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The court-ordered release of the dashcam video of teen Laquan McDonald being gunned down by police officer Jason Van Dyke led to the sacking of the Superintendent, but it raises the question of what the Mayor knew 13 months ago, says Kamau Franklin

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SHARMINI PERIES, EXEC. PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome to the Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore. On Tuesday the Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy was fired by Mayor Rahm Emanuel. This comes about a week after a court order forced the city to release a video showing a police officer shooting 17-year-old Laquan McDonald. The black teenager was gunned down by a white police officer, Jason Van Dyke, on October 20, 2014. The video shows Officer Jason Van Dyke shooting McDonald 16 times shortly after Van Dyke stepped out of the police cruiser. It has taken 13 months for the police investigators to charge Van Dyke, which some say led to Emanuel’s demand for McCarthy’s resignation. What took so long when the evidence is so clear, as this footage and video will show you from the cruiser dashboard. [Footage of shooting] PERIES: Well, to shed some light on this unraveling story is Kamau Franklin. He’s an activist and attorney that was based in New York City for over 18 years and represented activists and police misconduct victims. He’s joining us today from Atlanta. He was the director of Chokwe Lumumba’s mayoral campaign, and now an organizer with American Friends Service Committee. Thank you so much for joining us, Kamau. KAMAU FRANKLIN: Thank you for having me. PERIES: So Kamau, explain to us the circumstances surrounding the resignation of the police superintendent. FRANKLIN: Sure. I think this comes after Emanuel’s reelection bid, and I think a lot of people are pointing to the fact that this video, as you stated in your intro, is 13 months old, and was decidedly not released during that time period. And some feel like that was done to help support Emanuel in his re-bid for mayoral election, not to have this kind of community reaction during the heat of a mayoral race where he didn’t have to answer questions, where his police department basically stood protected. So there’s many who are saying that behind the scenes a lot of this is because of this mayoral race, which we just completed a few months ago. And now folks are also inquiring around whether or not Emanuel saw the video beforehand and had any sort of personal connection to making sure this video was not released to the public. PERIES: And as far as we know, do we have any evidence that the mayor actually saw this footage earlier? FRANKLIN: No. So far it’s speculation. And I think that’s why the police chief McCarthy was put out front to sort of walk the plank on this. It’s obvious that the police withheld this video, and they withheld it because they knew that the public outcry would be intense and immense, considering that a young man was shot 16 times, at the time when he was shot was no threat to the police officer whatsoever. And they could have tried to use other mechanisms and means to stop him, but instead they just came on the scene and shot someone 16 times. And this continues to add this sort of fever of people believing that the police are acting not in the best interests of the community, but shooting young black men because they fear some danger or because they think they can get away with it. And so I think right now people are waiting to see what other evidence or information comes out around it, but I think McCarthy became the obvious scapegoat, hoping that this would sort of lower some of the pressure at City Hall in Chicago. PERIES: Now, what this issue has raised is sort of the collaboration between, say, the police investigators, and in this case if Rahm Emanuel is actually implicated in this as well. Public officials have, and the power that they have over whether actual police officers are charged when the evidence is so clear, and brought to justice far sooner than they should have been. FRANKLIN: Yeah. I mean, this is a longstanding issue for folks who’ve been involved in police brutality organizing, and even attorneys, obviously, who have been litigating these kind of cases, is that the closeness between the DA’s office and the police department leads to this kind of relationship, which means that the DA is interested in protecting the police and the police is interested in making sure, of course, that they look good in the public. And a lot of times that means that indictments are not had, or when they do have you have DAs who sort of throw cases. And so you know, for instance, right now we have the Tamir Rice case in Cleveland where the district attorney has released evidence, they say, that show studies that the actual shooting was justified, and it took the family of the victim to come up with other studies showing other investigations showing other folks saying that these shootings were not justified. And so you have the sort of stand-off relationships that lead people in the community, organizers, activists, attorneys, everyday people sort of wondering about this close relationship and how we’re ever going to seek justice or get justice when these relationships are so intertwined that they lead to people