In October 2014, 17-year-old Laquan McDonald was shot and killed by a Chicago police officer. McDonald, high on PCP, had been breaking into vehicles in a trucking yard. Tailed by two police officers, he walked into the center of a busy road, where police followed him for a considerable distance as he ignored their commands to stop. Descriptions of the incident do not include the ritual “unarmed black teenager” formula because McDonald was carrying a knife, which he used to slash the tire of a squad car. Nevertheless, if you watch the dash cam video, his shooting appears unnecessary. This is probably one of the small handful of instances where criminal charges against a police officer are appropriate.
This morning, more than 1,000 protesters, led by Jesse Jackson and other notables, shut down North Michigan Avenue and blocked the entrances to stores in Chicago’s best-known retail district. The protesters (including leaders of the Chicago Teachers Union) demanded, among other things, the firing of Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy.
“We want to show them how it’s done in Chicago,” one speaker shouted into a megaphone as the group stopped facing Water Tower Place. “Let them just feel the empty cash registers.”
Marchers tried to get into the mall as police held them back. Protesters also blocked the entrances to Victoria’s Secret, the Apple store, Nieman Marcus and more than a dozen other retailers while chanting “16 shots and a cover-up! Shut it down,” referring to the number of times McDonald was shot. Some stores along Michigan locked their doors as the march went past.
If Laquan McDonald is Chicago’s most famous murder victim–assuming it was a murder–then Tyshawn Lee is the second best known. In Lee’s case, there is no doubt that it was murder. He was a nine-year old boy who was lured into an alley by gang members and killed, reportedly because his father belonged to a rival gang. Earlier today, Superintendent McCarthy announced that one man, Corey Morgan, has been arrested in Tyshawn Lee’s death, and more are being sought.
Tyshawn Lee’s murder has occasioned considerable outrage and soul-searching in Chicago, but not protests or calls for resignations. Somehow, the tiny number of people who are shot by policemen–virtually always while high on drugs, committing a crime and/or attacking the cop–count for more, in the eyes of activists, than the vastly greater number of wholly innocent victims of criminals.
In 2012, there were 503 homicides in Chicago, more than in any other American city. Last year there were 411. The overwhelming majority of the victims, and of the perpetrators, were black. It is not a novel observation, but the contrast between the Tyshawn Lee and Laquan McDonald cases suggests once again that the current obsession with police misconduct, real or imagined, has the effect, perhaps intended, of deflecting attention from vastly greater problems.