By MONICA DAVEY and MITCH SMITH
New York Times
CHICAGO >> For months, leaders here watched as other cities faced angry demonstrations over police conduct, shootings and relations with black people, often captured in painful videos. As cities like Ferguson, Missouri., Baltimore and New York have been consumed by fatal encounters involving the local police that have fueled national attention since 2014, this city managed to keep a lower profile.
But Chicago now finds itself grappling with the prospect of having its own moment. The city has been ordered to release, within days, a police video of the fatal shooting of a black 17-year-old by a white police officer. Even the officer’s lawyer has described the video, which the city sought for months to block from public view, as "graphic" and "violent" and "difficult to watch at some points."
With the memories of discord in other cities so fresh, leaders in Chicago, which has a history of tension over race and policing, have been holding urgent private talks with community activists. Law enforcement officials are trying to anticipate what response the video may bring, and how best to prepare police forces here for that. And the mayor, Rahm Emanuel, appeared to try to calm the city, taking the unusual steps of publicly condemning the police officer and urging prosecutors to take action in the case before the release of the video.
"In accordance with the judge’s ruling, the city will release the video by Nov. 25, which we hope will provide prosecutors time to expeditiously bring their investigation to a conclusion so Chicago can begin to heal," Emanuel said Thursday.
Around Chicago, the video has become a topic of discussion, even though most people have not seen it. According to a few people who have viewed it, the video shows Laquan McDonald being struck by 16 bullets, some of them hitting him even after his body had fallen to the ground along a street on this city’s southwest side in October 2014. Some of the bullets, an autopsy shows, entered the back of his body.
A lawyer for McDonald’s family said the video showed him moving away from Officer Jason Van Dyke, the policeman who fired all of the shots, while at least five other officers never fired their weapons.
Dan Herbert, a lawyer for Van Dyke, said his client believed the shooting was justified because he feared for the safety of himself and his colleagues. McDonald had a knife, the authorities say, and earlier punctured a squad car’s tire with it and refused to drop it. The officers were approaching him, officials said, after the police got a report that a man with a knife was trying to break into vehicles in a trucking yard.
Van Dyke is on administrative duty pending an inquiry by a team that includes the FBI, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Chicago and the Cook County state’s attorney’s office.
Since Thursday, when a judge ordered the video’s release and set a deadline of Wednesday, many in this city have begun speculating over how and exactly when the release will occur, and what may follow. Some lawyers, officials and activists wondered aloud whether charges — either from the Cook County state’s attorney or a federal grand jury — might still be possible a day or even a few hours before the video’s release, and how an arrest might affect residents’ responses.
Prominent Chicago activists said protests were a foregone conclusion, but they were not certain yet what form they may take. Charlene A. Carruthers, the national director at the Chicago-based Black Youth Project 100, said she expected the video’s release, whenever it came, to bolster efforts of her group and others to press for changes to the Police Department.
Page May, an organizer with We Charge Genocide, a Chicago group that has accused the police here of systemic misconduct, said she expected the video to awaken more people to what she saw as widespread police abuses. But May said she had concerns about the video’s release given that McDonald’s family has expressed reluctance.
"The folks that are going to get woke because of this video, we need to welcome them, organize them," May said. "The challenge now is how do we organize around this video without adding to the spectacle?"
!~neIP~!The Rev. Michael Pfleger, a Roman Catholic priest and social activist on Chicago’s South Side, said the police "continue to build mistrust" by not immediately firing Van Dyke and other officers whose actions have resulted in large settlements. In the spring, the city agreed to pay $5 million to McDonald’s family.
Pfleger said that protests would be necessary after the video’s release, and that organizers were planning what form those should take. He said officials at City Hall called for peace during a conference call with community leaders Thursday. He said he had also been invited to a meeting with the police in the coming days.
Police officials said Friday that plans for after the video’s release were still being made and provided few specifics. Anthony Guglielmi, a spokesman for the Police Department, issued a statement: "As you have seen over the past few years, CPD works tirelessly to protect people’s First Amendment rights, and residents of Chicago have exercised those rights in a peaceful way."
The Rev. Jesse Jackson, whose Rainbow PUSH Coalition is based in Chicago, said he was upset that officials had tried to withhold the video until now.
"I know it’s a national disgraceful situation, and it will attract people around the country," Jackson said, adding at another point, "My greatest fear is not the protest, but if there is no protest."