Laquan McDonald had been dead for 13 months before the public saw the dash cam video showing him walking away from police officer Jason Van Dyke when he was gunned down, killed at the age of 17. Van Dyke shot him 16 times within 14 seconds. When that video was released, the general public learned that the police reports were full of, well, lies. More than four hundred pages of notes from several officers claimed that McDonald lunged at Van Dyke with a knife drawn. But the video showed what really happened. Van Dyke was consequently charged with six counts of first-degree murder and only found guilty of one count of second-degree murder. Justice was not served. Through it all, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel mostly stayed silent, refusing to force anyone to release the video early and leaving Black folks to fend for themselves. There was no outrage. No morning show rants. Nothing.
That’s vastly different from the way he’s acted in the last 24 hours over Jussie Smollett.
On Monday, it was announced that all 16 charges against the “Empire” actor, who was accused of lying about being the victim of an alleged hate crime in January, had been dropped. Emanuel responded by going on a tirade about Smollett and the Chicago criminal justice system.
“This looks like because he’s an actor, a person of influence, he got treated differently than anybody else,” Emanuel said Tuesday on Good Morning America after spending the previous day outraged at his belief that Smollett’s ability to not face trial or jail time was a miscarriage of justice. His passion for the Smollett case — one in which no one was murdered — was vastly different from any we’ve seen from the mayor in relation to actual dead Black bodies, especially at the hands of his city’s police officers.
The fact of the Smollett case is that the Chicago Police Department’s own incompetence got in its way. The police force, so thirsty to prove Smollett lied, flooded TMZ and other news outlets with leaks that mostly proved to be false. When the Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson gave his George Bush “we defeated terrorism”-esque speech gloating at the fact he felt he caught Smollett in a lie, he ranted about the actor writing a check to stage the assault. That was false. There was no way a case that had so many leaks from the police and preliminary information was going to hold water, especially stemming from a super-aggressive 16 felony charges. This has been my stance all along — regardless of if we believe Smollett, he was never going to serve a minute in prison because the police botched this investigation so terribly. I said so last month. So Emmanuel and his angry police cronies shouldn’t look at Smollett and his celebrity as the reason he didn’t face trial — they should look at a corrupt criminal justice system that failed so terribly.
Emanuel’s outrage has been disgusting to watch and triggering for those of us who watched his silence and internal scrambling about damage control over the case instead of an actual pursuit of justice for a dead Black boy. Emanuel didn’t just stay silent, he actively tried to inhibit justice being served by hiding what was on the tape. Emmanuel stayed silent about the Black Site, a place where hundreds of mostly Black prisoners disappeared and were held captive. He’s actively shut down schools across the city. And through it all there’s the ghost of Laquan.
Every word that Emanuel uttered in outrage over Smollett this week has been a slap in the face; a disgrace to the life Laquan lived and the way he was killed. Emanuel and the police force’s outrage shows what they really value: the ability to lock up and execute whatever Black person they want without consequence. If you want a representation of what Emanuel’s administration — and far too many government administrations in America — think about Black people, it’s the fact that their anger is reserved for locking Black people up and never for saving Black lives.
David Dennis, Jr. is a writer and adjunct professor of Journalism at Morehouse College. David’s writing has appeared in The Guardian, The Smoking Section, Uproxx, Playboy, The Atlantic, Complex.com and wherever people argue about things on the internet.