian Office of Police Accountability.

 Laquan McDonald and Jason Van Dyke.
Laquan McDonald and Jason Van Dyke.
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Provided/Chicago Police

"I think that the release of the video ... it's had an extraordinary impact," said Jamie Kalven, a writer and activist with the Invisible Institute. Just months after the McDonald shooting, Kalven wrote about the then-unreleased video in an award-winning story on the teen's death.

"I think the political implosion that followed release of the video and people learning about all that happened between the killing of Laquan McDonald and, ultimately, the release of the video ... I think it's radically changed the political landscape of Chicago."

Transparency with the Police Department has improved to a level that would have been "all but unthinkable" only several years ago, Kalven said, adding that there's been a "flood of information" about police-involved shootings since the McDonald video was released.

In June, IPRA released 101 sets of files on open use-of-force and police misconduct cases, and videos showing the police-involved deaths of Ronnie Johnson and other people have been released since the McDonald video came out.

Another achievement, Kalven said, was that Chicagoans didn't "avert our eyes" from the issues shown in the McDonald video, which has been watched millions of times. That wasn't always how it was in the past.

In the past, publicized police abuse led to units being disbanded, agencies rebranded and officials "managing the scandal" until the public's attention moved on, Kalven said. Then, he said, the status quo would reassert itself.

"To a remarkable degree, that has not happened in the aftermath of the Laquan McDonald shooting and the revelations about how the CPD and other institutions responded in the aftermath of the shooting," Kalven said. "We've had a year in which these issues have remained front and center, and I actually think that in itself is a significant achievement."

But most of the year's achievements have been "diagnostic," Kalven said: Chicagoans saw the McDonald video and it helped them identify and name problems that need to be addressed in the city.

Going forward, there will have to be cultural shifts to help combat racism, and those changes will have to go past "tweaking this institution or that institution," he said.

Chicagoans shouldn't overestimate what's been accomplished since the video's release, Kalven said, and there's a "challenging agenda that lies ahead."

 An autopsy image showing where Laquan McDonald was shot.
An autopsy image showing where Laquan McDonald was shot.
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Courtesy Cook County Medical Examiner's office

"The real challenge, the ultimate challenge, of the Laquan McDonald case is it confronts us with the foundational, bedrock racism in critically important civil institutions," Kalven said. "And to adequately take that on I think involves a process of social change, a process of becoming a different kind of society and not just replacing the sort of alphabet soup game of replacing IPRA with COPA."

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