hiding evidence as we’ve had in this case. PERIES: Now, this is something that is not new, obviously, in a place like Chicago. Is there a history that caused Mayor Emanuel to actually appoint, I understand from reports today, an actual committee and a commission to investigate police brutality and conduct in Chicago? FRANKLIN: Well, Chicago, like many big cities, have a history with their folks of color communities and the police obviously being at different ends. Where those communities are heavily and tactically policed in a way that doesn’t worry about their rights at the beginning, that looks for information in insidious ways, that makes arrests ad hominem without seeking sort of evidence first, but arrest first and then get evidence later on, if that’s what needs be. The police have this history under Mayor Daley in the ’50s and ’60s. His son later on. As we know, a part of the civil rights movement traveled through Chicago and was basically thoroughly mistreated. We have the ’68 convention in Chicago, the Democratic convention, where organizers and activists at the time were beat upon, and what was called the police riot by official reports that came out later on. So there’s a history of brutality in the Chicago police department as well as other big cities. So immediately I think the reaction by the public is that the Chicago police department doesn’t have its hands clean, that it’s known to engage in tactics which are unfair and illegal when it comes to the general citizenry of the particular city that they’re in. So there’s no surprise that this has happened in Chicago, but I guess there would be no surprise if this happened in several other big cities across this country. PERIES: And finally, we will be of course following this story, and the case. However, this kind of incident across the country has given life to a huge movement, Black Lives Matter, and other groups organizing and protesting police brutality, which I think is very important. So I was wondering if you could, Kamau, highlight some of the organizing efforts that’s underway and the results that it’s having. FRANKLIN: Well, I think here, you even start in Chicago, the dash cameras that was something that was an early demand when a lot of this energy came forth after the Ferguson killing of Michael Brown. These dash cams have proven themselves to be useful because even if the evidence was hidden, the evidence was there. And I think these kind of things are important when it comes to some of the local organizing on the ground. Again, in Cleveland, you have folks who are in the streets. And unfortunately, recently attacked by right-wing forces. But this energy and this movement I think is still building. And it’s building not only over these, I would call a tip of the iceberg, kind of dramatic killings that have taken place. It’s also built through years of false arrests. Stop and frisk. On a massive level in terms of different cities, that people are responding now, and saying, with the advent obviously of social media, that we can easily connect the dots. Folks can see what happens on the ground more. And you don’t need corporate media to sort of display some of the actions or to cover some of the actions of these large-scale police departments. So I think organizers and activists are connecting the dots. Local folks in particular, who probably have not been sort of given enough credit for some of the actions that have led this burgeoning movement, have really taken things to another level that we haven’t seen in a very long time. PERIES: And I see that police officers, both police chiefs, I should say, in Ferguson, now in Chicago, and Baltimore after the death and killing of Freddie Gray, has all come to their resignation. Is that, do you think, the first step in this kind of result as a part of the protests and the demonstrations and the demand that the people are making? FRANKLIN: Sure. I mean, I think it’s part of the result, but I think it also becomes the, you know, something that’s big and dramatic, that’s supposed to lead people to believe that some real change is going to happen. And obviously, you know, police–the police chief will only get fired when the mayor feels he can’t protect him, or feels like it’s better to have that police chief thrown under the bus than to risk the political fallout that would happen if you try to keep that police chief intact. But unfortunately, you know, firing police chiefs does not change or lead to, necessarily, systemic changes. It doesn’t change necessarily how police operate in some of these communities. It doesn’t change the quota systems around numbers of arrests, or numbers of stop and frisk. So there are deeper sort of, and analytical changes that need to happen, and analysis that needs to happen, beyond a police chief getting fired. Because normally what will happen is that they’ll bring in a new person who will follow similar guidelines, but just put a better face on it. PERIES: Kamau, thank you so much for joining us today. FRANKLIN: Thank you. PERIES: And thank you for joining us on the Real News Network.


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Kamau Franklin is an attorney. He is the founder of the grassroots organizing group Community Movement Builders, Inc., and is co-host of the Renegade Culture podcast that covers news and culture in the Black community.