The Murder of Laquan McDonald: A Call for Increased Legal Oversight of Police

The police murder of Laquan McDonald sheds light on one of, if not the most, important issue regarding police brutality against black bodies in the United States. In 2014, Chicago Officer Van Dyke brutally murdered Mr. McDonald by firing the full capacity of his firearm, with all sixteen bullets piercing McDonald’s flesh.[1] Since Van Dyke fired so many shots at this young black man, the observer would not normally be incorrect in assuming that McDonald must have presented a large, credible threat to the life of Van Dyke. After all, police require life-threatening circumstances to legally justify firing their weapon. However, over a year later, a legal campaign to achieve release of the incident’s dash cam footage finally reached fruition and the public became justifiably outraged upon viewing; the video showed no room for the perception of a threat with McDonald walking away from the police directly before his murder.[2]


The motivations for Van Dyke’s actions are known only to him, but the length of time it took Chicago to release this video shows  the legal system’s protectionist nature of police, even in the event of illegal action. After the killing, other present officers and officials who viewed the dash cam footage decided that the best recourse was to cover-up the entire incident instead of indict Van Dyke on murder charges, delaying justice for McDonald by over 400 days.[3]


The McDonald case in Chicago brings about the central issue regarding national, police brutality against black people. The legal system often shields the public from the unjust actions of the police force, incentivizing moral hazard for officers in the field of duty. Just as the law is meant to protect citizen’s natural rights by constraining their ability to harm others through punitive measures, the law is also meant to serve as a check on the power police require to effectively protect American citizens. When the legal system chooses to protect police, this removes nearly all the restraints on police power.


One of the ways citizens are able to aid the legal system in checking the power of police is through filing complaints when there are instances of police brutality. Since 2001, Officer Van Dyke has had 20 different complaints lodged against him, which made him known in the department for receiving complaints, but he still had more than 180 cops above him in that ranking.[4] If the legal system had actually scrutinized the complaints against Van Dyke, there is a chance that McDonald would still be alive today. Also, if Van Dyke ranks 181 in terms of complaints received at the Chicago Police Department, it should not surprise anyone if he is not the only officer who has benefited from a cover-up.


Anita Alvarez, the Cook County prosecutor, who witnessed the dash cam footage two weeks after the murder but only chose to indict Van Dyke over a year later, described it upon public release, saying “It is graphic. It is violent. It is chilling”.[5] Alvarez recounted her shock at seeing the video she already watched a year earlier, and yet she waited hundreds of days to bring the murder charges which, more likely than not, only occurred because of public outcry.


How does the legal system’s protection of police represent a black issue? The most recent F.B.I. homicide report in 2015 finds that black people represent 31.8 percent of police shootings while only maintaining 13.2 percent of the population.[6] These statistics show police disproportionately turning to their firearm when interacting with black Americans. This may be a result of the relatively massive amount of black interactions with police, which has its own racial motivations. But either way, with black people representing the most police-affected subset of the population, a lack of police oversight hurts black people the most.


The legal system of America does not need a complete overhaul, but there needs to be a way to ensure that prosecutors responsible for police oversight handle their role with complete objectivity. Alvarez’s horror could be disingenuous, but it could also be very real. Her psychological reactions and thought processes upon first seeing that video two weeks after McDonald’s murder does not matter. What matters is that she was in a position with enough evidence on hand to attain justice for McDonald and for whatever reason she chose not to. Alvarez’s actions represent a shirking of her responsibility, a reinforcement of the legal, systemic racism working against black Americans,  and an affront to the entire American public and their ideals.


[1] Shaun King, “Officials Should Be Fired for Laquan McDonald Coverup,”

[2] “Video Shows Cop Shoot Teen – CNN Video.” CNN. Accessed December 22, 2015.

[3] Shaun King, “Officials Should Be Fired for Laquan McDonald Coverup,”

[4] Shifflet, Shane, Alissa Scheller, Scilla Alecci, and Nicky Forster, “Police Abuse Complaints By Black Chicagoans Dismissed Nearly 99 Percent Of The Time,”

[5] Bernard E Harcourt, “Cover-Up in Chicago,”

[6] Sendhil Mullainathan, “Police Killings of Blacks: Here Is What the Data Say,”


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