The shooting case is “a new chapter but the same theme — police racism, violence and a code of silence,” says G. Flint Taylor, a civil rights lawyer.
In a Chicago courtroom, the spotlight will focus on a night in 2014, 16 gunshots, a white police officer, a black teenager and a question: Murder or self-defense? Chicago officer Jason Van Dyke faces murder charges for killing 17-year-old Laquan McDonald, a shooting shown in a silent dashcam video that stirred outrage, upended politics and fueled racial tensions, the Associated Press reports. While the trial that begins Monday revolves around events of Oct. 20, 2014, it also draws attention to problems a troubled department has wrestled with for decades. “It’s a new chapter but the same theme — police racism, violence and a code of silence,” says G. Flint Taylor, a civil rights lawyer.
A U.S. Justice Department probe resulted in a blistering report in the final days of the Obama administration. It described a poorly trained police department with a “pervasive cover-up culture” that tolerated racial discrimination and used force almost 10 times more often against black suspects than whites. “Not that there aren’t issues of racism in other police departments. Not that there aren’t issues of the problems of officers covering for one another … and issues with a lack of accountability in other departments, but Chicago is that on steroids,” says University of Chicago law Prof. Craig Futterman. Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson acknowledges mistakes have been made, especially in black and Latino neighborhoods, many of them beset by gangs and gun violence. “There’s been a history in Chicago of the police department treating those particular communities inappropriately,” Johnson told AP. The police department faces a massive overhaul under a proposed federal consent decree filed in federal court. Among steps already taken: expanding the use of Tasers, ensuring that patrol officers have body cameras by year’s end, and making videos available of police-involved shootings within 60 days of a a complaint.