Just when the Laquan McDonald case finally seemed to approach what they call “closure” in the tragedy biz, with former Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke sentenced to 81 months in prison, meaning he’d serve three years and change for pumping 16 shots into the teenager on Oct. 20, 2014, along comes our new Illinois attorney general, Kwame Raoul, to kick over the can brimming with human heartache and ask the Illinois Supreme Court for a longer sentence.
And worse, from my perspective — self-referential perspective, sure, but what else is new? — is that now I have to write about it, having managed to studiously avoid the whole thing, mostly, mucking around with Roman philosophers and British dukes and whatever shiny trinket I can find to distract myself and maybe you.
The whole story is just so grim. From 17-year-old McDonald staggering around Pulaski Road on a school night, clutching his 3-inch knife, to the first wave of cops somehow managing to keep their distance until Van Dyke races up, ponders the situation for a full six seconds, then empties his automatic into McDonald, to the gauzy veil of lies ritualistically tossed over the crime, reflexively, out of habit, not just by officers on the scene, but by the superintendent, the mayor and a shrugging City Council, which licked its thumb and peeled off $5 million of your tax money, handing it to McDonald’s family, who might not have been taking as careful care of the teen as you or I might, while he was alive, but who were scrupulous about keeping their yaps zipped until a journalist — no wonder everybody hates us — dragged the video into public view just in time for Christmas 2015.
Sure, during the trial, as people agonized over the possibility of a police code of silence — could it possibly exist? — I thought of piping up, “Are you people insane?” The code of silence is the CPD, body and soul. But anyone who knows anything about Chicago already knows that, and I try not to traffic in the obvious.
So I limited myself to a few obligatory funereal remarks over the political career of Rahm Emanuel — mayor of Chicago, for those reading in the near future, after he has vanished from the scene and memory, ducking back behind the heavy red velvet curtain of power and money that he stepped out of when he first ran for Congress.
But otherwise, nada. Who wants to be part of a chorus? Why start shouting about a situation where everybody and his brother is already hopping up and down on a chair, banging garbage can lids together?
Why now? Because one fact sits there, for me, and vibrates. It has all along, and while I can’t vouch that it hasn’t been highlighted somewhere in the Niagara of articles and podcasts and TV specials and shadow puppet theater devoted to the case, I didn’t notice it and it seems germane now that Raoul is seeking to pile years of prison upon Van Dyke, which will neither reform the ex-cop, assuage the clannish moral blindness of a significant chunk of his former fellow officers, nor revive the dead teen.
The pesky fact is this: When Van Dyke shot McDonald, he was on the clock, a police officer doing his duty as he saw fit in the moment. Yes, so was Jon Burge. Which is why the “in the moment” part is so important. Police work is days and weeks of tedium punctuated by moments of terror, and that’s what makes the sentence Van Dyke got appropriate as it is. Remember, he wasn’t a bigot shooting up a bar, or a commander torturing suspects. He was a cop, working. A scared cop, sure. Judgment impaired, obviously. Three years isn’t much for a life, and those who point out that it being a black life means some people value it a lot less are not wrong. That said, three years is a whole lot for a workplace screw-up. A judge already weighed this, but if Kwame Raoul wants it weighed again, well, my gut tells me it might not turn into the triumph of justice he is hoping for.
Anyway, time to extract myself from this. If you’re sorry I went there, well, trust me pal, not as much as I am. As I said at the start: