Laquan McDonald and What My Dying Father Told Me About Chicago Police

Laquan McDonald and What My Dying Father Told Me About the Chicago Police

Photo of former police chief Garry McCarthy
Now Former Police Chief Garry McCarthy (Source:

In the past 12 years, I’ve engaged with dozens of black boys like Laquan, whose life trajectory points them to prison or the grave. These kids redefine what some educators like to call “grit,” for they keep going despite having felt five lifetimes worth of sorrow by the time they turn 6.

According to published reports, the state first removed Laquan from his mother for neglect when he was 3, then he was returned to her and taken away again at age 5 after receiving a severe beating by his mother’s boyfriend. He bounced around a great deal and was reportedly sexually molested while living in two separate foster homes.

It’s not hard to understand why Laquan might have self-medicated on PCP that fateful night he roamed down Pulaski Road carrying a three-inch knife.

What, then, should teachers tell the Laquans in their classrooms? Tell them that the school system will help them? The last CEO of Chicago Public Schools just pled guilty to taking millions in kickbacks and in just two months, 5,000 CPS teachers may lose their jobs because politicians have robbed their pension funds for decades.

Should teachers still encourage students of color to believe the promise of justice for all and the virtues of democracy? Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the City Council decided to give Laquan’s unfit mother $5 million to keep her from revealing the video that showed her child being executed by a city cop the month before a heated election. City leaders weighed Laquan’s tragic death in dollars and cents instead of doing what was right–placing it on the blind scales of justice.

Give me a reason why black male students like Laquan should feel safe cooperating with police when cops manage their misconduct using the same “no-snitch rule” on the streets? The police ask the community to step forward when criminal activity occurs, but they don’t do the same when one of their own commits a misdeed.

After all, it was the police who drafted a false news release about Laquan lunging at Van Dyke with a knife; the police allegedly drove eyewitnesses away from the murder scene, and a Burger King manager told reporters that the police confiscated the restaurant’s surveillance video and erased 86 of its incriminating minutes.

If the merciless killing of a child didn’t inspire the six to eight cops who were on the scene and witnessed the shooting to “snitch,” then what would it take? A police serial rapist? A police suicide bomber? A police officer who targets only other police officers?

The blue wall of silence is virtually impenetrable, and it’s the reason why in the past decade Chicago has paid out more than half a billion dollars in police brutality settlements, not including the $5 million in hush money given to Laquan’s mother who, ironically, also mistreated him.

Had it not been for freelance journalist Brandon Smith and activist William Calloway who sued the city under the Freedom of Information Act for the release of the dashcam video, it’s doubtful that Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez would have ever filed first-degree murder charges against Van Dyke, who for more than a year after the shooting wasn’t indicted and remained on the CPD payroll. Alvarez needs to resign, too.

Let’s Redefine Some Terms

Instead of being in their 30s, the age I was when I first heard my dad denounce the police, kids who are 7-, 8- and 9-years-old are watching YouTube videos that whisper the same thing: Don’t trust the police. They can murder you and get away with it.

The deaths of Laquan and other victims of police brutality are forcing us to redefine the conventional meanings of the terms “thugs,” “snitches,” “gang activity” and “organized crime.”

When the most vulnerable of children, wards of the state, can’t find protection from badge-slinging cops and elected officials who are supposed to protect them, we have become a nation of cannibals.

I desperately want my daddy to be wrong, but the only way for me to still believe that the Chicago police force is mostly good would be for the “good cops” to step from behind their thick blue wall and stand up for the victims of police brutality, starting with Laquan McDonald.

Marilyn Rhames has taught in district and charter schools in Chicago for the past 11 years and currently serves as alumni support manager at a K-8 charter school. A former New York City reporter, Rhames writes award-winning education commentary featured on Moody Radio in Chicago and formerly in Education Week. She is a 2016 Surge Institute Fellow and the founder of the Christian nonprofit, Teachers Who Pray.