Mitchell: Laquan McDonald’s tragic past to be used by defense?

SHARE Mitchell: Laquan McDonald’s tragic past to be used by defense?

Dan Herbert, lawyer for Chicago Police officer Jason Van Dyke, wants access to Laquan McDonald’s juvenile court files. | Getty Images

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When there is a video showing an unarmed 17-year-old being shot 16 times by a Chicago Police officer, as Laquan McDonald was, there is hardly a defense.

Frankly, what is there to say besides the officer snapped?

Even though every person is entitled to a defense, controversial police shootings have driven such a wedge between law enforcement and communities of color, a “defense” can seem offensive.

For instance, lawyers defending Jason Van Dyke, the Chicago Police officer charged with first-degree murder for McDonald’s death, have made an unseemly request.

Daniel Herbert, the lead attorney, is asking the head of the juvenile court’s child protection for access to McDonald’s juvenile court files, the Chicago Tribune reported.

The files contain intimate details about McDonald’s tragic life and the household dysfunction that contributed to him being a ward of the state at the time of his death.


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As can be expected, most of what is in the file is troubling and depicts a young man struggling to overcome mental illness and substance abuse.

While it might give Herbert ammunition to tear down the teen, what happened to McDonald growing up won’t explain Van Dyke’s split-second decision to fire his gun 16 times.

More important, McDonald isn’t the one on trial.

Wanting access to these juvenile files shows the difficulty Herbert will have defending this indefensible act.

Meanwhile, controversial police behavior is still making it difficult for communities to heal.

The police shooting of Alton Sterling, 37, on Tuesday, sparked outrage in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. There, two white police officers were placed on administrative leave and the governor called for an investigation by the FBI.

In Los Angeles, Rae Jones, a former Chicagoan, launched a social media protest over the arrest of her daughter Kai Niambi Kitchen in Dublin, Virginia. Kitchen, a recent graduate of Hampton University, was driving cross-country to Los Angeles when state troopers stopped her three times for speeding.

“She is being held ‘unbondable’ for first speeding, then reckless driving after being stopped three times in 30 minutes by the same police officer,” Rae Jones wrote in a Facebook post.

Corinne Geller, a spokeswoman for Virginia State Police, said there were two stops 40 minutes apart by one officer. Kitchen was cited for reckless driving and was released on a summons. Kitchen was stopped again for speeding by a different trooper an hour later and was taken to the New River Regional Jail.

For some, Kitchen’s experience will automatically trigger thoughts of Sandra Bland, the Chicago-area woman who was found dead in a Texas jail cell last year.

As was the case with McDonald, it was the video of the shocking treatment Bland received at the hands of a state trooper that ignited protests.

Since McDonald’s death, police reform has been a rallying cry for many of the city’s politically engaged youth.

As noted by “Grey’s Anatomy” actor Jesse Williams in a controversial speech at BET’s recent award show, “police somehow manage to de-escalate, disarm and not kill white people every day.”

“We are going to have equal rights and justice in our own country, or we will restructure their function and ours,” he said.

When a police officer unjustifiably kills an unarmed young black man or uses excessive force, it is not the victim who should be under scrutiny.

For the Cook County Juvenile Protection Division to allow Van Dyke’s lawyers to dig through this dead teen’s past would be an unfathomable betrayal.

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