CHICAGO — Hundreds of protesters flooded streets overnight after a white police officer who fatally shot a black teenager last year was charged with first-degree murder on Tuesday and a graphic video of the killing was released.
While the demonstrations, which at times blocked some of Chicago’s busy Interstate highways, were largely peaceful, some turned confrontational during the night.
Skirmishes broke out between protesters and police, who surrounded officers after they apparently made arrests. Protesters also tried to stop a police SUV from leaving with arrestees — an effort that failed. As the sound of sirens filled the air, police were met with shouts of “16 shots” — the number of times the officer charged with murder fired at Laquan McDonald, 17, in October 2014 — and “No Black Friday!” Some protesters showed up in gas masks, and some pushed against a police line, but no smoke or tear gas came.
In dramatic standoffs, some protesters stared down police as cameras snapped.
“When we say ‘F— the police,’ that’s not just because … we think that s— is something cool,” one protester said. “That is a response!”
Around 1 a.m. for about 15 minutes, hundreds of protesters moving west blocked one of downtown Chicago’s main traffic arteries, Interstate 290. While most stopped at an I-290 on-ramp, others broke through a police line to block cars entering and exiting the interstate.
“You are obstructing the roadway,” an officer said into a megaphone. “If you continue to be up here you will be subject to arrest.”
Police ordered protesters to disperse, evidently arresting some. Eventually, marchers retraced their route back to State Street and traveled north. What had been a march turned into individual standoffs as temperatures fell. The streets quieted: Dog owners walked their animals alongside protesters; a man on a treadmill on the second floor of a building looked down on the rally.
Asked early Wednesday for information about arrests, a police department spokesman said no information would be released until morning.
Chicago officials were worried about unrest in response to the controversial video’s release Tuesday. The video depicts Jason Van Dyke, a white, 14-year veteran of the police force, killing McDonald, an African American teen carrying a knife.
In the video, as McDonald veers away from officers, Van Dyke begins firing, felling McDonald immediately, and then shoots repeatedly into his prone body. A total of 16 shots were fired — all the ammunition in the officer’s clip. It is rare for a police officer to be charged in a fatal shooting, and the first-degree murder count is the most severe Van Dyke could have faced.
Van Dyke’s attorney, Daniel Herbert, said the officer feared for his life when he opened fire.
“People viewing this videotape will have the brilliance and benefit of hindsight 20/20 vision,” Herbert said. “… This is not a murder case, despite what you heard in the courtroom. It’s truly not a murder case and we feel that we will be very successful in defending this case.”
Mayor Rahm Emanuel (D) took another view.
“We hold our police officers to a high standards and obviously in this case Jason Van Dyke violated … basic moral standards that bind our community together,” Emanuel said at a news conference announcing the video’s release.
“The officer in this case took a young man’s life and he’s going to have to account for his actions, and that’s what today is all about,” said Garry F. McCarthy, Chicago’s police superintendent.
Van Dyke was the only officer to fire at McDonald, who police said used his knife to slash the tires of a squad car when he encountered the officers. He was on the scene with McDonald for less than 30 seconds before he began firing, said Anita Alvarez, the state’s attorney for Cook County, Ill. She said Van Dyke’s actions “were not a proper use of deadly force.”
“He abused his authority, and I don’t believe the use of force was necessary,” Alvarez said. She also said: “With these charges, we are bringing a full measure of justice that this demands.”
Superintendent McCarthy called on city residents to demonstrate peacefully.
“People have a right to be angry,” he said. “People have a right to protest, people have a right to free speech. But they do not have a right to commit criminal acts.”
In a statement, the McDonald family asked “for calm in Chicago.”
“No one understands the anger more than us but if you choose to speak out, we urge you to be peaceful,” the statement said. “Don’t resort to violence in Laquan’s name.”
In April, the Chicago City Council approved a $5 million settlement to McDonald’s relatives. But some in the community are angry it took Alvarez’s office so long to charge Van Dyke.
“There is no way this length of time should have gone on so long when the video showed all this evidence,” Michael Pfleger, a Catholic priest in Chicago, said Tuesday. “Shame on them for being so late.”