Freelance reporter Jamie Kalven of the Invisible Institute
On February 10 of 2015, Jamie Kalven wrote a story for the website SLATE that blew the whistle on the killing of Laquan McDonald.
Kalven is a freelance journalist. It was Kalven that filed the FOIA which led a judge to order the video of McDonald’s murder by Jason Van Dyke, a Chicago police officer, to be released Tuesday night.
Ironically, Kalven was not permitted by Chicago police to attend Tuesday’s press conference called by the Mayor and the Superintendent. He was barred at the door and had to text his questions to a reporter inside the room.
“The officers are responding to somebody with a knife in a crazed condition, who stabs out tires on a vehicle and tires on a squad car,” Camden said at the scene. “You obviously aren’t going to sit down and have a cup of coffee with them. He is a very serious threat to the officers, and he leaves them no choice at that point but to defend themselves.”
The Chicago press dutifully reported the police account of the incident. The reporter for the local NBC station called it “a clear-cut case of self-defense.” It was also reported that the Independent Police Review Authority (IPRA), the city agency charged with investigating police shootings, would conduct an investigation, as it does in the case of every “police-involved shooting.”
In its broad outlines, this is a familiar Chicago story: A black American is shot by a Chicago police officer. A police source says the shooting was justified. IPRA announces it is investigating. Then silence. After a year or two, IPRA issues a report confirming that the shooting was indeed justified.
The statistics are stunning. According to IPRA reports, Chicago police officers shoot, on average, several residents a month. Roughly 75 percent of those shot are black. Civil rights lawyers and investigative journalists I’ve talked to who have covered the Chicago police for decades cannot remember the last time criminal charges were brought against a Chicago police officer for a shooting while on duty.
Sometimes before the story of a police shooting evaporates into silence, we briefly hear the voice of a family member or friend trying to find words to describe who the victim was or questioning the shooting. Not so in the case of Laquan McDonald. A ward of the state, he appears not to have left much of a trace in the world. At any rate, there was no one to speak for him during the brief moment of media attention occasioned by his death.
The press coverage did, however, contain a couple of particulars that didn’t meld with the police narrative. A witness, Alma Benitez, was quoted as saying that the shooting was unnecessary, because a number of officers were present and they had control of the situation.
“It was super exaggerated,” she said. “You didn’t need that many cops to begin with. They didn’t need to shoot him. They didn’t. They basically had him face-to-face. There was no purpose why they had to shoot him.”