Activists are divided over the release of dashboard camera videos like the one showing the fatal shooting of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald last year. Credit: Photo by Emily Jan

As the city awaits the court-ordered release this week of a police video of the fatal shooting of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald, Chicago activists are debating whether the footage should be made public.

Cook County Judge Franklin Valderrama ruled last Thursday that the video must be released by Nov. 25. The Chicago Police Department had argued that public airing of the footage would interfere with ongoing investigations by the Independent Police Review Authority, FBI, U.S. Attorney and a federal grand jury.

Valderrama rejected that position, ruling that the police department could not withhold a dashboard video based on the argument that it could impede an investigation being conducted by another agency.

Shot from a squad car in October 2014, the video reportedly shows McDonald, who is African-American, being fired upon 16 times by a white police officer.

“I worry a lot about these videos, because we have seen a lot of them and they get consumed [like entertainment],” said Page May, an activist with the group We Charge Genocide.

Longtime political organizer Mariame Kaba, founder and director of Project NIA, said she doubted the McDonald video would shed new light on the teenager’s death.

“It’s over a year now since this young man was killed, executed basically, and we have known since early in the year the details of that execution,” she said, citing news accounts of people who have seen it. “So the people who consistently are saying the video will provide more information are being disingenuous.”

She called the video “trauma porn.”

But Frank Chapman, field organizer and educational director of the Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression, sees value in publicly airing videos of police shootings.

“I think that when crimes are committed by people sworn to uphold the law, who have been empowered by citizens to do that, then they have to be held accountable—and I think releasing this video is part of making that accountability happen,” Chapman said.

The McDonald family has not granted interviews, but their lawyer, Michael Robbins, recently told WTTW’s Chicago Tonight that McDonald’s mother does not want to view the video and does not want it released. Robbins did not return calls for comment for this story.

“If the family didn’t want this released, then [public airing of it] just adds to the injustice,” May said. “This video is about to be seen by millions of people. If [a police officer kills me] I don’t want my body turned into a viral video.”

Brandon Smith, the independent journalist who filed the lawsuit to gain access to the McDonald video, said he understands the family’s concerns. But he said the video could spur reforms and lead to greater police accountability.

“I do not begrudge them their position wanting their son’s death to not be public,” he said. “That said, it’s a high price to pay to keep that video private, and that price is the chance that reform does not happen.”

Some attorneys say Valderrama’s decision, which struck at the heart of the department’s rationale for rejecting requests for police shooting videos under the Freedom of Information Act, could force the city to release footage of other officer-involved shootings moving forward.

“In this instance, CPD is no different than any other employer of someone who is being investigated,” said Matt Topic, an attorney with the civil rights law firm Loevy & Loevy, who represented Smith.

Other Cook County judges are not bound by Valderrama’s decision because it is not an appellate court ruling. Yet Topic believes it likely sets a precedent for how similar cases will be handled.

“It’s something the [Chicago] police department is going to need to make sure that it’s complying with,” he said.

Brendan Healey, an attorney who specializes in FOIA law at the law firm Mandell Menkes, said the decision could have wider ramifications. The section of the law that allows agencies to withhold investigatory records is one that is “often abused,” and not just by police departments, he said.

In South Carolina last month, state police released dash-cam video of the shooting of Zachary Hammond, a white 19-year-old, but only after the investigation was completed and a prosecutor decided that the officer would not face charges. The state initially had rejected FOIA requests by three newspapers for the video, citing the ongoing investigation as the basis for their denial.

Protesters demonstrated nightly last week in Minneapolis after Jamar Clark, an unarmed black man, was shot by police on Nov. 15. Witnesses said Clark was handcuffed at the time, which police dispute, and activists there have called for the release of the video of that incident.

Smith said he was surprised that some Chicago-area activists don’t want the McDonald video released. But at this point, with his lawsuit won and the city on the verge of releasing it, he is hoping that it does more good than harm, he said.

“Mainly I just want to do right by the communities that have been impacted by [police violence],” he said. “I’m just trying my best to do right by them as best I know how.”

~ Reporting intern Caitlin Gerena contributed to this story.

Jonah is a reporter for The Chicago Reporter. Email him at and follow him on Twitter @jonahshai.

Adeshina is a former reporter for The Chicago Reporter. Follow him on Twitter @ Public_Ade.

Join the Conversation


  1. Its very sad that the release of the video and all the details were NEVER shared with the family when the city rushed to settle and I pray for the family who are learning more details now that they never knew before the city settled. And as a veteran activist I am learning a great deal with each day for I had originally ignored the piece as almost a “business as usual” in the Black community but now I am glad of the refocus and release for there is NO WAY that I could have or should have been able to ignore an police execution like this and the successful attempt by by the city and others til now cover it all up.

    1. How much has the city decided a young black man is worth?
      More importantly, when are we going to refuse to be bought off like cattle?

