It was always clear that the defense for Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke was going to center heavily upon making the teenage boy he killed appear to be the ultimate threat to the public’s safety.
As though the fact that Van Dyke felt compelled to fire so many gunshots into the 17-year-old boy because he felt threatened, and that perhaps we ought to consider rewarding the officer with some sort of commendation – rather than filing so many criminal counts of murder against him.
YET THAT STRATEGY received a blow last week when attorneys for Van Dyke had their request denied to have access to the record of Laquan McDonald.
Because he never turned 18, he never had bouts with the law as an adult. The now-deceased McDonald has an extensive record in the Juvenile Court system. Which means that all records of it are confidential.
It would have taken a judge’s special permission for the record to be presented to the attorneys so they could have access to just how bad a boy Laquan was during his lifetime.
Which is something the judge in question refused to permit, saying that his record was not particularly relevant because he’s not the suspect in this particular criminal case. He’s actually the victim.
AND BECAUSE HE was underage, he benefits from the premise of the Juvenile Court system that he is redeemable. Or would have been, if he were still alive. Which is why juvenile offenders are permitted to have a level of anonymity that slightly-older defendants are not.
If McDonald had merely been one year older at the time of his shooting death in October 2014, there would have been no qualms about the defense attorneys being able to dig up all the dirt they could on Laquan.
We literally would have a criminal proceeding where he would be on trial just as much as Van Dyke will be when the day comes in a couple of years or so (the usual length of time for a criminal case to work its way through the legal proceedings and go to trial) that this case finally gets resolved.
Yet I can’t help but wonder how many people are wondering to themselves if it is somehow wrong that McDonald’s past won’t be better known. I’m sure there are people who will think we ought to have a more-full picture of what happened on that night nearly two years ago on the South Side when Van Dyke encountered Laquan and wound up firing those 16 shots into him.
FOR ALL MOST of us know now is what we saw in that police squad car video that showed someone try to walk away from police, then collapse under the gunfire of a police officer – with the little wisps of smoke coming from the body as it was hit by bullets.
Defense attorneys have hinted that police were being given significant amounts of information about Laquan by police dispatchers, which was reason for them to anticipate he would be openly hostile toward them and that force was likely to be needed to subdue him.
Others, however, are more than willing to believe the proponents of McDonald who say they fully suspect Van Dyke just wants to dirty up their guy to distract attention from his own behavior, which they likely will go to their graves believing to be cold-blooded murder – no matter what verdict the eventual trial produces.
They may wind up resenting any information about McDonald that ever becomes publicly known.
ALTHOUGH MY OWN comprehension of the law and of law enforcement procedure is that we do give police the authority to use force that can be deadly. We wouldn’t provide officers with firearms and other weapons if we didn’t think there would be instances in which they’d have to use them.
It means if we’re to truly understand if Van Dyke was justified in this instance of using any deadly force, we’re going to have to comprehend what really was going on that night near a Burger King.
That will be the real challenge for Kane County State’s Attorney Joseph McMahon, the legal type who was picked to be the non-partial prosecutor to handle the case.
Because the real tragedy would be if years later we wind up totally confused about the case that has caused so much strife between cop fanatics and black activist-types winds up as a “We don’t really know what happened!”