Soon to be former Chicago Police Officer, James Van Dyke who is accused of murdering a 17-year old black teenager by shooting him a total of 16 times has the city of Chicago in uproar yet again, when his employment file came to light. Reportedly, Van Dyke had a total of 18 civilian complaints against him over a 14-year period but to be honest, it could have been all 18 over the last couple of years alone for all we know. Complaints included racial slurs and excessive force. This alone should put Van Dyke’s supervisors on the chopping block. Either they ignored the complaints because they too have their own share of related complaints or have similar opinions or just brushed it under the rug with the old school assumption that complaints are just par for the job. Between my education background in criminal justice and my many years working in law enforcement, the common mindset by many officers was, “If you do not get complaints, then you are not doing your job correctly.” Apparently, with one of Van Dyke’s complaints, a judge awarded punitive damages in a civil proceeding over one of his arrests.
- On December 1, 2013, Van Dyke was accused of using racial slurs against a black woman when he conducted a search of her apartment. The incident led to a Police Review Board but they sided with the officer claiming the woman was acting in a disorderly manner and provoking him. Well, there are two sides to every story and the officer should have been cited by the review board for not remaining disciplined. At no time should an officer sink down to the level of a suspect or criminal. If they cannot maintain professional courtesy with those they come into contact with, then this is what we get–a riot, an excessive shooting, and an officer in a classroom who lost his cool and assaulted a student sitting in their desk. The review board ruled Van Dyke was justified but one has to wonder if the officer would have reacted in the same manner if the suspect was not black.
- On March 19, 2011, Van Dyke pulled over a black man on suspicion of drunk driving or under the influences of a known substance.. The suspect complained that the officer attempted to choke him to death because he refused to spit out a cough drop. However, Van Dyke claims he stood behind the driver, bending his arm backwards when the man refused to do the breathalyzer test. The Review Board sided with the officer again by claiming that there was insufficient evidence to support the driver’s complaint. In all fairness, most states enforce an automatic arrest if a person refuses to do a breathalyzer by a law enforcement officer. The officer could have been attempting to arrest the driver with his hands behind the back and if the man was indeed intoxicated or under the influences then an impairment could have led the man to believe he was about to be choked from behind. On the other hand, based on prior incidents, one has to wonder if the officer did in fact place the man in a choke hold from standing behind him.
- On April 6, 2008, Van Dyke was accused of using excessive force against an unidentified black male, 20, who sustained an injury to his eye. The man claimed that Van Dyke aimed his firearm at him while another officer kicked him in the eye while he was on ground. Although, there is no conclusive reason for why the man was on the ground; whether it be by the officers or of his own will. As for Van Dyke, he claimed the man was a stopped as a suspect because the man and another bystander ran from police as they arrived. The Review Board was not mentioned in this case but the use of excessive force or really any type of force seems unlawful if these were the only facts of the case.
- In 2007, a black man, 41, filed a civil lawsuit in federal court against Van Dyke claiming that he abused the man verbally after a traffic stop and then shoved him in the police car causing injuries to both shoulders. The man was awarded $350,000. Van Dyke denied any wrongful negligent or assault.
The rioting emerged following a local Chicago news story that a white police officer with the Chicago Police Department had been charged with the murder of Laquan McDonald who was shot 16 times by the same officer; and when it became national news and hit social media outlets, what was suppose to be a peaceful rally turned it an angry mob. Eventually, people across the nation became even more outraged when they learned that the incident occurred over a year ago and that the Chicago Police Department kept a lid on it. In light of the of the Ferguson and Baltimore riots that swept the nation this past year which in itself had spawned dozens of not so peaceful marches in other states is probably why they kept the incident and the facts of the case from the media. But, eventually the truth came to light and between the incidents in Ferguson and Baltimore and the recent racial tension at the University of Missouri in Columbia (Mizzou), people across the nation have probably felt a strong racial backlash between police and communities everywhere.
When evidence from the police dash camera was released, things did not exactly encourage a peaceful march from the mob. The very graphic video was recorded for about 40 seconds with no sound. It does seem a bit odd that a major metropolitan police department would not have recordable sound on their dash cameras which raises yet another question; if Officer Van Dyke or other officers realized how poorly he acted, it begs the question whether or not the sound was tampered with. In the video, the victim was walking away from Van Dyke so there was no immediate threat to his safety and there did not appear to be a safety issue to any nearby bystanders but even if there were, 16 shots from one officer suggests that he did not care about the safety of other people nearby. As McDonald walks away, he pulled his pants down a bit so perhaps, Van Dyke felt disrespected by a partial mooning or showing of underpants?
As other police cars arrived on scene, two officers had emerged from their vehicles and drawn their weapons on McDonald; at which point, Van Dyke began shooting at McDonald who feel to the ground and collapsed. The video ends as Van Dyke appeared to kick a 3-inch switchblade out of McDonald’s hand. The knife in question, was folded up into the handle, thus; there was no imminent threat to the life of anyone nearby. The video alone led to angered protesters and demonstrators along Michigan Ave. This has raised a new concern that if the protesters begin acting as rioters did during the Ferguson and Baltimore riots then, shopping during Black Friday along Michigan Avenue’s which is one of the largest retail districts in downtown Chicago, could become a major safety concern for shoppers. After all, last year following the Ferguson riots, many protesters took to malls causing a distraction to shoppers by yelling, “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” and then following to the ground.
President Obama made a statement on Wednesday that he was “deeply disturbed” by the dash camera video. I just hope that the president would have made similar statements had the officer been black and the victim white; or vice versus for other races. Yes; I do believe the officer went after McDonald in away that a bull sees red but in response to some protesters with signs that say “the police cannot go on killing our children and not expect people to get upset over it,” when the statement should be colorless in the sense that police officers with guns are not deemed judge, jury, and certainly not executioner if the situation does not warrant deadly force. Officers who think a gun gives them power and a God-Complex should not be a police officer. I have yet to understand why the first weapon that police officers do not go for first is not their taser? If McDonald was running towards Van Dyke and he believed the knife would have been sprung open and used against him, then that might be a different question but not when Van Dyke could have maybe tasered him before he got too close and notwithstanding, there was no reason beyond a reasonable doubt to unload a full clip into a single suspect who was fleeing but walking away from the officer.