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Charging Chicago Officer With Murder Fails To Quell Outrage Over Teen's Death


Scores of protesters took to the streets of Chicago after the release of a video showing a white Chicago police officer shooting and killing a black teenager.


WERTHEIMER: Prosecutors are charging the officer with first degree murder for killing 17-year-old Laquan McDonald last year. Such charges are rare in police shootings. But as NPR's David Schaper reports, it's done little to quiet the outrage.

DAVID SCHAPER, BYLINE: The dashboard camera video from a police vehicle arriving on the scene on the night of October 20, 2014 shows 17-year-old Laquan McDonald at first running, then slowing to a fast walk down the middle of a busy Chicago street while he is holding a small knife. As officer Jason Van Dyke steps out of his vehicle with his weapon drawn, the teenager veers further away from him. That's when Officer Van Dyke starts firing. McDonald's arm jerks. His body spins around, and he falls to the ground. The officer keeps firing, 16 shots in all, with smoke rising from some of the bullets hitting the body.


ANITA ALVAREZ: It is graphic. It is violent. It is chilling.

SCHAPER: In announcing the first degree murder charge against Van Dyke, Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez says the officer's use of lethal force was unnecessary and not justified. In addition to the video, she says there are eyewitness accounts, including that of a man who watched the confrontation unfold.


ALVAREZ: The motorist stated that McDonald never moved toward, lunged at or did anything threatening towards the officers before he was shot and fell to the ground.

SCHAPER: An autopsy later found McDonald had PCP in his system. And Van Dyke's lawyer insists the officer feared for his life. Defense attorney Dan Herbert says the video of the shooting is not as clear-cut as it may appear.


DAN HERBERT: People will judge the split-second actions of my client. However, the standard in this case is, what was my client experiencing at the time in which he made this split-second decision to fire?

SCHAPER: Critics wonder why it took prosecutor Alvarez more than a year to file charges against the police officer, especially when the city quickly agreed to pay McDonald's family a $5 million settlement last spring before the family had even filed a lawsuit. Others question why Mayor Rahm Emanuel's administration fiercely fought the release of the video up until last week, when a Cook County judge ordered it be made public. It's a pattern involving police misconduct that many of those marching in the streets of downtown Chicago last night say is still too come in.

BRANDON HARRIS: Yeah, I feel like it should have been - something should have been done about it a long time ago.

SCHAPER: Brandon Harris says he's seen the video of the shooting.

HARRIS: It was terrible. It was very terrible.

SCHAPER: Harris says it's important that young black men such as himself speak out and demonstrate. But as for his expectations for the protest...

HARRIS: Honestly, I don't think this part is going to do much 'cause they protest everything else that happens in this city, and nothing else gets done about it. I think it has to be done a different way.

SCHAPER: Nonetheless, the protests are expected to continue. Officer Jason Van Dyke is being held without bail at the Cook County Jail. His next court appearance is Monday. David Schaper, NPR News, Chicago. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.