Laquan McDonald was more than another young African-American male who had the misfortune of crossing the path of a brutal Chicago cop.
He was a 17-year-old kid who had survived some tough blows in life.
You need to understand that before you hear another word about why a police officer needed to shoot this young man 16 times.
Any day now, you will see a dashcam video showing the officer pumping 16 bullets into the teenager and can judge for yourself the right or the wrong of the matter.
But it is the tragic details of this young man’s life that makes this story so much worse. McDonald’s life was a long, sad, vicious cycle all the way to its violent end.
Twice, the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services removed him from his mother’s care — once when he was 2 years old and again when he was 5 — because of abuse allegations leveled at the mother’s boyfriend.
As is too often the case, McDonald was allegedly sexually molested in two different foster homes, according to a source familiar with his juvenile court record.
“DCFS never did anything in terms of following up on the sexual abuse,” the source said.
A spokesman for the Department of Children and Family Services acknowledged that McDonald was a ward of the state at the time of his death. The agency confirmed that the youth was the subject of two abuse investigations — one in 2000 and another in 2003.
McDonald was particularly close to his grandmother, Goldie Hunter, and was in her care until she died last year. His daily life seemed to unravel after her death.
Just a couple of days before McDonald’s deadly encounter with the Chicago officer, DCFS had given custody of McDonald and his sister to an uncle.
“The uncle had a live-in girlfriend, and the sister had spent the night away from home,” said the source familiar with this case. “When she came back the next morning, the girlfriend wouldn’t let her back in the house.
“DCFS came and took the sister and was trying to take Laquan. For the third time, he was made a ward of the state. It was a pretty upsetting thing.”
McDonald’s mother was trying to regain custody, but the issue was still up in the air at the time of his death.
“We were making great strides with this kid,” said a social worker, speaking only on the condition of anonymity because she isn’t authorized to speak to reporters. “We had started to turn this kid around. He had just worked a summer job and went to school every day. After the summer job ended, he went out and found another job.”
There were other signs that McDonald was getting his life on track.
“Laquan came in with one of our programs that deals with wards of the state,” said Thomas Gattuso, principal of Sullivan House, a 40-year-old alternative school that Gattusso says shouldn’t be confused with a school for troubled youth. “We give students a second chance., a chance they didn’t have. They want to come to school. They want to be here.
“What struck me the most is that Laquan came to school all the time,” Gattuso said. “He probably would have graduated within a year and a half.”
Unfortunately, all that most people have heard about McDonald is that he had PCP in his system that night he was shot and that he was carrying a small knife.
There was another side to this teenager who kept trying to find the light despite all the darkness and the disappointments he suffered in his life.
“He joked around and had a big smile every day,” Gattuso said. “He gave hugs to the staff. He felt he had a place here.
“The incident is horrible on so many levels. We are looking for justice. If Laquan had shot the policeman 16 times, he wouldn’t have been at a desk job 13 months later.”
The police officer who shot the teen hasn’t been charged with any crime. The matter is still being investigated by local and federal law enforcement agencies.
Like the deaths of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice and Rekia Boyd before him, McDonald’s death will become part of the symbolic mosaic for the “Black Lives Matter” anti-police brutality movement.
There’s no doubt the video footage will rally protesters.
But there’s a lot more than the number of bullets fired that we all should be outraged about when it comes to the killing of Laquan McDonald.