How the Police Murdered Laquan McDonald, How the System Tried to Cover It Up, the Danger of a Whitewashed Murdering Pig Walking Free… and What We Must Do NOW!

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The trial of Chicago cop Jason Van Dyke on charges of murdering Laquan McDonald began on September 5—almost four years after he killed the 17-year-old Black youth.

October 20, 2014—Van Dyke drives up to the street scene where other cops have been trailing Laquan McDonald for some time. Six seconds after getting out of his vehicle, Van Dyke starts shooting Laquan—who is walking down the middle of the street, moving AWAY from the cops, and a full traffic lane away. Laquan’s hands are at his sides. When Van Dyke opens fire, he is NOT backpedaling (as he would claim), but appears to be moving toward Laquan as he fires. Laquan spins around from the impact of the bullet and immediately crumples to the ground, a puff of smoke rising from his body as he lies there. Van Dyke continues to fire shot after shot—16 in all—emptying his gun. Laquan’s body jerks as more bullets strike—but he makes no move to get up from the ground.

This was an execution-style murder of a human being at the hands of a uniformed “officer of the law.” Laquan’s great-aunt, who had lived with him for a long time, remembered, “He loved surprises. I remember one time, my mom’s birthday, he come back with a cake, we didn’t even know he went out to get a cake. She was so, so happy, so surprised. And all he kept saying was, ‘This my grandma’s birthday, this my grandma’s birthday.’ She was so overwhelmed to where she just couldn’t stop hugging him, kissing him, telling him how much she loved him. He was really just the life of the house.”

A Very Rare Trial of a Killer Cop

Cop on trial for murder—these are words almost never heard in America. What you do hear, over and over and over again, is “justified use of force”—the system’s police and politicians backing up the killer cops’ claims they had “reasonable fear for their lives” and so were perfectly justified in shooting, choking, or tasing their victims to death, many of them Black, Latino, and Native American, even if they were unarmed or clearly posed no threat or suffered from mental breakdowns. In the seven years leading up to the murder of Laquan, the Chicago police had shot nearly 400 people, disproportionately Black and Latino—all these shootings were deemed officially “justified.”

That’s the way the murder of Laquan McDonald would have gone down—except that a dash cam video was forced up to the surface over a year later and shattered the lies. Millions of people around the country and around the world saw what the police and the city had tried to cover up.

The video touched off a political and societal firestorm in Chicago itself. Protesters righteously took to the streets with shouts of “16 Shots and a Cover-up!” shutting down Chicago’s Magnificent Mile shopping hub on Black Friday. The Revolution Club was an important part of the mix in the protests—as they had been in the protests before that against the police murder of Mike Brown in Ferguson, Missouri—standing with the people, exposing how murders by police stem from the nature of the system, and agitating for the need for revolution.

Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel and others in the power structure scrambled to keep a lid on things. Prosecutors finally indicted Van Dyke, just a day before the video was made public. But protests continued day after day and night after night, in the face of police threats and brutality, demanding that everybody involved in the cover-up be held accountable. Outrage spread beyond the inner city to white suburbs and people in the professions, like dozens of doctors, residents, and medical students who held a 16-minute die-in (for the 16 bullets) in front of City Hall.

And now, the eyes of the world are on the very rare instance of a murdering cop in America actually being put on trial. What happens in this trial, and what the masses of people do in relation to it, could have major impact way beyond Chicago—not only on the situation of Black people and the struggle against their oppression but the whole intensifying political situation in this country.

The Familiar—and Outrageous—Signs of a Whitewash

Even before the trial started and in its first few days, there are signs and court rulings that the machinery of whitewash is going into effect, getting ready to free a killer cop:

» The judge barred the prosecution from using the word “victim” in referring to Laquan in the main phase of the trial—they could do so in the closing arguments if the judge determined that the prosecutors laid the basis for this during the trial.

» At the same time, Van Dyke’s lawyers are allowed to bring up Laquan’s past—which will no doubt be used to paint the youth as a violent “monster” who the cop had no choice but to kill.

