For years, State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez has been called one of the worst prosecutors in the country. That she charged Jason Van Dyke with murder for the killing of Laquan McDonald seems to some to be political calculation.
Those people note that she knew about the shooting a year ago and had access to the video footage for a long time. The Chicago Tribune reported, “Alvarez said she has never seen anything like the video in her three decades in law enforcement. She called the video ‘graphic,’ ‘violent’ and ‘chilling’ and said that it ‘no doubt will tear at the hearts of all Chicagoans.'”
However, critics are quick to note that Ms. Alvarez failed to charge Officer Van Dyke last October. She waited 13 months until the judge ruled that the dashboard camera footage would be publicly released before charging the officer with murder.
Ms. Alvarez publicly claims that she was waiting until the investigations were completed, but many critics believe otherwise.
“There are an average of 50 police shootings of civilians every year in Chicago, and no one is ever charged,” said Craig Futterman, one of the attorneys who investigated the story, to the Chicago Reporter. “Without the video, this would have been just one more of 50 such incidents, where the police blotter defines the narrative and nothing changes.”
Alderman Roderick Sawyer, the chairman of the City Council’s Black Caucus, last Tuesday questioned why it took Ms. Alvarez 13 months to charge the police officer.
“It’s politically motivated that you decide to do it at this time when you have generously had 10 months — I won’t even go back to the full 13 months — to make a determination to file charges and didn’t. Oftentimes, it takes days to make these types of determinations,” when there’s an incriminating video of Van Dyke firing 16 shots into McDonald’s body, Mr. Sawyer said.
He added, “The burden lies with the state’s attorney’s office on why this was held as long as it has. Maybe the dual state and federal investigation delayed it. But there is no legitimate reason why it was stalled.”
Ms. Alvarez’s office shot back, claiming police-involved shootings trigger “long, meticulous and thorough” investigations that typically take between 10 and 20 months to complete.
“We’ve had an ongoing investigation with the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s office since very shortly after the shooting occurred. We’ve been working diligently with our federal partners on the complex investigation. It was our intention to announce the decision to bring the charges with the U.S. Attorney’s office. But, that was not possible. Their investigation is still going on,” said Sally Daly, a spokeswoman for the state’s attorney’s office.
She added, “The court’s decision to release this video has changed the timing of this announcement but it did not dictate the decision to bring charges. With the video going public, the state’s attorney felt it was in the interest of public safety to make this announcement.”
But Curtis Black from the Chicago Reporter notes, “It was just about a year ago that a city whistleblower came to journalist Jamie Kalven and attorney Craig Futterman out of concern that Laquan McDonald’s shooting a few weeks earlier ‘wasn’t being vigorously investigated,’ as Kalven recalls.”
The source told them “that there was a video and that it was horrific,” he said.
The Reporter notes, “Without that whistleblower—and without that video—it’s highly unlikely that Chicago Police officer Jason Van Dyke would be facing first-degree murder charges today.”
“When it was first reported it was a typical police shooting story,” Jamie Kalven said, where police claim self-defense and announce an investigation, and “at that point the story disappears.” And, typically, a year or 18 months later, the Independent Police Review Authority confirms the self-defense claim, and “by then no one remembers the initial incident.”
“The real issue here is, this terrible thing happened, how did our governmental institutions respond?” Mr. Kalven said. “And from everything we’ve learned, compulsively at every level, from the cops on the scene to the highest levels of government, they responded by circling the wagons and by fabricating a narrative that they knew was completely false.” To him this response is “part of a systemic problem” and preserves “the underlying conditions that allow abuse and shield abuse.”
—David M. Greenwald reporting