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Editorial: Justice delayed becomes justice denied

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Here’s what we see in the video:

A young man is jogging down the middle of a street.

Time: 9:57 p.m. and 20 seconds.

He slows to a walk and passes a police SUV, his right hand out. It is hard to see, but he is holding a small knife.

Time: 9:57 and 30 seconds.

Two police officers step out of a vehicle. They step toward the young man, guns pointed, as he moves slightly away from them.

Time: 9:57 and 33 seconds.

The young man spins counterclockwise. He falls hard to the ground.

Time: 57 and 37 seconds.

Nobody just drops like that. He has been shot. You see the puff of a bullet hitting his body.

Time: 9:57 and 38 seconds.

He is shot again. More puffs. His body jerks, then ceases to move.

Time: 9:57 and 49 second.

From start to finish, we are witnessing 29 seconds of horror.


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This is the video Mayor Emanuel and the Chicago Police Department tried so hard for more than a year to keep the public from seeing, saying their concern was to not compromise ongoing federal and local investigations. But the video was disturbing then and they knew it — they feared it. And it is no less disturbing now.

Holding back the video for so long, making it public Tuesday evening only under orders from a judge, was a mistake. It was sure to jolt this city no matter when it was released, then or now.

When justice is delayed — and failing to level with the public this long was justice delayed — it becomes justice denied. When justice is delayed, it smacks of politics when it finally arrives.

To whom should we listen now as our city braces for the inevitable and entirely understandable demonstrations? We would say listen to the family of Laquan McDonald, the young man who was killed. He was just 17.

In a statement released hours after Jason Van Dyke, the police officer involved in the shooting, finally was charged with an actual crime — first-degree murder — McDonald’s family called for only peaceful protests.

“No one understands the anger more than us but if you choose to speak out, we urge you to be peaceful,” the family said. “Don’t resort to violence in Laquan’s name.”

Laquan was not a perfect young man. He had a record of run-ins with the police as a juvenile. He had PCP in his bloodstream when he was walking down Pulaski Road that night, Oct. 20, 2014. He was in fact carrying a small knife, with which he had punctured a tire of a police vehicle.

But Officer Van Dyke knew none of this when he emptied his gun, all 16 rounds, into McDonald. Nor was any of it relevant.

What is relevant — watch the video, if you can stomach it — is that Laquan McDonald did nothing to deserve what happened to him. He did nothing to deserve to die.

Calling Van Dyke to account is easy. Calling our city to account is harder, and this should be the serious business of any protests in the next days or weeks. How is it that any Chicago police officer, right in front of at least eight other officers, would act in this way? Where is weakness in the department’s training and supervision? How is it that we live in a city in which any officer of the law would shoot down a young man as if he were a deer in the woods?

Events of the last year tells us we still live in a city that ducks the hard stuff.

Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez waited more than a year to press charges against Van Dyke. We don’t buy her argument, which she made again Tuesday, that she could not move faster because shootings by cops involve “highly complex” legal issues.

Police Supt. Garry McCarthy, in a similar act of ducking, declined until Tuesday to fire a police officer, Dante Servin, who shot into a crowd in 2012 and killed 22-year-old Rekia Boyd. McCarthy failed for two months to follow a police review board recommendation to terminate Servin.

When the superintendent finally did announce he would fire Servin — just hours before Van Dyke was charged and the video was released — he insisted, against all appearances, that this had nothing to do with trying to cool the public’s fury toward the police.

So it goes when justice is delayed. After awhile, nobody is inclined to believe you.

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