L: Laquan McDoald R: Off. Van Dyke credit: chicagotribune

L: Laquan McDoald R: Off. Van Dyke
credit: chicagotribune

Like all honest writers, I don’t know enough about the police shooting of Laquan McDonald more than a year ago in Chicago to speak intelligently as to the guilt or justification of the officer that shot him. I know only what media reports have provided, and most of those reports have been desperate to uphold a traditional social justice narrative: absolutely innocent black child brutally murdered without justification by white cop. In the pursuit of that narrative, a number of pertinent facts have been very much downplayed, or not mentioned at all. Some of those are:

MacDonald was a large and imposing 17-year-old–not a slight, delicate child. This is obvious even on the brief dashcam video of his shooting.

MacDonald was on PCP, which is among the most dangerous illicit drugs. Those on it generally are prone to extreme violence, and possessed of enormous, almost superhuman speed and strength while being essentially immune to feeling pain.

Prior to coming into contact with Officer Van Dyke, McDonald apparently confronted and ignored the orders of other officers, and used the knife he was carrying and displaying to flatten at least one police vehicle tire.

Carrying that knife, McDonald was well within the 21 feet danger distance of the Tueller Drill (go here for information on that basic concept). In other words, if he chose, he could easily have charged and killed the officers confronting him with their drawn handguns even if they were able to get off shots. Any edged weapon, within 21 feet of an officer, and perhaps at even somewhat greater distance, is a deadly threat.

Let’s consider at least some of the other issues surrounding the incident via the vehicle of an opinion piece in The Chicago Tribune by John Kass: 

The mayor of Chicago talked a lot about accountability just before he released the police video showing Laquan McDonald gunned down by a cop.

But what of the mayor’s accountability? He sat on the video for months. If voters had seen it, he wouldn’t have been re-elected. So it all worked out for him.

What?! Politics playing a part in the governance of Chicago?! Kass is doubtless correct. The shooting, which took place more than a year ago (on 10-20-14), was downplayed until the last few days. Would the media and police department have done that to ensure that a Democrat mayor was reelected? In Chicago? Of course. That’s what Chicago is, what it does. It’s as corrupt and vile a Democrat political machine as human imagination can conjure.

From what I’ve thus far seen, this case is not fraught with complex evidence. It is straightforward. Any decision on prosecution and/or discipline for Officer Van Dyke could and should have been accomplished within days, or weeks at the most. There would be no professional, lawful reason to take longer.

And where is the accountability of African-American politicos and others like the Rev. Jesse Jackson, so loud now, pointing their fingers and organizing meetings and demanding accountability from others?

When it mattered, they were silent. They didn’t demand that the video be released. Why?

Because this is Chicago and that’s how it works.

Would such people hold their tongues in the service of a Democrat, social justice narrative? To ensure that their mayoral candidate was reelected? Of course they would, just as they hold their tongues as young black men regularly slaughter other young black men on Chicago’s mean streets. Their primary concern is not the rule of law and equal justice for all, but determining how social justice can best be warped and herded to benefit them, “because this is Chicago and that’s how it works.”

When such things happen, and where there is video, I am always appalled, because a media that thrives on the most bloody and brutal depictions of real and fictionalized violence is suddenly reduced to faux-horror at the beating or death of criminal thugs at the hands of the police. Breathless warnings of the horror of it all are broadcast, and talking heads pronounce verdicts based on mere seconds of video without the slightest understanding of what happened before or after those mere seconds, without context.

The important parts last only a few seconds. It is one of the worst things I’ve seen, like those old ‘Faces of Death’ videos that were viral before viral was a word, tapes of people dying, something creepy that high school kids once watched in their basements alone.

It’s one of the worst things a hardened reporter–a Chicago reporter–has ever seen. Right. Compared to a night at the movies, the video is quite bland, which Kass actually admits. There is no blood pooling on the streets, no slow-motion close ups of bullets piercing bodies, no blood-curdling, dramatic cries–no sound at all–and mediocre contrast. It is in color, but was filmed at night, so color is muted. One might easily think it to be in black and white.

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There is no drama to McDonald’s last seconds, no sound, not even the smack of bullets, only the thing itself: a white cop shooting a young black man to death on the streets of Chicago.

According to Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez, it took only 15 seconds.

Van Dyke shoots him on the ground, repeatedly. You see the puffs of pavement fly up as the bullets go through McDonald’s body and hit the ground. You see his arms twitch. A cop walks over and kicks a knife out of McDonald’s hand, and the teen lies there, bleeding out, without anyone coming up to offer aid.

