Letter from the US: Turmoil in Chicago after new cop killing exposed

Protests against police killings in Chicago, November 25.

Across the country, police murders of Black people continue apace — as do prosecutors' failure to charge the killers, getting hung juries at best.

Protests also continue. Some of the most sustained and large protests are taking place in Chicago, starting late last year. These have led to a crisis in the city's police department and the Democratic Party city government, threatening to topple Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

Emanuel, an ardent Zionist who holds dual citizenship with Israel, was Barack Obama's Chief of Staff in the president's first term. He then moved to Chicago where he was elected mayor, hoping to launch a national political career.

The current case provoking the protests is the murder of African American teenager Laquan McDonald by officer Jason Van Dyke in October 2014. At the time, the official police version was that McDonald lunged at the cop with a knife and the officer shot in self-defence.

There was damaging video footage of the murder that challenged the police version from a security camera at a nearby Burger King. According to the manager, police showed up and ordered him to delete the video.

There were three witnesses to the murder. Police interrogated them for hours, threatening them and demanding they recant. When the witnesses refused to change their account, the cops fabricated eyewitness accounts in line with their lies.

There was also a video of the killing taken from the police car's dashboard.

Records recently obtained by Chicago NBC show that Emanuel's office knew about the video by December 2014 at the latest. Emanuel was part of the cover-up from the start, with the cops and City Hall doing all they could to prevent the video's release.

In April, the city administration made a settlement with McDonald's family to pay them $5 million in damages for Laquan's murder, a virtual admission of guilt, but with the stipulation that the video remain secret.

Then an independent journalist filed suit to force the release of the police car video to the public. Emanuel's lawyers and the Cook County prosecutors went to court to oppose the suit.

Finally, in late November, the judge ordered the video to be released, and it was shown on national TV. The police story was proven to be a deliberate fabrication.

McDonald is shown many metres away from the police and walking away from them, not lunging at them. Van Dyke, who had just arrived at the scene, is shown getting out of his car and six seconds later starts firing at McDonald.

McDonald is seen being hit by the first two bullets, spun around and crumpling to the ground. Van Dyke fires 14 more shots, each one causing the dead body to jerk from the impact.

The three eyewitnesses came forward with their stories, since the video absolutely corroborated their suppressed evidence.

The Black community and many others, led by Black Lives Matter, exploded in mass protest. Trying to save face, prosecutors immediately charged Van Dyke with murder. Whether he will be let off by a hung jury remains to be seen.

Emanuel has sought to deflect blame, firing the chief of police and the head of the Police Review Authority. This has fooled nobody and protesters are demanding the resignation of Emanuel and the city council.

The Police Review Authority has reviewed more than 400 police shootings since it was created in 2007. It completely exonerated the cops in all but two cases.

Then in the midst of the protests, there was a new police atrocity in Chicago. On December 26, two unarmed African Americans were killed by police. The father had called police to report that his son, 19-year-old college student Quintonio LaGrier, was behaving oddly.

When the police arrived, they first shot and killed a downstairs neighbour, Bettie Jones, a 55-year-old mother of five and activist in Action Now, a grassroots organisation. Apparently the officers thought she was in the way and they eliminated her as collateral damage before they moved on to murder Quintonio. Instead of dealing reasonably with the youth who was clearly having mental problems, they shot him seven times.

Quintonio's mother, Janet Cooksey, spoke of her grief: “Seven times my son was shot. No mother should have to bury her child. You call for help, the police are supposed to serve us and protect us, and yet they take the lives.

“What's wrong with that picture? It's a badge to kill? I mean, where do we get our help?”

Jones' cousin, Evelyn Jennings, challenged Emanuel: “You meet me at City Hall. I want my cousin's death avenged. You killed her in cold blood.

“Emanuel, call your boys. Chicago police belong to you. Now, you vigilante, you've been sending the Chicago police out to kill, to do nothing but kill. Get 'serve and protect' off of them [police] cars and write 'We kill,' because that's your mission, you lying demon.”

The anger expressed in the protests has been building for decades. Chicago is the most segregated city in the US — and that is saying a lot, given that the country is more segregated today than in the mid-1970s.

A major scandal erupted last year when it was revealed that scores of Black men had been convicted on the basis of false confessions as a result of brutal torture at a secret detention site in Chicago's Homan Square. Many of those convictions have been reversed. Prisoners were held and interrogated without being allowed legal counsel. This has taken place under Emanuel's watch.

The protesters are demanding Homan be shut down.

Emanuel has also continued policies that have resulted in vast income inequity for Blacks, job and housing discrimination, lack of access to food and inferior schools and health care.

He followed in the footsteps of former mayor Arne Duncan, who began the attack on public education in Chicago. Duncan then moved to Washington and was Obama's education secretary charged with attacking public education nationally. Since Emanuel took office, he ordered the largest closing of public schools in US history, primarily in Latino and Black neighbourhoods.

His handpicked schools chief recently pleaded guilty to federal corruption charges. The Chicago Housing Authority is a wreck.

Emanuel also shut down half of the city's mental health clinics, including several in high crime areas. This is the background to how police respond to issues of people with mental problems, such as LeGrier.

The attempt to silence the McDonald family with a payoff is not an isolated incident. In the past decade Chicago has paid half a billion dollars to families of victims of police killings and brutality to cover up the police crimes. All this while Emanuel pleads poverty as a reason to cut back social programs and education, and raise taxes on residents.

No wonder Emanuel's approval ratings have fallen to 18% — and we can only applaud if he is removed. But the deeper problem of institutional racism remains. Black Lives Matter protests will continue.

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