By Frederick H. Lowe
Jury selection began this morning at Cook County Criminal Court in the trial of Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke who is charged with six counts of first-degree murder in the shooting death of an unarmed 17-year-old.
Van Dyke shot Laquan McDonald 16 times, killing him on October 20, 2014. Initially, Van Dyke claimed McDonald threatened him and other police officers with a pocket knife, but a police dash-cam video showed that McDonald was walking away from Van Dyke when he shot him.
The knife was in McDonald’s pocket and the blade was not extended. The other officers at the scene did not fire their guns. One officer said he saw no need to.
The repercussions from the deadly shooting also have claimed the career of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who unexpectedly announced Tuesday that he would not seek a third four-year term.
Mayor Emanuel lost support among Chicago’s black voters when his office withheld the dash-cam video, leading to allegations of a coverup. Before the video’s release, police ruled the shooting was justified.
A freelance journalist and a community activist had failed to secure the video under the Freedom of Information Act. The two learned of the video from an unnamed whistle-blower who described it as damning.
Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan wrote a letter, telling the police department it could not withhold the video,
On November 19, 2015, Cook County Judge Franklin Valderrama ordered the video to be released to the public no later than November 25, 2015.
The city did not appeal the judge’s decision. On November 24, 2015, after a press conference, the video was released that showed Van Dyke fatally shooting McDonald.
The video’s release sparked weeks of angry street protests throughout Chicago. Protestors chanted “16 shots and a coverup.”
Black ministers boycotted Dr. Martin Luther King’s Prayer Breakfast sponsored by the mayor’s office.
Chance the Rapper, who is from Chicago, discussed the shooting on “Saturday Night Live.”
The videos release also claimed the career of Cook County States’ Attorney Anita Alvarez who also supported withholding the video.
Alvarez lost her bid for re-election in March 2016, winning only 26 percent of the vote. Mayor Emanuel fired Chicago Police Superintendent Gerry McCarthy, who stripped Van Dyke of his police powers, but was prevented from firing him because of the city’s contract with police union.
McCarthy is now a candidate for Chicago mayor.
Black Lives Matter organized a protest this morning outside the criminal court building to keep the public’s attention on the case.