» The judge forced Laquan’s mother to appear at a pre-trial hearing to answer questions from the Van Dyke lawyers (no doubt about things like Laquan’s alleged “violent” past)—threatening that if she did not come in, she might not be allowed to attend the actual trial.

» While the judge will let the damning video be played at the trial, he is also allowing Van Dyke to use an animated “simulation” of the shooting that reportedly is meant to back up his “self-defense” claim.

» When Van Dyke openly went against the gag order the court imposed on both the defense and the prosecution by giving an interview to the Chicago Tribune, the judge gave him a slap on the wrist: a minor increase in his bail.

And, as has been shown repeatedly in other cases involving cops across the country, the law itself under this system gives the police great leeway in shooting and brutalizing people with impunity in the name of fearing for their own lives.

The High-Level Cover-up—and the Crumbling of the Cover-up

On the day before the trial started, Rahm Emanuel made an unexpected announcement—he will not be running for reelection as mayor. What is behind this move is unclear, but the trial puts the spotlight back on Emanuel’s role in the cover-up of Laquan McDonald’s murder.

Immediately after Van Dyke killed Laquan, the wheels of cover-up-as-usual began to spin. When one of the cops on the scene called in to the dispatcher, the dispatcher asked for information on “the victim.” The cop corrected her—“the offender.” The dispatcher said, “That’s what I meant.” The other cops on the scene all conspired in Van Dyke’s lie that Laquan was “swinging” the small knife he had in his hand in an “aggressive manner,” and that Laquan “continued to advance” toward Van Dyke, who “backpedaled” as he fired his gun. The cops took witnesses who had seen what had actually happened to the station and forced them to change their statements. The lying story about the shooting was fed to the mainstream media, which repeated it dutifully.

Beyond the immediate cover-up by the police, the main institutions of the local “civilian” power swung into action and played their role in protecting the murdering cop and putting up a veil of secrecy around the crime. The video showed indisputably that this was cold-blooded murder. But more than a year went by as the superintendent and other top police, the “independent” police review authority, the state’s attorney, the city council, and Mayor Emanuel all tried to suppress the video.

Emanuel had been a top cog in the Chicago Democratic “machine” and then a high-level White House official under Obama before becoming mayor with Obama’s backing. He and others in the top levels of the power structure were terrified of the outrage and protest that the release of the video of the Laquan murder would touch off, among the most oppressed sections of the people terrorized by the police but also more broadly, in the third largest city in America—a longtime stronghold of the Democrats and Obama’s “home town.” The city of Chicago even reached an out-of-court agreement to pay Laquan McDonald’s family $5 million—in return for a stipulation that the family could not publicly release the video.

But investigative journalist Jamie Kalven and civil rights attorney Craig Futterman learned of the existence of the video from a whistleblower inside law enforcement. Kalven began reporting on it, as well as on the autopsy of Laquan that detailed exactly where each of the 16 bullets hit. The exposures and outrage built to a point where a judge ordered the release of the video. Emanuel had fought to block the release every step of the way. And once it became clear he could not stop it, he summoned ministers and community leaders before the release and threatened them with withdrawal of all funding for their programs and services if anything got out of hand in the neighborhoods. This was met with stony anger. Most refused to play the fireman role, and some actively called for people to be in the streets.

Conflicts Among the Rulers Over Police Reforms

The uproar once the video was released, 400 days after Laquan’s murder, led to a crisis in the halls of power. From the point of view of the rulers of this system, there was a dangerous crack in the “legitimacy” of the police—not only among Black and other oppressed people most affected by police terror and among those who were out in the streets protesting, but among much broader sections of society.

This was not just a “Chicago problem” for the rulers of this system. This was at a time when protests against the outrageous police murder of Michael Brown (shot down with his hands in the air), Eric Garner (choked to death by a gang of pigs in New York for selling loose cigarettes as he repeated “I can’t breathe”), and others were rocking the country. Two months before Laquan’s murder, defiant youths and others took to the streets in Ferguson for days and then weeks, refusing to back down in the face of tear gas, rubber bullets, and the National Guard. The Ferguson rebellion sent a shock wave, waking up millions about the ugly realities of what the police do to Black and other people of color, and inspiring a nationwide struggle for justice long overdue.

