The Chicago Police and Mayor Rahm Emanuel want us to be calm. They want us to be quiet, hidden from plain sight. They want us pacified in the face of injustice. And, the mainstream media is great at conveying their desires.
For the past year since 17-year-old Laquan McDonald was murdered by Officer Jason Van Dyke, these institutions and political figure heads have emphasized words like “healing” and “calm” when discussing Black and brown people in Chicago without addressing the systematic targeting of Black and brown youth in the city, the hyper-policing of Black and brown neighborhoods, and the intentional disinvestment from Black and brown communities.
Now, in advance of the release of dash cam footage showing Van Dyke shooting McDonald 16 times in a public lynching style execution, these same actors expect Black and brown communities to respond with kindness, goodwill, and positivity toward police and the city-at-large. We are again, as we have so many times before, witnessing the reckless and murderous structures of institutional racism forced upon Black and brown bodies. Meanwhile, the justifiably indignant reactions to those structures are being spotlighted as if they are the initial problem themselves. But, we have to shift the focus.
First, let’s focus on who Laquan McDonald actually was. His life history tells the familiar story of struggle against systemic oppression in this country. Having experienced abuse in his short life and becoming a ward of the state at least three times, McDonald was living with his grandmother Goldie Hunter, whom he was reportedly very close to up until her death last year.
When Officer Van Dyke murdered McDonald, he was getting his life in order and his mother was working on getting custody of him following custody issues with his uncle. Suffice it to say, McDonald was in the midst of turmoil long before Officer Van Dyke decided to kill him. He was subject to long-established systems of oppression and exclusion which slowly murder Black and brown people with colorblind policy every single day.
With these life experiences, McDonald was already at a higher likelihood for police violence because of higher susceptibility to drug use, post-traumatic stress disorder, and criminalization from the United States justice system. These are the invisible-by-design impacts of systemic oppression in this country. Rarely do we hear the realities of transitioning into adulthood from foster and group home experiences in adolescence. Because young Black and brown people who find themselves in systems committed to silencing them, shuffling them out of sight, and minimizing the publicity of their plights are rarely discussed until stories like these, the mainstream media fixates on how these stories end and almost never addresses where they began.
The mainstream media will continue to focus on the conditions of McDonald’s death as if those final minutes were the totality of his life. They will hone in on autopsy reports, police officers’ accounts of the events of that fateful interaction, and the actions of the Chicago bureaucracy following McDonald’s murder as if that is where the real focus should be. Once the video is released, they will wait with bated breath with their fingers poised to pen stories about “violent” Black communities who act “irrationally,” “out of anger,” and who are “causing more harm than good.” They will do this because most White people in this country are still unwilling to face the systems in which they daily invest that ensure the intimidation, exclusion, disinvestment from, and genocide of Black and brown citizens in this country. They will attempt to hold the focus on these distractions because that is what they do. We can’t let them.
News broke today that Officer Van Dyke will be charged with murder. And, while this is a step in the right direction, it still doesn’t do the work of charging the systems of oppression in this country with genocide.
Laquan McDonald, Sandra Bland, Blake Brockington, Islan Nettles, Rekia Boyd, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice and so many others are not individual cases that should be reduced to the conditions of their deaths. They are not singular random cases amidst a usually equitable society. They are Black and brown people whose lives were systematically erased and eradicated by White Supremacy in the United States. This is where we should focus. Period.