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Journalist Exposes Chicago PD…Why Weren’t They Exposed Sooner?

by on December 25, 2015

On October 20, 2014, Laquan McDonald was shot to death in Chicago by a single bullet to the chest by Chicago Police officer Jason Van Dyke. At least that’s what those in power in Chicago wanted people to believe. The Chicago Police Department had the following to say in the wake of the shooting:

“Uniformed officers confronted the armed offender who refused to comply with orders to drop the knife and continued to approach the officers. As a result of this action, the officer discharged his weapon striking the offender.” Based on a recent New York Times report, at the crime scene a chicago police union spokesman spoke to the media, saying McDonald was “a very serious threat,” who was “coming at the officer” and left him “no choice at that point but to defend” himself.

The statement released by the Chicago Police Department reflects a major corruption in the criminal justice system. Based on the police’s statement alone, there lies little issue. It’s the circumstances that raise suspicion. It’s certainly somewhat conspicuous how there were no audio, videos, or even testimonies from witnesses released.

In addition, all eight witnesses were police officers. A principle role of journalists as storytellers is to give both sides of the story. There was no separate side of the story, simply the police force’s.

With McDonald dead and seemingly nobody to tell his story, it was a whistleblower who spoke to journalist Jamie Kalven in 2014 and gave him tips that there was more to the story than initially suspected.

At that point, Kalven demanded the video be released, to no avail. In February 2014, Kalven obtained a copy of McDonald’s autopsy, which revealed he had been shot 16 times.

It’s hardly investigative reporting to confirm how someone died. In addition, it’s relatively easy to get a hold of an autopsy. According to Cook County’s (the county Chicago is located in) procedure on attaining autopsies, all it takes is 50 dollars and your relationship to the decedent as part of a request.

The Chicago police denied 15 requests based on the Freedom Of Information Act asking for the video’s release. The final one was submitted by independent journalist Brandon Smith. Taking further action, Smith filed a lawsuit and would win his case, with the judge ruling that Chicago PD must release the video.

The video exposed the Chicago police for framing the entire incident, between completely falsifying details of the incident and maintaining their false narrative for over a year. The video shows McDonald attempting to walk past the police, and not towards them in any sort of endangering way.  If the autopsy hadn’t already, the video served as a major turning point, with public outrage and an investigation immediately being initiated as a result. Officer Van Dyke was sentenced to life for First-Degree Murder.

While the ending result of this case raises some important questions for Chicago’s justice system, it raises many questions for journalists as well. Why did it take a whistleblower and months to pass by for anyone to try and hold the police accountable? Why wasn’t the Freedom Of Information Act utilized sooner? Why didn’t anyone request for the autopsy sooner? The fact that such a high number of shootings regularly occur in downtown Chicago is not a viable excuse for journalists to shy away from such sensitive stories.

This insightful story taught me how even when it seems all the ‘details’ are pointing to a dead end and nothing further to report, it’s still worth digging deeper. At the least, some fact-checking wouldn’t hurt. Especially when the subject at hand has a poor, unscrupulous reputation.

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