by Tom Nolan, Associate Professor of Criminology, Merrimack College; 27-year veteran of the Boston Police Department
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel has fired Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy in the aftermath of the release of graphic and disturbing dash cam video footage showing Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke shooting 17-year-old Laquan McDonald 16 times on October 20, 2014, 14 of those shots being fired into McDonald's body as he lay dying on the ground. The teenager was allegedly armed with a three-inch folding knife, with the blade reportedly folded into the knife. A "bad shoot" is what cops call it, and this was a particularly bad shoot. The mayor’s abrupt about face in his backing of McCarthy’s handling of the investigation of the shooting and the decision to stonewall the public release of the publicly owned video footage of the shooting death of McDonald surprised few. McCarthy’s hold on the superintendent’s position grew more tenuous by the hour as public disgust and outrage over the callous and gruesome execution of the teenager went viral.
The decision to fire McCarthy cited a lack of confidence in the leadership of the Chicago Police Department (CPD), confidence that had waned and then fell like a stone once protesters took to the streets of Chicago. Emanuel had praised McCarthy as “an excellent leader” throughout his tenure, but saw him as a “distraction” who had to go. Queue the usual suspects: McCarthy’s deputy will lead the department until a permanent replacement can be found and the “Task Force for Police Accountability” has been assembled, with former Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick on board as a “senior advisor.” Don’t hold your breath waiting for results that implicate any official in wrongdoing (other than Jason Van Dyke).
This is an all too predictable outcome to a series of extremely ill-advised decisions that were made by some very high-ranking officials of the administration of Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the Chicago Police Department that began on October 20, 2014 and that could arguably rise to the level of criminal culpability. Questions arise as to who was making what decisions regarding the release of the dash cam video footage. Who directed Chicago police officers to go to the nearby Burger King and delete 86 minutes of likely relevant video footage from the restaurant’s surveillance cameras?
What we are not seeing in this unfolding scandal, following a series of unquestionably stupid blunders on the part of senior law enforcement and city officials, is anything remotely resembling accountability in a situation that demands nothing if not responsibility and accountability from those public officials who thought that it was a justifiable and prudent idea to withhold relevant information from the public, especially the particularly damning video footage, a public rightfully suspicious and skeptical of the police narrative regarding the “hyper killing” of an arguably unarmed teenager by a Chicago police officer.