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The Laquan McDonald shooting video: Why does it veer AWAY from the shooters?

Since November 24 Chicago been quaking in its boots in response to the release of the shocking police video of the shooting of Laquan McDonald taken by a dashboard camera the night of October 20, 2014 and made public only a year later after the City was compelled to do so by court order.

The video is hard to watch. It’s damningly incriminating. But I’ve seen no mention made of one of its more damning aspects: the stunning fact that the squad car whose dashcam is intended to record the interactions of police and citizens defeats this purpose — intentionally or otherwise — by veering away from the shooters. This veering away occurs within the first seven of the approximately 20 seconds that it took Officer James Van Dyke to shoot Laquan McDonald 16 times.

Make no mistake, the video does clearly depict Van Dyke making his first shot. It also captures some of Van Dyke’s shots as they hit McDonald’s prostrate body. That said, for all but one of the shooting’s 20 seconds — the very first — the dashcam is focused not on Van Dyke but on this cyclone fence on Pulaski road:

Focus of the video from 0:26 to the end at 1:42

At the far left of the screen, almost as if by accident, lies Laquan McDonald. Officer Van Dyke and his partner are off screen to the left with one brief exception: at 0:41 one of them is seen kicking McDonald’s hand as if to see if he is dead or alive:

This is all that the police video shows of the two policemen involved in the shooting after the first shot.

For its first 23 seconds, the video does what a dashcam video is intended to do: record police and suspect alike. But for the remaining 1:19 of its 1:42 length, both officers involved in shooting are offscreen. (I refer to the 1:42 portion of the CPD dashcam video that was released by the Chicago Tribune; full clip is below.)

At 0:19 of the video, it is properly focused on police and suspect.

Here at 0:19 the video shows Officer Van Dyke and his partner approaching McDonald, guns drawn and aimed threateningly at McDonald. At this very point, however, the squad car taping the video begins to veer to the right. Why? Within seven seconds — by 0:26 — the car has slowed to a halt with its dashcam now facing away from shooters. From this point on to the very end of the video McDonald’s killer will be off screen.

Question: Why on earth would the dashboard cam veer away from the shooter at this critical moment of the shooting if not to protect the shooter?

Second question: What on earth will members of the jury at Van Dyke’s trial make of a video whose primary focus is a cyclone fence?

Prosecutors may depict it as the first act of a massive cover up that began the night McDonald was shot.

For his part, Van Dyke’s attorney, Daniel Herbert, is already stressing the importance of the first shot. He may try to make hay of the fact that the video shows only Officer Van Dyke taking his first shot.


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