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The blue wall of silence came up for the cop who killed Laquan McDonald


What you’ll read today

  • Spotlight: The blue wall of silence came up for the cop who killed Laquan McDonald

  • The Appeal Podcast Episode 17: The cruelty of felony murder laws

  • An Alabama prosecutor locked up four teens for a murder they didn’t commit. Now he’s trying two more.

  • San Francisco police sued over undercover drug arrests that targeted Black people

  • Jail staff videotaped and mocked a man dying of an overdose in a cell

  • Federal juvenile justice agency seems to no longer want children to be healthy or educated

  • What we can learn from how a flawed study hurt the movement for safe consumption sites

In the Spotlight

The blue wall of silence came up for the cop who killed Laquan McDonald

“16 shots and a cover up.” In 2014, Jason Van Dyke, a white Chicago police officer, fatally shot Laquan McDonald, a Black teenager. A police dashboard camera video—released 13 months after Laquan’s death and only after a court order—showed Laquan walking away when Van Dyke fired, contradicting what police had said happened. It also showed the 17-year-old falling to the ground after the first shots and Van Dyke continuing to shoot him. Now, nearly four years after Laquan’s killing, Van Dyke is on trial for first-degree murder. After 10 days of testimony, the jury began deliberating yesterday. [Jason Meisner, Megan Crepeau, and Stacy St. Clair / Chicago Tribune]

The video footage was crucial for arguing Van Dyke’s guilt, with prosecutors returning to it repeatedly in making their case. Their reliance on it underscored the gravity of what Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the police department did in keeping the video from the public, well into 2015. Eventually, 400 days after Laquan died, a judge ordered the city to release it. It contradicted the official narrative of Laquan and Van Dyke’s actions and confirmed the suspicion of many: that a white police officer had killed a Black teenager who posed no threat to him and the city’s response had been to cover it up. What followed was a cascade of events that including the firing of the police superintendent, the election loss of the Cook County district attorney, and, on the eve of opening statements in Van Dyke’s trial, an announcement by Emanuel that he will not seek re-election this fall. [Mitch Smith, Timothy Williams, and Monica Davey / New York Times]

Van Dyke was alone in firing the shots that killed Laquan McDonald, but the machinery of the police department came together to protect him. This included three of his fellow officers allegedly creating false reports about Laquan’s behavior before Van Dyke shot him and coordinating to make sure that witnesses who would have contradicted the police account were not interviewed. The officers were eventually indicted in 2017 on charges of felony conspiracy, official misconduct, and obstruction of justice. [Monica Davey and Mitch Smith / New York Times] Given the long odds on a Chicago police officer actually being convicted at trial for a fatal shooting, some believed the best hope for accountability lay with the conspiracy prosecution. [Alan Pyke / Think Progress]

Yesterday new revelations emerged about the cover up. In response to a lawsuit by media organizations, Cook County Judge Domenica Stephens ordered the release of the prosecution’s outline of its case against Van Dyke’s fellow officers. The outline discusses the actions of several other unnamed officers at the scene and officers involved in the subsequent investigation who allegedly sought to protect Van Dyke. One unnamed sergeant—the supervisor of one of the three officers who have been charged—speaking about Van Dyke, said in an email to a lieutenant involved in the case, “We should be applauding him, not second guessing him.” [Andy Grimm and Sam Charles / Chicago Sun-Times]

Shortly after Laquan was killed, Van Dyke and other officers met at police headquarters and spoke with detectives “all in the same room, just talking [about] what happened,” one of the officers testified before a grand jury. They were not separated and were not interviewed individually. In the unsealed document, the prosecutor describes the meeting as “an attempt to conceal the true facts of the events surrounding the killing of Laquan McDonald.” [Andy Grimm and Sam Charles / Chicago Sun-Times]

The document also shows how statements by officers trying to cover up for Van Dyke were adopted, uncritically, by other investigative agencies. One officer allegedly told an investigator at the medical examiner’s office that Laquan “lunged at the officers with a knife” and the medical examiner’s office let that assertion appear, unchallenged, in its case report. [Andy Grimm and Sam Charles / Chicago Sun-Times]

Last year, soon after charges were announced against the three officers, an article in ThinkProgress looked at how the prosecution of Van Dyke and the prosecution of his fellow officers could be seen as representing two models of accountability. Even if convicted, Van Dyke could be explained as an officer whose actions are not representative of a broader problem. The prosecution of the fellow officers on conspiracy charges, on the other hand, represent a strike at what one researcher described as a “saturation of corruption.” [Alan Pyke / ThinkProgress]

