CHICAGO—When city officials released the dashcam video of Officer Jason Van Dyke shooting black 17-year-old Laquan McDonald yesterday, they shed new light on the events of Oct. 20, 2014. But the video’s release led to as many new questions as it answered.
Here are four questions that we still have about the McDonald shooting:
Why did it take so long to charge the officer?
A total of 400 days passed between the shooting and Van Dyke being charged with first degree murder on Tuesday.
Anita Alvarez, the Cook County State’s Attorney, who decided on the first degree murder charge, said that it took so long because she was conducting a thorough investigation of a complicated incident. "I’d rather take my time and get it right than rush to judgement and get it wrong," she said at a press conference.
But for many who saw the video for the first time on Tuesday night, it didn’t appear to be such a difficult decision. McDonald was clearly walking away from Van Dyke when the officer opened fire, hitting him 16 times. And for 13 of the 15 seconds that Van Dyke was shooting, McDonald was laying on the ground. Many observers described what the video showed as an “execution.”
Police union officials said at the time of the shooting that McDonald had “lunged” at Van Dyke. That’s clearly not what happened, from what the video shows.
Alvarez said she had already decided to file first degree murder charges “weeks ago,” and was just waiting for federal investigators to finish their concurrent investigation. In the shootings of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and other victims of police violence, however, state prosecutors first announced whether or not they would file charges and then federal prosecutors later announced their decisions, sometimes months afterward.
Alvarez acknowledged that the release of the video—which was ordered by a court last week—accelerated her decision to file charges. But many are wondering whether first degree murder would actually have been the charge if the video had never been made public.
Did police delete some surveillance footage of the incident?
Police and prosecutors say that the dashcam video the city released is the only relevant footage of the shooting. But a manager of the Burger King that McDonald walked by that night thinks that might not be true.
On the night he was killed, McDonald walked through the parking lot of a Burger King on the city's southwest side. Jay Darshane, the district manager of the chain, told NBC Chicago that he gave four officers the passcode to the store's security footage when they asked to review it. After they left three hours later, Darshane found 86 minutes of the footage deleted—a period of time that included the entire interaction between McDonald and officers.
At a Tuesday press conference, Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy said the idea that police officers scrubbed the tape was "absolutely not true."
Alvarez agreed. "Forensic testing was done on the Burger King surveillance system to determine if anyone tampered with the evidence and the testing did not reveal any such evidence," she said at her own press conference, without saying what kind of testing that was.
Was sound recorded in the dashcam video?
The video released by the city has no sound, and McCarthy said that the squad car’s dashboard cameras don’t record audio. But ABC7, the local affiliate, has reported they they’ve obtained a copy of the video that does have sound. That may be from the scene or may be due to the ABC version being a secondary recording made with a cellphone camera.
It’s not clear exactly what the significance of sound could mean. Some activists say a longer version of the video with sound could shed light on what the police were saying in the minutes before and after the shooting.
Many reports earlier this week said that the video was predicted to be released on Wednesday. The ABC affiliate said their leak prompted the city to release the video Tuesday night instead.
(Note: Fusion is partly owned by ABC News, but we have had no interaction with the local affiliate on this story.)
What will the political fallout be?
In the last few days, activists and elected officials have called for the resignations of Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the two top law enforcement officials, McCarthy and Alvarez. They argue that the trio didn't do enough before the shooting to prevent incidents like this and may have tried to minimize it after the shooting.
The Black Caucus said they planned to hold a no confidence motion in McCarthy at the next City Council meeting. If it passed, that motion would be symbolic—only Emanuel has the power to fire McCarthy. "The mayor fully supports Supt. McCarthy," a mayoral spokesperson told DNAinfo.
Reverend Jesse Jackson also said he wanted Alvarez out. “She needs to go,” he said at a press conference near the site of McDonald's death this weekend, the Chicago Sun Times reported.
And the National Bar Association, a group of mostly African-American lawyers and judges, also demanded that McCarthy and Alvarez step down.
Meanwhile, some activists in the street and on social media are calling on all three city leaders to step down.
Emanuel and Alvarez’s offices did not respond to requests for comment about these calls.
Even if all three stay in their jobs, which seems likely, the shooting is sure to have an impact in upcoming elections. Alvarez is facing an unusually competitive re-election race; she'll go before Democratic primary voters in March.
Casey Tolan is a National News Reporter for Fusion based in New York City.