Take the link to the article and see the video if you have not yet seen it. Kass’s description is reasonably accurate, but should prominently note that we have no idea what happened in the seconds prior to and after the brief video clip that has gone viral. Surely officers and medical personnel offered medical aid, and within seconds or minutes, just not the brief seconds of the video. Kass’s prose make it seem that kicking the knife out of McDonald’s hand was somehow callous or uncalled for, when in reality, such action was absolutely necessary and elementary police procedure. Note too that McDonald, even while being shot and falling to the ground, did not relinquish his grip on the knife.

As you watch that video, gentle readers, closely note that as the clip opens, McDonald is running from the officers down the middle of the street. Notice McDonald’s bizarrely, energetic swagger and faster than normal speed as he slows to a fast walk. As more police vehicles arrive, McDonald does not run faster or angle farther away from the officers–he is clearly not trying to escape–instead he slows down and moves only a scant few feet to the right, only slightly away from the approaching police vehicles.

McDonald a second after pointing his knife at the police cruiser.

McDonald a second after pointing his knife at the police cruiser.

Note that as he approaches one stationary police cruiser, he thrusts his knife directly and threateningly at the driver’s side of that vehicle and holds it there for several seconds. Note too his repeated glances toward the officers that are pointing their handguns at him. Because his back is to the camera and one’s eyes naturally are drawn to McDonald’s hands and the hands of the officers, it is easy to miss his glances at the officers, which are relatively subtle, partially hidden by his hoodie. McDonald is angling very slightly away from the officers, but is plainly not trying to escape them, in fact, from the first moment he is visible on the video until he falls to the street, he is decelerating.

The point? We’re not seeing what the officers could see, the visual cues, the look on McDonald’s face, his eyes, all of the cues that tell experienced police officers what a suspect is thinking and is about to do. McDonald’s hoodie makes it virtually impossible to see, from the rear, all but the most energetic head and neck movements.

I’ve seen nothing thus far that suggests that Van Dyke and the other officers conclusively knew McDonald was on PCP, but there is reason to believe, if only from their own observations, than any experienced cop would immediately suspect McDonald was high and potentially dangerous for that reason alone.

There may be efforts to make Laquan McDonald, 17 and with PCP in his system, into some kind of icon as the protesters begin to make noise. It’s part of the script that has been used before. I won’t do that.

But I will tell you this. He was a troubled young man who didn’t deserve what happened to him. And he didn’t deserve what the cop took from him, which was everything.

You won’t do that Mr. Kass? That’s what you say, but not what you’re doing. If a reasonable police officer would have believed that McDonald was placing him or another in imminent danger of serious bodily harm or death, then McDonald did deserve what happened to him, and it was, without doubt, his fault.

There has been some indication from some news sources that McDonald was indeed a “troubled young man,” who had unspecified past contacts with the police. Many have seen little of him but his back in the video, and a photograph of a young man in red high school graduation robes.

Here’s the ultimate problem: Kass, and most people, surely the Black Grievance Industry and the Social Justice Warriors and the complicit media, are judging Van Dyke based only on the video. That’s all they’ve seen, that’s all they need to see. It’s violent, and horrible, and that’s it then. First degree murder; why do we even need a trial?

Remember that the police–and any citizen–may use deadly force if they reasonably believe that they, or another, is in imminent danger of serious bodily injury or death. In this case, there is no doubt that the officers could have reasonably believed that McDonald represented an imminent danger of serious bodily injury or death. He had a knife in his hand, was behaving oddly, moving aggressively–or at least unusually energetically–and was more than close enough to cause serious bodily injury or death to those officers. In fact, he does appear to be turning his upper body toward the officers, a clear indication of aggressive intent, moments before he is apparently shot.

But they had their guns pointed at him! And well they should. Tactically, they may have been smarter to have confronted MacDonald from behind their vehicles, making it harder for him to attack and injure them, and making justification for shooting even more obvious if he did try to get past their vehicles to attack them. However, hindsight is always 20/20, and given minutes and hours–rather than mere seconds–to think on such things, it’s easy to be a tactical superman.

He shot him 16 times and even after he was on the ground! If an officer is justified in shooting at all, he is justified in shooting as many times as necessary to stop the behavior that gave him justification to shoot in the first place, and with as big a gun as necessary. In the heat of a deadly force confrontation, it is not difficult to empty one’s handgun in a matter of seconds. That said, does this particular video clip look violent and deadly and just awful? Yes it does, particularly to people that are not used to real, as opposed to movie violence, and to those predisposed to see evil if a police officer so much as smiles and waves at them. Dealing with truly violent people is what we pay the police very little to experience and handle for us. This is the reality of the streets where not everyone is a nice and gentle person with concern for the feelings and well-being of others.

If you see the video, and if you’re honest with yourself, this isn’t self-defense.

