The chairman of the City Council’s Black Caucus on Tuesday demanded the release of a potentially incendiary video showing a Chicago Police officer firing 16 shots into the body of slain African-American teenager Laquan McDonald.
Ald. Howard Brookins (21st) acknowledged that the dashboard camera video of one Chicago Police officer unleashing the barrage of gunfire that killed McDonald, 17, on Oct. 20, 2014, as at least five other responding officers exercised restraint would “really inflame the passions of the community-at-large.”
But Brookins said that’s the price that must be paid if the Chicago Police Department is ever going to confront and move beyond the disparate treatment of African-American men by a “handful” of rogue officers that’s become a systemic problem for police across the nation.
FBI INVESTIGATION: Feds look into shooting of teen by Chicago Police
An FBI investigation of the fatal shooting and a $5 million settlement to McDonald’s family — even before a lawsuit was filed — should not preclude the video’s release or serve as what one civil rights attorney has called “hush money,” Brookins said.
“I’m not worried about rioting or demonstrations. I need this to stop. If you don’t show the video and this continues to happen, then we’re still headed down that path. . . . It can help us also going forward to come up with policies and practices that will end this once and for all,” Brookins said.
“There’s no plan to look at the video and I think that situation is outrageous. My understanding is, there’s one police officer who’s doing the shooting and several police officers standing [around]. . . . I don’t understand how this still happens . . . after countless numbers of police shootings, after [former police officer Anthony] Abbate [was] seen in a bar beating a bar maid. I don’t know why this stuff still happens.”
He added, “No matter how ugly the situations are, the public has a right to know. I will stand on your First Amendment rights to show that just like I will stand on a criminal defendant’s Fifth Amendment right to shut up.”
Ald. Carrie Austin (34th), outspoken chairman of the City Council’s Budget Committee, strongly disagreed with Brookins. Austin wants the video kept under wraps.
“It would incite somebody . . . to do something violent — to rise up in ways that aren’t necessary,” Austin said.
“Some would say that they would rather see it. I think that would be insensitive. Why would you want to even see something like that take place? For you to retaliate is not gonna correct the situation. It has happened. It is done. That individual will receive their punishment. So I don’t think we should go on and on with that . . . It would just distraught somebody to do that. Then, we would lose confidence [of] our citizenry. And I don’t want that to happen. We worked hard to gain their confidence back.”
Corporation Counsel Stephen Patton said the shooting video has been shown to attorneys representing the McDonald family. After viewing it, they have argued that the knife-wielding teenager was continuing to walk away from police at the time of the shooting.
Patton said the shooting video will be released at the appropriate time, but not while an “active federal and state criminal investigation” is still going on.
“The last thing that any of us want to do is to do something that might interfere with or compromise that pending investigation,” Patton said.
“I am confident this video will be released. When could depend on whether charges are brought and . . . what the prosecutor or prosecutors have to say about it. . . . If prosecutors say, `We want you to hold off on that because we don’t want to interfere with the prosecution,’ then that would be something we would certainly listen seriously to. But the bottom line is at that appropriate time, this videotape will be released.”
Patton refused to speculate on whether releasing the video might incite demonstrations. He simply said that’s not the city’s motivation for holding back, nor is the $5 million settlement an attempt to keep the video under wraps.
“Absolutely false. This isn’t hush money. We evaluated this settlement the same way we do every other,” he said.
Brookins noted that unarmed African-American civilians LaTanya Haggerty, 26, and Robert Russ, 22, were shot to death by officers after separate police pursuits on the same June 1999 weekend, touching off a summer filled with protests about alleged police brutality.
That forced Chicago taxpayers to pay $18 million in damages to the Haggerty family and $9.6 million to the Russ family.
Sadly, those were not isolated incidents, Brookins said.
“The Band-Aid continues to be ripped off as you see these other issues throughout the countryand here that, particularly African-American males’lives don’t have as much value as other citizens of this country,” he said.
“There is not an African-American man I know that has not been pulled over unfairly by the police or appeared to be racially profiled. And that went from the late Bishop [Arthur] Brazier to myself as a young lawyer. . . . I would like to see it stop. I would like to see us stop paying out hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars for senseless acts of a very few police officers that discredit the whole department and give a stain or a black eye to our city and other cities around the country.”
Brookins then referred to what he called the “sanitized” version of events recited time and again by a spokesman for the Fraternal Order of Police who shows up at the scene of every police-involved shooting.
“You could just replay old video because it’s always the same thing. You could look at every police report because it always reads the same. Then, you look at the actual video, which dispels what has been said in official written documents and you know that police officers in those limited situations have not been forthright with the community,” the alderman said.
On Wednesday, it was learned that McDonald had PCP in his system when he died, according to a source familiar with the case.
“I can confirm that there is a report that indicates that there was PCP found as a result of the toxicology report,” the source said.
PCP, or phencyclidine, is an anesthetic drug and an illicit hallucinogen. On the street, it’s also known as angel dust or supergass.
Contributing: Stefano Esposito