It is not hard to imagine that Emanuel either had in mind, or had it “called to his attention,” that were the video of Van Dyke’s outrageous murder of Laquan McDonald to come to light, the flames of protest could well rise much higher. Obama was already on the political defensive for this—after all, here was the “Black president” and what was he presiding over? The murder of Black youths by police... and those same police walking free.

Obama’s Department of Justice (DOJ) pursued “dual tactics” during this period. On the one hand, and most fundamentally, they backed up the local pig departments and generally refused to pursue any federal charges as one after the other of these cops walked free courtesy of the local prosecutors and grand juries. On the other, they moved to both make a show of and to actually attempt to curb some of the most egregious practices by conducting investigations and drawing up consent decrees, in which local pig departments were required to make some reforms, while maintaining the foundation of the whole thing: the role of the police as a repressive force in the Black community and other communities of color. They also attempted at this time to draw some of those who had emerged as activists into pursuing “a seat at the table” within the system itself.

All this got reversed when the Trump/Pence regime assumed power. Consent decrees were shelved and Trump even urged the police to be more brutal in a public speech on Long Island. Trump himself repeatedly threatened to send the “feds” into Chicago during his campaign and after, supposedly to stop the killings among the youth, but in actual fact to serve as a battleground and model to install a much more severely repressive agenda against Black and Latino people in the urban cores, first in Chicago and then everywhere.

This has gone on for a while through struggle over whether Chicago would have a consent decree to reform the police. (See sidebar, “The Chicago Consent Decree: What It Does and Doesn’t Do, and Why It Is Being Fought Over.”) Now this conflict has shifted to the Van Dyke trial itself.

This could be seen when, on the very opening day of the Van Dyke trial, Jeff Sessions sneaked into town to address an annual memorial for cops killed on duty and blamed protesters for hampering police and being responsible for the thousands of deaths from violence among the people. This notorious racist, now the highest law enforcement official in the country, said, “The last thing we need to do is to follow the protestations of anti-police radicals and those who have never walked a beat. If you want crime to go up, listen to the radicals. If you want crime to go down, listen to the professionals—listen to the police. And let me be blunt: This insight has been proven in Baltimore, St. Louis, Chicago. After riots, and violence, and political actions, unwise policies, violence began to surge, as proven, proactive policing faded in these communities. It was a catastrophe, really, for so many neighborhoods. Much blood has been spilled—thousands of unnecessary deaths resulted.”

The fake “concern” from Trump and Sessions about the violence among the people in Chicago is nothing but justification for criminalizing inner city youth and painting them as “savages” and further unleashing the killer police, as part of their overall agenda of clamping down fascist rule. This agenda will further advance if Van Dyke is not convicted of murder. As a statement by the Revolution Club of Chicago says, “If Van Dyke walks free, and the system is able to shove that verdict down the throats of the people, this will be a big green light for straight-up genocide. THIS CANNOT GO DOWN!”

Fighting for a Different Future

As the Van Dyke trial starts, there are different class and social forces in motion and putting out different views of the problem and the solution. For people who seek real justice and fundamental changes, this is important to take note of and understand. Chicago occupies a central place for both camps in the ruling class of this country—those represented by the Trump/Pence regime and by Obama and the Democratic Party. Trump has made draconian threats about cracking down on Chicago a major theme of the overall fascist agenda. The Democratic leadership fears that the Trump/Pence regime’s approach would lead to even more exposures about and opposition to the police and lead to even less “cooperation” with police forces that even someone like Philadelphia’s mayor conceded are seen as an “occupying army” in the ghettos and barrios, but they desperately do not want the masses of people to rise up and act outside the normal channels of this system. They are trying to lead people into putting their energies into voting and other activities within politics as usual, including the upcoming Chicago mayoral election now that Emanuel has opted out of a reelection bid—but this is a deadly trap, not a real solution.

In this situation, it is more imperative than ever for the masses of people to take independent historical action—to do what HOW WE CAN WIN—How We Can Really Make Revolution talks about:

We need to oppose and disrupt the moves of the ruling powers to isolate, “encircle,” brutalize, mass incarcerate and murderously repress the people who have the hardest life under this system and who most need this revolution. We need to “encircle” them—by bringing forth wave upon wave of people rising up in determined opposition to this system.