        1. Amen to that, if they would quit executing blacks and just follow the law then it would not cost 5,000,000 to pay for injustices.
          Hopefully this will dissuade them from murder, respect for money trumps respect for life with these bigots.

        2. Simple formula. Just take what a racist POS like you is worth and multiply by 10. That is what McDonald’s value is.

          1. Actually, the calculation is generally based upon what the deceased would have earned during his lifetime. In this case, however, I’d say that it would have been appropriate to donate the amount that would have been spent upon Laquan’s arrests, prosecutions, incarcerations, rehabilitation, entitlements. and/or other social service handouts to a deserving organization such as RIF, so that it can afford to rehire Lavar Burton.

  2. you would think these neegers have something more getting educated, getting a job and being productive. Whinning aand going zulu everytime soemthing happens they dont like is getting really boring..time to change the channel cause i dont give a chit

  3. Deven Guildord was murdered

    he was white

    there is video

    WHERE IS THE OUTCRY !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!????????????????????????

    I believe a lot of Police are getting away with shooting citizens

    1. I’ll get to “outcrying” about Deven after I’m finished “outcrying” each of the tens of thousands of African Americans who have been mistreated by the police because of their race. I think I’ll get to Deven around 2023 –please feel free to hold your breath until then.

      1. why arent you focusing on the millions of black people killed by other black people if quantity is your only criteria

        1. Ummmmm…. becasue no one has EVER suggested that black people killing black people “isn’t a crime” or that the killers in those cases “shouldn’t be charged” or even worse that they “did a good job”. Did you HONESTLY not already understand that? Seriously?

    2. Agree, that killing was ALSO unjustified. But the pure fact is that cops are still MORE likely to use extreme violence against black suspects than white suspects. So, having more protests and larger protests about police killing black suspects is understandable. And hopefully it will result in new regulations to protect ALL suspects from overuse of police violence.

    3. @aanonn

      There was plenty of outrage here about Deven Guilford’s murder and on other websites if you bothered to look. No one should support the police shooting unarmed citizens.

  4. If the Internal Affairs departments across this nation either can’t or won’t do their jobs in a timely fashion, the citizens need to see these videos released to media a lot sooner than THIRTEEN MONTHS later. And then the people need to act on them within the framework of our political and judicial systems.

    1. And the cops who shoot them lose their jobs and get indicted for murder. Good. And some day, racist d-bags like you will wonder why their kids and grandkids don’t come to visit, and the answer will be “Because you are such a sick hateful old a-hole grandpa!”

    2. Wrong teenager on drugs. But since he wasn’t white he’s automatically a thug in your racist mind. Why not just call him a n166er and drive your point home.

    1. You don’t know either one of these people. All WE know is a cop killed an innocent person and was charged with murder. It was a black person so you’re happy about it…

    2. “what good do they do” They as in black kids? You just denigrated an entire race of kids because this one was behaving irrationally. Your racism is showing but I suppose you intended it to show.

  5. I certainly don’t condone shooting innocent people. The media prints pictures of Laquan Johnson in his high school graduation robes, but when he was killed he was sky high on angel dust (PCP) and was stabbing tires with a knife. PCP is known to charge up a person to feats on incredible strength and soaring imagination. Some of them have leaped off of roofs thinking they can fly. Let’s see the video for sure, and then let the law do its job.

    1. I guess when they release the video we’ill know if you’re making up a pack of lies to ease your conscience

    2. Considering the officer was charged with first degree murder today, it’s much more likely that the officer executed the teenager, and the Mayor, States Attorney, and investigating officers up the chain of command were trying to cover it up. Sunshine is a wonderful disinfectant. A policy of releasing these types of videos within a day or two would likely lead to fewer events like this.

    3. His autopsy came up negative for drugs and alcohol… It now looks like the whole police story is suspect at this point, and so I wouldn’t bet any money that he actually attacked a police car.

  6. Translation: After setting on the video for more than a year, and not finding any plausible reason to clear the killer cop. Chicago officials were forced to release the video in compliance with a judges ruling. Main detail missed by bigots, was that officer arrived on scene, and within 30 second shot the dude 16 times. Then he tried to reload, but was stopped by another on scene officer.

  7. The 17year old was not innocent he was high on PCP and had a knife in his hand roaming down the streets. The only thing that was not justified was he was shot that many times, otherwise the 5 million the parent got ( yet she hated him ) and now the backlash and looting of the city by animals. Protests are fine but to break things, steal things, etc is just ridiculous! I guess they will now have Xmas gifts for their families?!?!?
    On another note they don’t show the black cop shot a 6 year old white child with autism?? Where is the media on that???

    1. He wasn’t on PCP. This was yet another lie that is still circulating despite proof to the contrary. Read the autopsy. All tests for drugs and alcohol came back negative.

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