Craig Futterman, a policing expert at the University of Chicago, told Think Progress that, “It’s difficult to weight these things against each other. Both are historic.” But he described the code of silence as “nothing short of criminal, but it’s never been challenged as such.” He continued: “If we care about addressing that code of silence that has allowed so many officers to hurt so many people without fear of punishment, this matters. And it also matters if we care about ending the rash of police killings of young black men in Chicago.” [Alan Pyke / ThinkProgress]

Organizers of courthouse demonstrations at the start of Van Dyke’s trial last month told In These Times why the work of bringing accountability to the police extended beyond the trial: “What makes Chicago the epicenter of the fight against police violence isn’t just the murder of Laquan,” an organizer for the Civilian Police Accountability Council said. “There’s nothing exceptional or extraordinary about police killing black people. What happened in this one case was the exposure of the entire system. We’re not saying that this murder is unique. They were doing what they normally do, but this time they got caught.” [David North / In These Times]

Stories From The Appeal

Illustration by Simone Noronha

The Appeal Podcast Episode 17: The Cruelty of Felony Murder Laws. Appeal contributor Katie Rose Quandt joins Adam to discusses why felony murder laws are unjust and how activists are pushing back against this uniquely American brand of cruel and unusual punishment. [Adam H. Johnson]

An Alabama Prosecutor Locked Up 4 Teens for a Murder They Didn’t Commit. Now He’s Trying 2 More. Two teenagers are facing life without parole sentences for capital murder, though it’s not clear they pulled the trigger. [George Joseph]

Stories From Around the Country

San Francisco police sued over undercover drug arrests that targeted Black people: The ACLU is suing the San Francisco Police Department over a string of undercover police drug buys from 2013 to 2015 that resulted in 37 arrests, all of Black people, in a city where only 6 percent of the population is Black. The lawsuit alleges that the police targeted Black people for arrest and cites a “history of racially discriminatory law enforcement” that “is well documented and still inadequately addressed.” The arrests, in the Tenderloin neighborhood, were part of a joint operation by city plainclothes officers and federal drug agents carried out under a federal law that enhances penalties for drug sales in school zones. Charges for 12 of the 37 people arrested were dropped in 2016 after a federal judge found “substantial evidence of racially selective enforcement” in their arrests. [Bob Egelko / San Francisco Chronicle]

Jail staff videotaped and mocked a man dying of an overdose in a cell: Within hours of being brought to jail in Oregon on a probation violation in 2016, Brian Perry had to be rushed to a hospital, where he ultimately died from an overdose. Before he was taken to the hospital, three sheriff’s deputies recorded him on cell phones as he flailed in his padded jail cell. One deputy was recorded saying, “Look what I got for show-and-tell today.” The sheriff of Clackamas County released the two cell phone videos this week after Perry’s mother and his estate filed a wrongful death lawsuit alleging the county deputies and staff from the jail’s medical contractor violated Perry’s civil rights by failing to properly screen him, get him prompt medical attention, adequately check on him or send him to a hospital. [Maxine Bernstein / The Oregonian]

Federal juvenile justice agency seems to no longer want children to be healthy or educated: The open-information group Sunlight Foundation noticed a number of changes to the website of the federal Office of Juvenile Justice Delinquency and Prevention. A sentence in the vision statement that previously called for children to be “healthy, educated, and free from violence” was changed to “free from crime and violence.” Guidance on the website that urged states to stop putting children into solitary confinement, avoid incarcerating girls, and address the disproportionate impact of courts and prisons on youth of color was all removed. The changes are consistent with more punitive messaging from the agency under the Trump administration. The new head of the agency said in an interview in March that the youth justice system had “drifted a bit to a focus on avoiding arrests at all costs and therapeutic intervention. It went a little too far to the side of providing services without thinking of short-term safety.” [Ed Pilkington / The Guardian]

What we can learn from how a flawed study hurt the movement for safe consumption sites: A policy manager at the Drug Policy Alliance writes about how a recently-retracted study that cast doubt on the health benefits of safe consumption spaces was used to argue against the opening of such sites in California and elsewhere and provided fodder to skeptics and critics. The harm done to the movement for safe consumption spaces in the United States by the study and the coverage it originally received is a reminder that “[w]hen a new study comes out and purports to add to our understanding of a controversial topic…” the policy manager, Sheila P. Vakharia, writes, “it is our responsibility to pause to ask ourselves some vital questions.” These include questions about the study’s methodology and analysis, the author’s expertise and possible conflicts of interest, and the identity of funders. Though “[t]he retraction came, and that matters,” she writes,“ a retraction never receives the same kind of attention as the original study.” [Sheila P. Vakharia / Filter]

Thanks for reading. Have a great weekend.

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