Jason Van Dyke: Why Are We Charging Cops with Murder?
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In early October, the crew of a U.S. Army AC-130 gunship bombed a Doctors Without Borders hospital in Afghanistan, killing thirty innocent people.
On Wednesday of last week, just in time to bury the news before Thanksgiving, Gen. John Campbell released a 3,000-page report blaming “human error” for the tragedy. As punishment, several individuals were “suspended from their duties.” No protestors roamed the streets.
President Barack Obama had earlier apologized for the incident, inspiring the jest that this was the first time one Nobel Peace Prize Winner bombed another.
The day before the Army released its report, Chicago authorities, under court order, publicly released dash cam footage of the October 2014, police shooting of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald. High on PCP, the six-foot, 180-pound McDonald was breaking into cars and raging down the middle of a Chicago street, knife in hand, when officer Jason Van Dyke shot and killed him.
Van Dyke, one of eight officers on the scene, was the closest to McDonald when he opened fire. With the release of the video, Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez charged Van Dyke with first-degree murder. “This video,” she said, “will tear at the hearts of all Chicagoans.” As a stand-alone bit of evidence, it did just that.
Unlike the AC-130 crew who face minor disciplinary action, Van Dyke is looking at a life in prison. The protestors raging through Chicago streets demand as much. So, seemingly at least, does Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel. So too do many, if not most pundits in the national media.
“We are losing sight of the largest sociological and historical moment that we are witnessing as a country,” the New York Times Charles Blow insisted. “That this would not be happening if America did not allow it to happen, either consciously or subconsciously.”
This is an “historical moment,” but Blow gets the sociology of it entirely backwards. With 12 million arrests in the United States each year, some are bound to go wrong. What America has allowed “to happen” is the trial by mob of police officers when something does go wrong.
Nor are all police officers at risk—just white officers who kill young black men. No other permutation even makes the news. No other profession has to endure such abuse for its mistakes, real or imagined.
Van Dyke is not the first cop to run this gauntlet in the social media era. Nor will he be the last. Most notably, Ferguson, Missouri, police officer Darren Wilson endured even greater outrage in the shooting death of Michael Brown before his grudging clearance by a local grand jury and the Department of Justice.
Although an Hispanic and a neighborhood watch captain, George Zimmerman served as something of a prototype in this postmodern morality play. A Florida jury acquitted Zimmerman of murder in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin only because its members did not anticipate the hell they would face from the mob—and the media--for their decision.
Although one would not suspect this from watching CNN or reading the New York Times, Van Dyke has a case to make. Unlike most accused first-degree murders, he did not leave his wife and two children at home that day intending to kill anyone.
Indeed, from the moment he pulled up in his vehicle until the moment he kicked the knife out of the dying man’s hand less than sixty seconds elapsed. It is hard to imagine “premeditation” had anything to do with McDonald’s death.
For those wishing to understand the nature of that case, I would strongly recommend Attorney Andrew Branca’s analysis in Legal Insurrection. http://bit.ly/1NgdvoW An authority on self-defense, Branca walks the reader through police procedures dealing with knife-wielding suspects and shares a ghastly video of what can happen to cops who ignore those procedures.
For those who don’t wish to understand Van Dyke’s case, the mob beckons.
Jack Cashill is the son, nephew and cousin several times over of police officers.
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