CHICAGO — A police officer who fatally shot a black teenager last year was charged with first-degree murder on Tuesday as graphic video of the killing, just released, sparked unrest.
Throngs of protesters filled the streets of downtown Chicago on Tuesday night, with a large crowd gathering outside a police building. Around 11:15 p.m. EST Tuesday, a crowd that had largely been peaceful turned confrontational.
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 an officer fired at Laquan McDonald in October 2014 — and demonstrators taking selfies. Some protesters showed up in gas masks, and some pushed against a police line, but no smoke or tear gas came.
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. 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 reported arrests, a police department spokesman said no information would be released until morning.
Chicago officials were worried about possible unrest in response to the video’s release. The video depicts Jason Van Dyke, a white 14-year veteran of the police force, drawing his weapon on 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. 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, the Chicago 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 near 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 dollar settlement to McDonald’s relatives. But some in the community say they 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.”
Chicago is not the only city in American roiled by officer-involved shootings and their aftermath — far from it. The video’s release comes amid intensified scrutiny of police forces following fatal encounters between law enforcement and black men and boys. Police shootings, propelled into the public eye after the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., last year, have led to demonstrations in city streets and debates on college campuses across the country.
Indeed, the rapid developments on Tuesday — an officer charged, a horrific video’s release — recalled similar situations that unfolded this year. In North Charleston, S.C., and Cincinnati, similar videos showing officers fatally shooting black men were released; in both cases, officials announced murder charges the same day. In both cities, protests followed, but they were far less heated than those seen in cities such as Ferguson and New York after grand juries declined to indict officers.
Even as protesters filled Chicago streets, a similar drama unfolded in another large Midwestern city. Police in Minneapolis took three men into custody after gunshots were fired at a “Black Lives Matter” rally, wounding five demonstrators in an attack that inflamed tensions already high over the recent police killing of 24-year-old Jamar Clark, an unarmed black man.
The shooting Monday night, which occurred one block from a police station that protests had centered around, shook demonstrators who nonetheless said they would not be driven away.
“I’m out here to make sure those cowards know that they didn’t scare anybody,” Demetrius Pendleton, 46, who runs a local homeless shelter, said during a march on Tuesday afternoon. “We want to see justice, and we won’t stop until we get it.”
In a Facebook post, Black Lives Matter Minneapolis said that “white supremacists” attacked the group on Monday night “in an act of domestic terrorism,” and the group vowed not to be intimidated.
Police said Tuesday they had three white men in custody: a 23-year-old arrested in Bloomington, a nearby city, as well as a 26-year-old and a 21-year-old who turned themselves in to investigators. A fourth person, a 32-year-old Hispanic man arrested in south Minneapolis, was released after it was determined he was not at the shooting scene, police said.
Minneapolis police said they received multiple 911 calls on Monday night about the gunfire, a block away from the 4th Precinct. All five people, who had been protesting at the police building, suffered non-life-threatening injuries, officials said.
Protesters said the shooting occurred after a group of people — three men and a woman, all wearing ski masks — were seen filming the activity. The people in ski masks went down Morgan Avenue, and some demonstrators followed them.
A fight ensued and then gunshots rang out, said Henry Habu, who has been at the protests since Sunday. Habu said that protesters had been told to watch out for white supremacists wearing masks or camouflage clothing, and said the group filming the demonstrations matched those descriptions.
After the gunfire at 10:40 p.m. on Monday, police said dozens of officers rushed to the scene to investigate. Demonstrators rushed to tend to the injured, and others flocked to the area.
“It was very somber,” said John Jacobson, who said he had arrived 30 minutes later after seeing a Black Lives Matter post on Facebook. “Like a wake, and you’re looking for familiar faces.”
One demonstrator was shot in the leg and was among “four boys on the ground,” said Carrie Brown. “He just kept saying, ‘Don’t leave me, don’t leave me,’” she said.
Federal authorities said Tuesday they were in close contact with local police.
“The Department of Justice is aware of the incident and is coordinating with the Minneapolis Police Department to assess the evidence and determine if federal action is appropriate,” the department said in a statement.
Police have said that Clark, a suspect in an assault, was shot on Nov. 15 when he interfered as paramedics tried to treat the assault victim.
“At some point during an altercation that ensued between the officers and the individual, an officer discharged his weapon, striking the individual,” the Minnesota Department of Public Safety said in a statement.
The officers involved were Mark Ringgenberg and Dustin Schwarze. Both have served with the Minneapolis police for a little over a year, and each has been an officer for a total of seven years, according to the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, the state agency investigating the shooting. Police have not said which officer fired the fatal shot.
The FBI announced it will conduct its own investigation into Clark’s death. The U.S. attorney’s office in Minnesota and Justice Department prosecutors said they will review evidence to see whether there were any federal civil rights violations.
Some witnesses said Clark was handcuffed when he was shot. Police said that did not appear to be the case. Drew Evans, superintendent of the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, said authorities were still working to determine whether Clark was handcuffed when he died.
Demonstrators have called on police to release video footage of the shooting. Evans said there is no complete video, though investigators have multiple videos related to the encounter.
A march on Tuesday afternoon was much like those in dozens of American cities in the year since Brown was killed. The crowd danced to Kendrick Lamar’s “Alright,” shouted out the names those killed by police in the last year — Brown, Tamir Rice in Cleveland, Walter Scott in North Charleston — and chanted, “No justice, no peace, prosecute the police.”
“We want justice,” said Jayme Ali, a local minister who marched near the front of the crowd.
Ali, 44, was born and raised here. She said it is time this city address issues of racial inequity, especially in policing. While she attended many of the first days of protests, she had not come out for three days because of an illness.
The shooting of the five activists on Monday night, however, got her back on the street. She wanted to show that she wasn’t afraid. As she marched from the police station to City Hall, her hands gripped a homemade cardboard sign with a warning for the nation: “This could be your city next.”
Lowery reported from Minneapolis and Berman from Washington. Alex Baumhardt in Minneapolis and Lindsey Bever and Michael Miller in Washington contributed to this report.
[This post has been updated. First published: 11:20 a.m.]