Jasmyne A. Cannick
The next time a police officer tells you “if you see something say something,” I want you to look them square in the eyes and say, “you first.”
The only thing worse than watching the execution of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald by Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke and the following cover up that resulted in Cook County State Attorney Anita Alvarez delaying the release of the tape for over a year—is the fact that Van Dyke is the only person facing criminal charges.
There seems to be an unwritten rule for prosecutors that dictates that only the most liable officer shall be charged and that’s if any charges are filed at all in these officer involved killings.
Officer Van Dyke isn’t the only person who should be criminally charged in the death of McDonald. Just like when police officers are describing gang-related activity and crimes—Van Dyke had accomplices as well and it’s clear they put in work.
Van Dyke emptied his service weapon into McDonald like it was nothing–like McDonald was nothing. He did it with the kind of brazen cavalier confidence that comes from knowing that his fellow brothers in blue had his back. So much so that they’d even delete footage from a security camera at a nearby Burger King restaurant in an effort to protect one of their own. Can you say accessories after the fact? If that wasn’t enough there were others who were willing to help by burying the autopsy report and hiding the truth of what really occurred for as long as they possibly could.
That’s what I would call a conspiracy—but Chicago isn’t the only city with that problem.
In Los Angeles, Police Chief Charlie Beck took early steps to ensure that the October 16, 2014 video of police officers kicking Clinton Alford in the head while hitting him with their elbows, all while he was lying motionless on the ground. Prior to Alford falling to the ground, witnesses testified that one of the officers used a baton on him that brought him to his knees.
At some point the witness says the officers noticed the cameras on the building. Four officers came and knocked on the door of an adjacent business just about an hour after the incident occurred inquiring whether or not the cameras on the rear exterior of the building worked.
Witnesses testified that the officers asked if they could see video that was recorded in the last hour. After viewing the video, they proceeded to leave when one officer came back. This officer asked for the video to be played for him one more time and he took out his cellphone, believed to be an iPhone, and recorded what he was being shown. The next day the LAPD used a search warrant to commandeer the video—but not before stationing an officer outside of the building until they could come back with that warrant.
A federal judge ruled in April that the LAPD had to turn over the raw video they confiscated to Alford and his attorney, but placed a protective order on the video barring either side from making it public.
Even though this incident involved four police officers and one sergeant, Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey only filed assault under color of authority charges against one officer, Richard Garcia.
Chief Beck has been quoted in the media as saying that the other officers involved were “not nearly as culpable as Garcia.”
In July, a veteran LAPD officer was sentenced to 16 months in jail for kicking and shoving a handcuffed woman who later died.
Mary O’Callaghan was charged with assault under the color of authority resulting from the 2012 South L.A. arrest of 35-year-old Alesia Thomas. By the time O’Callaghan arrived on the scene, two other officers had already handcuffed and hogtied Thomas.
According to prosecutors, Thomas was “helpless in the back of that police car” and simply trying to sit up so she could breathe when O’Callaghan, frustrated in trying to retie her, threatened to break Thomas’ arm, shoved her on the chest and throat and kicked her in her stomach and then her groin.
Thomas told officers her chest and legs hurt and she needed an ambulance, but Officer O’Callaghan refused to listen. She lost consciousness in the patrol car and was pronounced dead at a hospital. Later, a coroner’s report found that cocaine intoxication likely was a “major factor” in Thomas’ death and listed the cause of death as undetermined.
O’Callaghan was sentenced to three years in jail but had 20 months suspended making her eligible for release right after the holidays in January. None of the other officers involved were charged.
Just like with you or I, police officers are complicit simply by witnessing their fellow officers and saying and doing nothing. Those officers shouldn’t get a pass because they didn’t fire the gun or perform the assault. The same rules that apply to the community should apply to police officers that stand by and say and do nothing. If they won’t snitch on each other they have no business asking us to do the same. Bottom line.
Selected as one of ESSENCE Magazine’s 25 Women Shaping the World, KCET’s Southern California Seven Women of Vision, one of the Most Influential African-Americans in Los Angeles Under 40 and most recently one of Los Angeles’ Most Fascinating Angelenos by the L.A. Weekly, Jasmyne Cannick is best known as a political analyst and social commentator on the intersection of pop culture, politics and race online, radio, television and in print. Follow her online at jasmyneonline.com, @Jasmyne on Twitter and /JasmyneCannick on Facebook.