City of Chicago prepares crackdown on protests in advance of release of police murder video

Democratic Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration is readying the city’s police force ahead of planned demonstrations against police violence in the wake of the release of a video showing a Chicago Police Department (CPD) officer murdering African-American youth Laquan McDonald last year.

On November 19, Cook County Judge Franklin Valderrama ruled in favor of the release of dash camera video depicting the murder of the 17-year-old by police officer Jason Van Dyke. The deadline for the video’s release is this Wednesday, November 25.

The video had been suppressed by the city for more than a year. Freelance journalist Brandon Smith sued CPD after it denied his request for the video under the Freedom of Information Act.

Some reform groups and religious leaders are reportedly planning protests in response to the video, but no specific details have yet been reported.

The Emanuel administration, however, is busily preparing to crack down on any demonstrations. A representative spoke to the Sun-Times about the CPD’s preparations: “The department is prepared to respond to any demonstrations and will hold people accountable if they cross the line. We might use the same tactics that were used during the NATO demonstrations.”

During the NATO demonstrations, Chicago police beat and injured at least 25 people including journalists, arrested 93 and detained numerous others. CPD was also revealed to have infiltrated anti-war activist groups. Three young men are serving multi-year sentences in federal prison after being brought up on domestic terrorism charges as a consequence of police infiltration and a subsequent frame-up. (See: Chicago police frame anti-war activists on “terrorism” charges)

Some months ahead of the 2012 NATO summit in Chicago, a series of anti-protest laws were enacted, allowing the CPD to deputize and deploy officers from state and federal agencies, doubling fines for resisting arrest and aiding escape from police, cutting the duration of demonstration permits and placing legal limits on access to public parks. The Emanuel administration was subsequently congratulated by President Barack Obama on its handling of the summit.

In an effort to quell public anger and shore up faith in the legal order, Rev. Jesse Jackson appeared at a weekend press conference with former state prosecutor Kim Foxx. There he called for the ouster of State Attorney Anita Alvarez. Foxx is opposing Alvarez in the upcoming race to head the Cook County State Attorney’s office. Jackson criticized Alvarez for not bringing charges against Van Dyke and defending McDonald’s murder as “justifiable homicide.”

Jackson’s organization Rainbow PUSH specializes in “corporate inclusion,” pressuring corporations and government agencies to place African-Americans in positions of power. An African-American state’s attorney of course would do nothing to change the character of the state or the violence it requires to maintain the enormous social inequality in the city of Chicago.

According to official reports, on October 20, 2014, 17-year-old Laquan McDonald was shot 16 times by Van Dyke on the southwest side of the city. The CPD claims officers had followed the young man for half a mile after he was seen breaking into trucks in a truck yard with a pocket knife. Officers claim they had called for backup and Tasers, and were using their cruisers to corral McDonald, who was acting erratically. Shortly after arriving to the scene, Van Dyke fired a semi-automatic firearm at the teen. The police claim the youth “lunged” at the six officers.

Witness reports conflicted with the police story. Alma Benitez told CBS Chicago, “They didn’t need to shoot him. They didn’t. They basically had him face-to-face. There was no purpose why they had to shoot him.”

The video is reported to confirm that the young man was holding a small knife and was walking away from officers when he was shot. McDonald was later reported to have had PCP in his system.

A grand jury is expected to decide next week whether Van Dyke will be indicted for McDonald’s murder.

In April of this year, the Chicago City Council unanimously approved a $5 million settlement to McDonald’s family, an offer made on the urging of city attorneys. The settlement was awarded before any lawsuit against the police was filed.

The McDonald family’s attorney Jeff Neslund, a former prosecutor, secured the unusually large settlement. Neslund told the Chicago Tribune, “It shocks the conscience. The video was disturbing. It was described accurately by one of the witnesses as an execution. He was on the ground, and the police officer kept shooting.”

According to the Chicago Independent Police Review Authority, there have been 16 shootings involving CPD officers this year. The Guardian reports a total of 20 people have been killed by police in the state of Illinois in 2015.