Lies, cover-ups and Laquan McDonald: The 16 shots that ripped Chicago apart

Lies, cover-ups and Laquan McDonald: The 16 shots that ripped Chicago apart

16 shots. That’s what it took to rock the political and social landscape of Chicago down to its very core.

Laquan McDonald, a 17-year-old black youth, was shot 16 times by Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke on the night of October 20, 2014. What followed was a story of protests, cover-ups and one of the most important convictions in the history of the United States.

Showtime’s new documentary ‘16 Shots’ dissects the story of the fatal shooting and the events that it set in motion.


The documentary begins with the official story that the police released to the press immediately after the shooting: Laquan McDonald was shot once in the chest in an act of justified self-defense by officer Van Dyke after McDonald attempted to attack him with a knife.


The first clue that something was out of the ordinary came after it was revealed that police officers had tampered with the security tapes at a nearby Burger King restaurant, deleting 86 minutes of possible evidence.

The second thing that raised a red flag was that, despite there being three eyewitnesses to the shooting, the police report showed that none of the witnesses saw or heard anything.

Speaking to the filmmakers, the witnesses confirmed that they had indeed tried to tell the cops what they saw but the police attempted to pressure them to change their testimonies to fit the official narrative.

The initial police report was signed off on by police supervisors and the shooting was ruled a case of justifiable homicide.

Jamie Kalven, a journalist, got his hands on the autopsy report and it soon became clear that the Chicago Police Department was lying, at least in part, if not in whole.

The autopsy revealed that McDonald had 16 gunshot wounds, all fired from the same gun, peppered all over his body.


Around the same time, McDonald’s estate got their hands on a dash-cam video from officer Van Dyke’s car that showed the youth being shot multiple times, even after his body had already hit the ground.

Convinced by their lawyer that it would be impossible to get a police officer convicted in Chicago, the family decided to take a $5 million settlement from the city.

The dash-cam footage was initially withheld on the grounds that it pertained to an ongoing investigation.

There has been some speculation that the video was intentionally suppressed by the office of then-Mayor Rahm Emanuel so that it would not adversely affect his chances for re-election in 2015.

The video evidence was finally released to the public after an order by Cook County Judge Franklin Valderrama and Van Dyke was subsequently charged with first-degree murder.

When the footage was finally released, the city of Chicago watched in shock as it was now made perfectly clear that the initial police report was false. While he did have a knife, Laquan McDonald was not shot "once" in the chest. He was shot 16 times.


In this still image taken from a police vehicle dash camera released by the Chicago Police Department on November 24, 2015, Laquan McDonald walks up a street just prior to being shot by Chicago Police officer Jason Van Dyke on October 20, 2014 in Chicago, Illinois

With racial tensions rising around the nation at the time, protests broke out in Chicago demanding the resignations of the Mayor, the State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez and the police superintendent Garry McCarthy.

The overwhelming public pressure led to McCarthy being fired in December 2015 and Alvarez being voted out of office in 2016.

2015 also saw the Justice Department begin an investigation into the Chicago Police Department. Van Dyke was indicted soon after and pleaded not guilty.

Rahm Emanuel announced in September 2018 that he would not be running for re-election.

Soon after, the trial of Officer Jason Van Dyke began with the defense claiming that the officer acted out of fear for his life and demanding that McDonald be referred to as “the offender” and not “the victim”. The entire city held its breath as it waited for the verdict.


On October 5, the jury announced that they had found Van Dyke guilty of second-degree murder and 16 counts of aggravated battery with a firearm, one count for each shot he fired.

Protesters, community leaders, and McDonald’s family rejoiced at the unprecedented verdict, the first time a police officer was found guilty of murdering a person of color in the history of Chicago.

Those celebrations were short-lived, however, as the judge chose to ignore the aggravated battery charges and sentenced Van Dyke to a little less than seven years in prison, with a chance for early release after less than three and a half years if he earns credit for good behavior.

‘16 Shots’ will premiere on Showtime on June 14.


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