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November 25, 2015

Chicago police officer charged with first-degree murder of black teenager

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A seventeen-year-old black teenager was shot 16 times by a white police officer in October of last year for allegedly puncturing a police car’s tire with a folding knife.

A court order last week required the city to release the dashboard video of Officer Jason Van Dyke  shooting Laquan McDonald by this week. Van Dyke was charged with first-degree murder Tuesday shortly before the video’s release.

Chicago district attorney Anita Alvarez said Van Dyke demonstrated an inappropriate use of deadly force and that he continued to shoot McDonald even after he lay on the ground. McDonald posed no immediate threat of great bodily harm by that point, Alvarez said.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel said Van Dyke’s actions violated the public’s trust.

“This officer didn’t uphold the law. He took the law into his own hand,” he said.

However, Van Dyke’s attorney Daniel Herbert said politicians’ comments about his client are irresponsible and prejudicial.

Chicago police have a history of poor relations with the city’s black community, according to Georgetown University Law Professor Paul Butler. The city has paid over $500 million in the last 10 years to settle police brutality cases, but a Chicago police officer has not been charged with murder in 50 years, Butler said.

“We have to wonder, if there wasn’t this video of this case, whether there would be this sustained attention to this issue in Chicago,” Butler said.


Vocab

court order — a direction issued by a court or a judge requiring a person or organization to do or not do something

deadly force — for police officers, the degree to which they can act to stop a subject if they believe their life or the life of others are endangered

Warm up questions
  1. When are police officers allowed to use “deadly force”?
  2. Why do some police departments require their officers to wear body cameras?
  3. What is the responsibility of the police when officer-related shootings occur?
Critical thinking questions
  1. If the shooting of Laquan McDonald happened over a year ago, why was Officer Jason Van Dyke just now charged with his murder?
  2. How should the city of Chicago respond to renewed tensions between members of the black community and police after this incident?
  3. Whose responsibility is it to ensure all members of society feel like they are treated equally?
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