In the latest high-profile racial railroading of a white policeman for obvious political reasons, it has taken authorities over a full year to decide to charge Chicago cop Jason Van Dyke in the fatal shooting of black 17-year-old Laquan McDonald.
The obviousness of the racial/political theater here is largely due to the fact that the timing of the ridiculous charge — first degree murder — being suddenly announced after all these months, so transparently coincides with the sudden FOIA public release of a police dashcam video of the shooting which, to the untrained eye, looks pretty bad.
The video in question has been in the possession of the authorites this entire time. If it was a bad shoot, especially if so bad as to amount to first degree murder, they should have charged him long ago, apart from the racially ginned-up public and media hysteria wrought by release of the video, no?
As for allegations about the incident itself, there are some gray areas, and some clear-cut lines.
Officers were attempting to apprehend McDonald, who was later determined to have had PCP in his system, after he had been rampaging around the area and using a knife to not only break into cars and other property, but also slashed the tire of a police car when an initial attempt to arrest him failed just moments before he encountered Van Dyke and other officers.
The video shows that McDonald was not “walking away from” the officers, as many are insisting; he was walking briskly abreast of them and turning toward them(5:05), his left hand inside his pocket and swinging the knife in his right hand.
Most police officers are trained on the “21-foot rule”(also known as the Tueller Drill), the distance at which an officer’s “reactionary gap” (the time it takes the officer to recognize the threat, reach, draw, aim, and fire on the subject) puts his own life in jeopardy from a subject with an edged weapon.
Here’s a very good demonstration of the 21-foot rule:
It has been proven over and over again (unfortunately not only in training drills but in many cases where officers have been murdered/gravely wounded) that an agile subject with an edged weapon can suddenly, as rapidly as 1.5 seconds, close a distance of up to 21 feet to fatally stab/slash a victim, even kill or seriously wound a trained police officer armed with a gun.
That’s less time than it takes an officer to recognize the threat, reach, draw, aim, and fire on the subject — the “reactionary gap.” 1.23 seconds is the fastest closing time of the 21-foot distance measured.
I played the video over and over at various speeds. At 5:05 McDonald actually turns toward the officers as he walks briskly abreast of them, swinging the knife in one hand, his other hand in his pocket. He takes 4 more steps before suddenly jerking, spinning, and going down.
If Van Dyke perceived McDonald’s turning toward the officers as signaling an attack, it can be argued that he legitimately deemed McDonald (who had just slashed a police car’s tire with the knife) to be an imminent deadly threat within the 21-foot reactionary gap.
That perception might not mean to a jury (Graham v. Connor) that Van Dyke necessarily had to shoot McDonald, but it would definitely mean he’s not guilty of murder. Not first degree, nor second degree.
The 21-foot rule has come under scrutiny and criticism in recent years/months, and I predict it will (just as “stand your ground,” misapplied as it was, in the Zimmerman case) be the centerpiece of this case.
Oh, and by the way, as for the number of shots Van Dyke fired (the video also shows the PCP-loaded perp still reaching for something, presumably a weapon, long after he’s down), the answer is that once the decision to use deadly force is deemed appropriate, the number of shots is really moot — although we all know that the public, media, and jurors tend to imagine that there can somehow be some kind of “excessive” force beyond deadly force.
Here’s an excellent but horrific real-life example of why the 21-foot rule came about. A man armed with a blade is surrounded by police who have guns, yet he manages to kill 2 of them and gravely wound 2 others before being brought down, still moving on the ground: