The sight of a cop emptying 16 bullets into the body of a black teenager was one Chicago police likely hoped the public would never see. But after a year-long battle to get dashcam footage released, viewers around the world on Tuesday night watched video of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald take his last steps before officer Jason Van Dyke buried him in a haze of bullets and gun smoke.
Viewers struggled to understand why the 14-year veteran cop would repeatedly shoot a teenager who, though armed with a small knife, was walking away. Still more wondered why a cop would continue to shoot -- and try to reload -- well after the teen was motionless on the ground.
Van Dyke's actions were an outlier on the scene. Of the eight police officers present, he was the only one who had fired his weapon. He did so because he "feared for his life," his lawyer said.
Though Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy lamented the tragedy, they painted it as the actions of one bad apple. But for Chicago police, the department's reputation of being "rotten to the core" -- marked by conspiracy, corruption, torture and racism -- stretches back nearly a century.
"The utter disregard for the fulfillment of their duties by the police department is appalling, and there is no question in the minds of the members of this jury that the police department is rotten to the core," Frank J. Loesch, founder of the Chicago Crime Commission and anti-corruption reformer, said of the Chicago police in 1928.
At that time in Chicago's history, there was a vanishing line between organized crime and corrupt politicians. The department was described in a 1929 Illinois Association for Criminal Justice study as a pawn for both.
That same year, President Herbert Hoover's Wickersham Commission peered into the nation's law enforcement efforts and found that police torture and interrogation tactics dubbed the "third degree" were "thoroughly at home" in Chicago: adult and even juvenile suspects were worked over with everything from a rubber hose to the Chicago phone book.
In the subsequent decades, the tactics would only get worse.
Chicago police treatment of not just suspects but everyday citizens made worldwide in headlines in 1968 when officers clashed with anti-Vietnam War protesters amid the Democratic National Convention in Chicago. In one of the more egregious instances of brutality, police took off their badges and marched into crowds of chanting protesters to club them to the ground.
Connecticut Sen. Abraham Ribicoff called the police action "Gestapo tactics" in front of the entire convention as a furious Mayor Richard J. Daley looked on.
Robert Maytag, the chairman of Colorado's delegation, at one point interrupted the convention proceedings to ask: "Is there any rule under which Mayor Daley can be compelled to suspend the police state terror perpetrated this minute on kids in front of the Conrad Hilton?"
The following year, the Chicago Police Department reached another grim benchmark with the slaying of Fred Hampton.
Burge, who honed his torture techniques during Vietnam, oversaw the abuse of roughly 100 black men over three decades. Many of his victims were wrongfully convicted -- some to death row -- as a result of the interrogations that included beatings, suffocation and electric shocks to the genitals.
The city has since paid more than half a billion dollars in Burge-related lawsuits, while Burge himself served 3 1/2 years after he was convicted of perjury in 2011. While many of his victims still fight for restitution, Burge now lives near Tampa, Florida, where he keeps a boat named "Vigilante" and is on a $4,000-a-month police pension.
The 22-year-old Boyd was shot to death by Dante Servin, an off-duty detective, as she was enjoying an unseasonably warm spring evening with friends on the South Side in March of 2012.
Servin got into a verbal altercation with Boyd's group over noise as they were standing in the park. He claimed he "feared for his life" after a man in Boyd's group pointed a gun at him. It later turned out to be a cell phone. Servin fired over his arm at the group, fatally hitting Boyd in the back of the head.
Boyd's family was awarded $4.5 million in a wrongful death suit against the city, but Servin himself escaped conviction. He was cleared of all charges of involuntary manslaughter without having to mount a defense. The judge made her ruling on a technicality, saying prosecutors could not prove Servin acted recklessly because his actions were clearly intentional. In other words, the cop walked because he was under-charged.
Cook County State Prosecutor Anita Alvarez on Tuesday charged Van Dyke with first-degree murder in the shooting of Laquan McDonald. Alvarez said she was confident her office could meet its burden, citing video footage of the shooting as well as witness accounts. Alvarez didn't specify if the witnesses were motorists on the scene, or any of the seven police who were on the scene with Van Dyke.
Taylor expressed skepticism that any of the officers on scene would break their supposed "code of silence."
"[Cops] go on record, they write reports, they testify before a grand jury. And if they’re proven wrong, they’re committing perjury," Taylor said. "They can’t turn back."
For police that do break rank, Taylor said retribution is all but certain. He cited Detective Frank Laverty, who handed prosecutors evidence he gathered in 1982 which proved cops had fingered the wrong man for a crime.
"Laverty, an experienced homicide detective, was reassigned to watch new recruits give urine samples," said Chicago attorney Flint Taylor, whose People's Law Officewas involved in the case. "In the station, we learned later that when Laverty walked through the room, [Cmdr. Jon] Burge would pull out his gun, put it to Laverty's back and go 'Pop! Pop!' in front of all the other cops in the room."
Van Dyke's indictment was the first time in more than 30 years that a Chicago police officer had been charged with murder. If convicted, he could serve 20 years to life in prison -- and would be the first Chicago cop in the modern era to be convicted of first-degree murder from an on-duty shooting.