At what point do we decide that we have seen enough Black death?
In recent times, part of the heightened awareness of the violence against Black people has come through video recordings of Black bodies shot down by the cops, month after month, and week after week. Going to the videotape provides the evidence necessary to prove the war against us is real and not merely in our heads, helping to bring about reform to the system. And under such circumstances, people in power are unable to cover up crimes that are committed. The case of Laquan McDonald out of Chicago is a case in point.
Lisa Madigan, the Illinois state attorney general has asked police to release the October 20, 2014 video of McDonald, 17, who reportedly was shot 16 times by a single white officer Jason Van Dyke, on the Southwest side of Chicago. According to police, Laquan, who had PCP in his system according to an autopsy report, had a small knife that he would not drop. The officer was placed on desk duty, and the FBI is investigating.
According to Madigan, as the Guardian reported, the police made “unsubstantiated” claims that releasing the video would deprive anyone of a fair trial or hinder any ongoing investigations. The state prosecutor also said the police had no right under law to withhold the video because the Independent Police Review Authority, a separate agency, was in charge of the investigation.
The city of Chicago quickly reached a $5 million settlement with the McDonald family – despite the value never filing a civil suit against the city. Jeffrey Neslund, attorney for McDonald’s family, viewed the video and said McDonald was walking away from the police when they fired on him. McDonald’s mother does not want the footage released for fear it would precipitate unrest like that which occurred in Ferguson and Baltimore. Also, community leaders such as Chicago Alderman Danny Solis caution against releasing the video on the grounds it would not help or heal the city.
Jon Kass of the Chicago Tribune argues that the video, from a dashboard camera, will go viral if released, and could possibly tear the city apart. And while police claimed the teen lunged at the officer, the video reportedly tells a different story. The dashcam footage reportedly shows Van Dyke opening fire, and hitting the teen in the legs, arms, neck and head, the body jumping all the while. Sources say the video is bad, worse than anything that has been seen in recent memory.
“Reading or hearing about 16 shots pumped into the body of a young man isn’t the same thing as seeing it,” Kass wrote. “If the video is released, many won’t care about the drugs or the knife. Here’s what will be seared on the American mind: the black body flinching with bullet after bullet from a white cop’s gun.
A witness who has spoken with the feds told the Tribune he was driving his son to the hospital and saw everything. “I was there, I saw it,” the man said. “He (McDonald) wasn’t attacking anybody. He was looking for a way out. He was just trying to turn away. The kid turned away, was dropped at the first shot or two, and the police kept shooting and shooting. You could see his body moving.”
“It freaked me out. It freaked my son out,” he added. “The video should be released,” the man insisted. “The people have to see what actually happened. I watched the news. Everything they said about how (McDonald) ‘lunged’ didn’t happen. He (the officer) just emptied his gun into him.”
But Mayor Rahm Emanuel is fighting the release of the video.
“Ensuring our officers are accountable for their actions is critical to building trust between residents and the Police Department,” said Kelley Quinn, the mayor’s press secretary. “There are federal and state criminal investigations into this specific incident, and we have to respect that process. So their work isn’t compromised, we cannot comment on the case specifically, and we are following common practice in not releasing the evidence of an ongoing investigation.”
Emanuel also expressed his displeasure with the title of Spike Lee’s new movie, Chiraq, which will depict so-called “Black-on-Black” gun violence in the Englewood section of Chicago, and will be released by Amazon Studios by year’s end. Surely, a reminder of the scourge of gun violence impacting young Black men is something which the mayor would like to sweep under the rug.
One can argue that we must not ignore or turn our heads away from such depictions of violence against Black bodies, lest we lull ourselves into a false sense of security. If we deny the violence exists, we allow such vile crimes to go unpunished. Exposing the truth brings about transparency and justice. When Mamie Till, Emmett Till’s mother, insisted on an open casket funeral for her son, she wanted to world to see what they had done to him. His 14-year-old mutilated corpse, of which a photo was published in the Chicago Defender and Jet magazine, helped to place the focus on white supremacy in Mississippi and became a powerful catalyst for the civil rights movement.
And yet, the vile, gruesome lynchings of the Jim Crow days remind us of a time when the hanging, burning, shooting and castration of Black bodies made for white family entertainment. Tickets were sold to lynchings as if they were excursions, as families had picnics, and adults and children alike posed for a photo with the “strange fruit“ as a souvenir.
The display of Black death reminds us that Black lives should matter, and yet they are still devalued. As a society, we must find another way. We must reach the point where there are no videos to watch because there are no Black bodies dying in the streets via state-sponsored terrorism. In order to stop it, we must know, must see it actually exists.