The Justice Department will investigate the Chicago Police Department after the death of Laquan McDonald at the hands of police, Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced Monday morning.
Officer Jason Van Dyke has been charged with first degree murder in the shooting death of the 17-year-old, which occurred in October of last year. A video of the event released last month shows McDonald moving away from police as they fatally shoot him 16 times in the middle of the road. Authorities said McDonald had taken PCP and was carrying a pocket knife. (WATCH THE VIDEO: Justice Department Opens Investigation Into Chicago PD)
The video quickly drew national outrage, leading to the firing of the police superintendent and calls for Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s resignation since the shooting happened over a year ago but charges are only now being brought against an officer. Emanuel, a former aide to President Obama, also fought to keep the video hidden from the public and has dismissed calls for his resignation. He originally criticized the idea of an investigation, but quickly changed his tune the next day. Now he says it’s a good idea.
Cook County’s chief prosecutor, Anita Alvarez, admitted that the timing of the charges against the officer involved were to make the shooting less of a scandal. They wanted to at least be able to say the officer was being charged so as to stymie outrage after people saw the video.
“With release of this video it’s really important for public safety that the citizens of Chicago know that this officer is being held responsible for his actions,” she told Reuters in November.
Chicago police already have a questionable reputation. A Guardian investigation exposed in February that Chicago police had the equivalent of a domestic black site where they allegedly tortured detainees who they often held illegally and kept from legal counsel. That combined with the growing momentum of the Black Lives Matter movement and a federal investigation ensures that this case will not quickly be put away.
A Justice Department investigation does not guarantee any criminal convictions or disciplinary action. The DOJ investigated the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, but never brought any charges against officer Darren Wilson. The DOJ did find racist police practices in the department, though, and forced them into a series of corrective measures.
“I welcome the engagement of the Justice Department,” Emanuel told reporters Thursday. “We have a long road ahead of us as a city, and I welcome people from many views to help us do what exactly we need to do.”
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