Alvarez called it murder. That’s what it looks like to me.

McDonald didn’t lunge at police with a knife. He was trying to get away, as an eyewitness to the killing confirmed for me in a recent column.

And Van Dyke emptied his 9 mm into him when he was on the ground. Then Van Dyke slapped another magazine in there, prosecutors said, and was ready to keep firing.

Oh well, if an eyewitness said it… As regular readers know, eyewitness testimony may be accurate, absolute nonsense or something in between. In cases like this, it is often lies, as much of it was in the Michael Brown case.

It may look like murder to Kass, but it looks like a few seconds of video to me, only a small part of the evidence in the case. Much more important is what Van Dyke saw and believed, that, and what his fellow officers observed and believed. They were in a position to assess MacDonald’s facial expressions, his eyes, his intentions, things that can be formed and acted upon in fractions of a second.

Oh, but Van Dyke put another magazine in his gun and “was ready to keep firing.” I should hope so. Every police officer is trained to reload immediately whenever necessary. An officer standing around with his slide locked back and his magazine empty is a potentially dead officer. Reloading apparently signifies evil intent to Kass and the prosecution. To police officers and rational human beings, it signifies proper procedure and a desire to keep breathing.

But none of the other officers fired! And that’s a bad thing because? Perhaps they didn’t see what Van Dyke saw. Perhaps they understood they didn’t need to fire. We just don’t know. In any case, one can’t argue that 16 rounds fired are prima facie evidence of criminal intent and then point to the fact that others didn’t shoot as further evidence of such intent. Ideally no officer should ever fire unless he reasonably believes it to be absolutely necessary at the moment he shoots. That he did not shoot says nothing about what another officer knew or reasonably believed, and we know nothing about any of this.

And Emanuel rushed to settle the case even before a lawsuit was filed. City Hall shelled out $5 million of taxpayer money.

And then the Emanuel administration wasted a boatload of cash on legal fees and other legal work, trying for months and months to keep Chicago from seeing that video the mayor said he’d never seen.

Rahm sat on the video, and kept sitting on it, all the way through his re-election, as black ministers and other African-American political figures rallied to his side to get out the black vote and deny that vote to Jesus ‘Chuy’ Garcia.

If the video had come out during the election campaign, Rahm Emanuel would not be mayor today.

Rahm didn’t demand that the video be shown, and neither did the Chicago City Council’s Black Caucus. They voted for the $5 million settlement.

But if they’d demanded that the video be shown — before the election — Rahm would have cut them off at their knees.

I didn’t hear Kim Foxx — Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle’s candidate for state’s attorney — demand that the video be made public either.

I didn’t hear Preckwinkle and Foxx hold a news conference, with all their supporters around them back when the case was settled in April, speaking in loud, angry tones about accountability and City Hall and that video.

And I didn’t hear Jackson — now trying to use this police shooting to re-legitimize himself and help Foxx — demand that the video be released.

Or other black leaders, who like most of the rest are covering their behinds, pointing fingers at others, lest the people of Chicago be reminded that many of them had Rahm’s back, or at least never made a peep out loud about that video.

The art of politics in Chicago is demanding accountability for others, but never for yourself.

First Degree Murder, is murder with malice aforethought. The state will have to prove that Van Dyke actually intended to murder, to kill unlawfully, MacDonald, and that he had no justification whatever for shooting. That’s a very high hurdle, and the prosecution had more than a year to consider the charge. But surely no prosecutor in Chicago would ever prosecute a case for political reasons? No court would ignore or warp the law for political reasons?

Kass is absolutely right about the politics involved in this case, but ignores the certainty of politics in the charging decision and prosecution.

Should Van Dyke be charged with a crime in this case? I don’t know. I don’t know enough to make that decision, and neither does Kass. Neither does anyone else, based on the video. Even as he admits that the case is as highly politicized as any case in Chicago can be, he ignores the political elements that contradict the preferred narrative.

What I do know is that Chicago is a lawless city, a city in a state made lawless by the policies of decades of corrupt Democrats, many of which–including judges–now occupy our fine penal institutions. In a nation where attacking the police is now nearly as popular as professional sports, this case will just be another reason for good and professional cops to fly as far below the radar as possible, to do as little as possible, to profile in reverse to avoid any contact with the victim groups most likely to cause political trouble for them, for the best and brightest to avoid a police career like the plague, and for criminals–particularly young, black, male criminals, to rejoice. Life is getting easier for them all the time.

NOTE: As is often the case in these situations, Andrew Branca at Legal Insurrection has written an analysis of this situation. As is also often the case, we are very much on the same page. By all means, visit his analysis. He has the autopsy report embedded in his article.

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