Shades of black and blue at opening arguments of police trial
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They entered the courtroom like a squadron.
A brigade of white males, three of them Chicago police officers, the others defense attorneys with enough high-profile acquittals to make them legends.
The police officers — Thomas Gaffney, Joseph Walsh and detective David March — must have gone through the revolving doors at the George Leighton Courthouse thousands of times dressed in their blue uniforms.
This time they came in business suits, looking very much like the lawyers representing them.
The officers face charges that they falsified police reports to make it look like Officer Jason Van Dyke was justified in shooting Laquan McDonald 16 times.
A jury convicted Van Dyke in October on second-degree murder and sixteen counts of aggravated battery — one count for each of the 16 shots he fired.
Although this trial’s opening didn’t generate nearly the amount of media attention that the Van Dyke trial did, spectators quickly filled up the courtroom gallery.
The Rev. Michael Pfleger; police reform activist and now aldermanic candidate William Calloway; Janette Wilson of the Rainbow Push Coalition; as well as the Rev. Marvin Hunter, McDonald’s great-uncle, were among the observers — there to witness what they hoped would be the disruption of the code of silence that makes it nearly impossible to hold unfit police officers accountable.
Although there was no sea of blue uniforms in the courtroom, Fraternal Order of Police President Kevin Graham, who stood at the rear of the courtroom gallery, gave each of the officer’s a pat on the back when they passed by.
It was an unusual sight.
And while James McKay, the attorney for March, argued in his opening statement that this case isn’t about race, it has everything to do with race.
“Race has nothing to do with this case. This case is about law and order,” said McKay, taking issue with Special Prosecutor Patricia Brown Holmes’ mentioning McDonald’s race in her opening statement.
“It’s about Laquan McDonald not following any laws that night. There must be some individual responsibility attached to McDonald,” he said.
But you couldn’t look around that courtroom and not notice that race is very much an issue.
On one side was a team of white males defending white males.
On the other side of the room was Holmes, one of the most prominent attorneys in Chicago who is African-American, prosecuting those white males for allegedly concocting a web of lies to protect another white male accused of unjustifiably shooting a black teenager.
In the world we live in today, it is becoming common that a young black man is fatally shot because a white man is afraid.
The fatal shooting of Jemel Roberson, the security guard that was fatally shot by a Midlothian police officer, is an example of that exaggerated fear.
In Alabama, police recently admitted that a police officer working security at a mall killed the wrong man in response to a shooting incident.
Emantic Bradford Jr., 21, had a concealed-carry permit but was apparently mistaken for the shooter, similar to what happened to Roberson.
So how could McDonald’s death not be about race?
Worst yet, even though Van Dyke has since been convicted of killing McDonald, the murdered teenager is being put on trial.
According to McKay, it is the armed police officers that are “human beings” in uniform while McDonald is “6 feet and 185 pounds with PCP running through his veins” apparently so scary, McKay described him as a “crazed” individual.
And while the dashcam video of the fatal shooting doesn’t show McDonald threatening the police officers with a knife, that’s their story and they are sticking to it.
The problem here, of course, is that McDonald cannot make his own defense.
Although defense attorneys will argue that any “lies” in the police reports are “disagreements,” it is far more than that.
“[T]hose who are sworn to tell the truth began to create the lies that were designed to help Van Dyke avoid the consequences of his action,” Holmes told the court.
Defense attorneys described this trial as “madness.” It isn’t.
If the state proves its case, it could break the thin blue line that binds good police officers to police officers that don’t have respect for all lives.
That would be the first step in healing the wounds that have brought us to this moment.