The Laquan McDonald Case and Police Brutality in America: An Essential Reading List

Jason Van Dyke has been sentenced to over six years in prison. Read Pacific Standard's most relevant stories on the Chicago policeman's murder of a black teenager.
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Former Chicago police Officer Jason Van Dyke, left, listens with his attorney Daniel Herbert at Van Dyke's sentencing hearing at the Leighton Criminal Court Building on January 18th, 2019, in Chicago, Illinois.

Former Chicago police Officer Jason Van Dyke, left, listens with his attorney Daniel Herbert at Van Dyke's sentencing hearing at the Leighton Criminal Court Building on January 18th, 2019, in Chicago, Illinois.

Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke was sentenced Friday to 81 months in prison for the murder of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald in Chicago in 2014. This particular case, one of countless incidents of police brutality against black Americans, came under national scrutiny after journalists and activists found inconsistencies in the police's narrative. The police dashboard camera video was released to the public in November of 2015; it showed Van Dyke opening fire on McDonald right after stepping out of his vehicle and continuing to shoot him as he lay on the ground.

This footage contradicted police reports, which said McDonald, who was holding a knife, lunged at Van Dyke before he began shooting. On Thursday, a Chicago judge acquitted three police officers for trying to cover up the murder. Their defense was that the video only showed one side of the situation.

Here's a short reading list of some of Pacific Standard's most relevant stories about the McDonald case and, more generally, about police brutality in the United States.

  • When Emma Sarappo reported on Jason Van Dyke's conviction in October of 2018, she delved into the background of the shooting of McDonald and how the court arrived at its charge of second degree murder and 16 counts of aggravated battery for the Chicago policeman.
  • Sarappo also examined a study finding that people who have experienced police violence are more likely to have suicidal thoughts and other mental-health issues.
  • Nikole Hannah-Jones' essay, "Taking Freedom: Yes, Black Americans Fear the Police. Here's Why," offers first-hand insight into the strained relationship between black people and American law enforcement.
  • Tom Jacobs wrote about a 2017 study that links unconscious racial bias in white communities with use of lethal force against black people by the police.
  • Arvind Dilawar interviewed researcher Camille Fassett about OpenOversight, a database that indexes information on American police officers, including any associated incidents.
  • Jared Keller investigated a 2016 study that revealed "no definitive proof of discrimination" in police shootings. Keller points out that the study lacked sufficient data to be able to make this conclusion.
  • Kate Wheeling looked at a study that found viewers of body camera footage were less likely to assign blame to the police officer wearing the camera than they were to the same officer when viewing dashboard camera footage.

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