Most people are at least casually aware that Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke is now charged with murder in the shooting death of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald. Some people have taken the time to view the graphic video that captured the immediate events leading up to and including his death.
I have no doubt that there are many elements to this story that the public will never see. Some may even be relevant. But I am also confident that many people, from multiple perspectives, will introduce entirely irrelevant factors to try and persuade public opinion to their own viewpoint, and these will get most of the airtime.
All that said, I use a very simple measure to determine whether or not law enforcement have behaved ethically or not, with specific respect to their use of violence. For context we must consider the following: the state does not exist naturally, and thusly cannot have rights unto itself; all powers legitimately wielded by the state or its agents must derive from the naturally occurring rights of its constituency, as all just governments are necessarily empowered through their governed.
Thus, I simply consider whether a common citizen would likely be indicted if s/he behaved similarly and in similar circumstances in place of the officer in question. And in viewing this video, it is quite clear to me that Officer Van Dyke committed indefensible lethal assault on McDonald and should be tried, convicted, and punished as such. There simply is no valid argument that I have received in light of the uncommonly definitive video evidence available which suggests McDonald presented a lethal threat to the officer while egressing at an increasing distance of at least 12 feet (the minimum width of American highway lanes) and possibly greater. Some have pointed to McDonald’s apparent wielding of a pocketknife, but this is not sufficient justification for the use of lethal force when the person holding the knife is doing so by his side while walking away. These factors fail to satisfy reasonable criteria for an immediate, imminent threat to one’s person (as further evidenced by the reported fact that Van Dyke alone fired all 16 rounds discharged that night, as no other officer present apparently believed he presented a lethal threat at all.)
From where I sit, this was simply a bad shoot and Officer Van Dyke should pay for it as any civilian would be reasonably expected to. Notwithstanding the questionable delays preventing the video’s public release for roughly a year, I applaud Chicago prosecutors for ultimately pursuing justice against this public official. As I have covered repeatedly and consistently before, a critical ingredient to repairing the relationship between the public and its state law enforcement agents is fair, equal, and public accountability for their actions commensurate with the justice the public faces.