By Fiona Ortiz
CHICAGO – Chicago city officials, police and community activists were carefully planning on Friday for release in the coming days of a video of an October 2014 fatal police shooting of a black teenager that is said to be graphic and disturbing.
Community outreach, communications and legal strategy were being planned to try to prevent violent protests when the video is released, according to lawyers, activists and officials.
Freelance journalist Brandon Smith sued the police after they denied his request for the video under the Illinois Freedom of Information Act, and a judge decided in Smith’s favor on Thursday, giving the city until Nov. 25 to release it.
Officials declined on Friday to say exactly when they would make the video public.
Laquan McDonald, 17, was hit 16 times during the Oct. 20 shooting; some shots were in his back. Police have said he had threatened them with a knife and slashed at the tires and windshield of a patrol car. The video from a patrol car dashboard camera shows him moving away from police at the time he was shot, according to a lawyer for McDonald’s mother, who has seen the video.
Although police shootings are a frequent occurrence in Chicago, the city has not seen protests and civil unrest on the scale that other U.S. cities have experienced in the past year and a half over fatal police shootings of black men.
Police said they were planning for possible protests and would strive to keep them peaceful.
“As you have seen over the past few years, the Chicago Police Department works tirelessly to protect people’s first amendment rights and residents of Chicago have exercised those rights in a peaceful way,” police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said in a statement.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel said on Thursday that it appeared the police officer in the case had violated public trust and pushed prosecutors to conclude their investigation.
If there is an indictment against the officer, it is not clear if it would come from the State’s Attorney or federal prosecutors since a federal grand jury is also looking at the case.
The officer, Jason Van Dyke, is white and has been assigned to desk duty during the investigation.
From 2008 to 2014 Chicago had an average of 50 fatal and non-fatal police shootings a year, more than bigger cities like New York and Los Angeles. Almost all of the Chicago shootings were found to be justified.
Since the late 1990s two police officers were indicted in fatal shootings, but both of those cases involved off-duty incidents.
Jeffrey Neslund, a lawyer for McDonald’s mother Tina Hunter, said he expected the city would announce an indictment before releasing the video.
“There’s going to be anger and outrage and justifiably so,” Neslund said. “I think the indictment should come out to explain to the public that the authorities have done the right thing and the officer is charged.”
McDonald’s family received a $5 million civil settlement from the City of Chicago, even though they had not filed a lawsuit.
Community activist William Calloway, who had pushed for release of the video, said his organization Christianaire is contacting church leaders and asking them to prepare their congregations.
“Regardless of what this tape reveals, we want the community to exercise first amendment rights and demand justice, but to do it peacefully and effectively,” Calloway said.