In the spirit of the season, my original plan for this week was to present a column that was light-hearted and uplifting, but my spirit of festiveness was overcome by the events of the past week.
We’ve been given no room for a casual, much less festive, reflection at this time.
Dead on the streets
I learned more about Laquan McDonald. Unfortunately, he was among the ever-growing list of young Black people who’ve been assassinated on the streets of this nation for no good reason. I can only surmise that my reaction was like millions of others who asked the question, “When will this legally sanctioned murder and brutality end?”
For those who reject the thorough scrutiny of current events because of the never-ending surge of mayhem and murder, Laquan was a 17 year-old Black male. More than a year ago, he was shot 16 times and died from his wounds. At the time of his death, he was a ward of the state. Like many of his contemporaries, he lived a rough life navigating the cruel streets of Chicago.
The official Chicago Police Department statement regarding his shooting and death was that Laquan lunged at police with a knife and was shot once in the chest and died. Even at the time of his death, eyewitness reports contradicted the official police version, but, as is usually the case, police statements trumped those reports.
However, last week the ship of truth sailed out of stormy weather. A judicial order forced the police dashcam videos to be released to the public showing the truth of the matter.
Laquan was shot 16 times while walking away from police. This hail of bullets came from the firearm of a single officer, Jason Van Dyke. Based upon the video, Laquan never acted in a threatening manner toward any of the police on the scene. It was a clear case of murder.
I’ve heard Whites and Blacks alike try to minimize the significance of this murder by questioning the lack of indignation when Blacks murder Blacks. This is a false equivalence. Anyone who’s grown up in the midst of urban violence has learned by experience to calculate the odds of becoming a victim of violence. Contrary to this understanding, the expectation for encounters with law enforcement is for reasonable action and justice to prevail.
Conventional thinking does not support a belief that police are allowed to shoot someone 16 times for an act that, at its worst, could be called “brandishing a weapon,” but more likely a minor peace disturbance. It is my belief that we have once again seen the demonstration of the complete devaluation of a Black life by a police officer.
Given what was seen on the video, Van Dyke made the conscious determination that Laquan McDonald’s actions had breached societal good order to the extent that he no longer had or deserved the right to live. Or maybe Laquan’s Blackness was so offensive to this officer, that he felt justified in exterminating this offensive creature!
Clearly, Van Dyke did not exercise the judgment or professional discretion that is commonly taught in modern police academies. His “malicious remedy” to the problem he saw in Mr. McDonald is the basis for the appeal that “Black Lives Matter.” If for no other reason than to have police officers re-consider their own real attitudes toward people of color, we must not waiver in our demand that people acknowledge that Black Lives DO Matter!
Dr. E. Faye Williams is national chair of the National Congress of Black Women, Inc. Contact her via www.nationalcongressbw.org.