This is what the Revolution Club is fighting, and leading people, to do: aiming to win everyone with a shred of humanity to stand up against the injustice concentrated in Laquan’s murder and demanding a GUILTY verdict in the trial of the killer cop. And as they do that, bringing forward the fact that ONLY a revolution, a fundamental change requiring the overthrow of this system, can put an end to the oppression of Black people and the other crimes of this system.

This trial will be one shaping factor in the political landscape this fall. It is imperative that revolutionaries everywhere keep their eyes on it and build support very broadly, in every city of the country. The stakes are very high. And one thing is clear:




Dashcam Video of Officer Jason Van Dyke Shooting Laquan McDonald

Police murder Laquan McDonald at 5 minute mark

Why are we still fighting for justice in 2015?

"Why are we still fighting for justice in 2015?" is a clip from the film REVOLUTION AND RELIGION: The Fight for Emancipation and the Role of Religion; A Dialogue Between CORNEL WEST & BOB AVAKIAN. The film is of the November 2014 historic Dialogue on a question of great importance in today's world between the Revolutionary Christian Cornel West and the Revolutionary Communist Bob Avakian. Watch the entire film here.

Chicago Pigs: A Very Long History of Wanton Murder, Brutality, and Torture

The Chicago police have a long and horrific history of shooting and outright murdering people and doing so with complete impunity. Here’s just some of that history.

In 1969, Black Panthers Fred Hampton, 21, and Mark Clark, 22, were murdered in cold blood by a special operations team of 14 Chicago police. The pigs stormed into the apartment, directed by Cook County Prosecutor Edward Hanrahan and acting in close coordination with the FBI Counter Intelligence Program (COINTELPRO). Using a floor plan provided by an informant, the police shot anyone they saw and sprayed the apartment with machine gun fire. The cops’ lie of a gun battle was exposed when ballistics experts determined that only one of the bullets fired came from the Panthers’ side.

In 2015, the Guardian revealed horrific details of the Homan Square detention center—a secret interrogation warehouse where Chicago pigs “disappeared” 7,000 people, 6,000 of whom were Black. Only 68 were allowed access to a lawyer. People were tortured, some forced to make false confessions. Many disappeared for days, and lawyers and families could not find where they had been taken. The parallels to Guantánamo and CIA secret torture chambers around the world jump out. David Gaeger, a Chicago lawyer who had a client who was taken to Homan Square in 2011 after a marijuana bust, called it a “near-paramilitary wing of the government.”

Before this, there was Jon Burge, a Chicago pig commander who for over 20 years, starting in 1972, tortured people in custody. He and others tortured more than 100 Black men to force confessions and get people to incriminate co-defendants. The torture included beating with fists, clubs, and other objects; electric shock to the genitals with cattle prods and hand-cranked generators; suffocation with plastic bags; mock executions; Russian roulette; burning with a hot radiator; deprivation of sleep, food, and toilet facilities. Thirteen victims of this torture ended up on death row as a result of false confessions after the torture. Burge was protected from prosecution until the statute of limitations ran out—and then only did minor time for perjury—and other cops involved in the torture remained on the force.

The Chicago Tribune compiled a database of every time a Chicago cop fired a weapon from 2010 to 2015 and found that, on average, a Chicago cop fired a gun at someone every five days. In six years, there were 435 shootings, more than 2,620 bullets fired, with pigs killing 92 people and wounding 170 others. About four out of every five people shot by police were African-American men.

A government report obtained by the Invisible Institute showed that between late January 2004 and April 2016, there were more than 67,000 reports of use of force by Chicago cops. In addition to shootings, there were thousands of other uses of force involving an average of 10 people every day—where cops tackled, tased, or used other types of force on people, nearly 90 percent of whom were people of color. Young Black men were about 14 times more likely to experience a CPD use of force than young white men. And these numbers undoubtedly underestimate the instances of brutality because cops underreport or hide the uses of force against people.


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