The Killing of Laquan McDonald: Murder or a Justifiable Use of Deadly Force?
I’m often asked to share my opinions regarding officer-involved shootings and other similar incidents, but I choose not to offer personal viewpoints because the purpose of The Graveyard Shift is to present factual information with, of course, an occasional bit of fun tossed in. I especially do not address issues regarding race, religion, and/or politics.
With that said, I thought it appropriate to post a dash-cam video recently released by the Chicago PD. The footage shows Chicago officer Jason Van Dyke shooting a suspect, Laquan McDonald, 16 times. McDonald was carrying a small knife in his hand and was several feet away from the on-scene officers when he was shot and killed.
Now, I’d like for you to clear your mind of all notions you may have of police officers, good or bad, and then watch the video with an open mind, much like jury members are asked to do. Afterward, please continue with the remainder of this article. Also, please try not to cloud your open mind with the age and race of the people in the video. Just the facts, as they say.
While the video is sinking in, let’s talk about the use of deadly force and when it should or should not be employed.
The use of deadly force is permitted in cases of self defense and to defend the lives of others. In other words, a real threat to someone’s life must be present in order to justify using deadly force. No threat to life or serious injury = no use of deadly force.
Was there a clear threat to life or serious injury in the incident shown in the above video?
1. Police officers are legally allowed to shoot a fleeing criminal suspect only when the suspect has killed/seriously injured someone and the officer believes the suspect will continue to kill or further cause serious bodily injury to others. This was not the case at the time the video was recorded.
2. Police officers are not required to be absolutely certain that a suspect is in possession of a dangerous weapon before they’re legally permitted to use deadly force. However, a threat must be perceived at the time the use of deadly force is employed.
3. Officers are not required to use less-lethal weapons before resorting to deadly force.
Do either of the above three rules apply to the shooting in the video?
What about #4? Is it possible that Officer Van Dyke feared for his life or the life of another? I believe that’s what his attorney has stated, that he feared for his own safety.
4. There are no absolute, clear, and defined laws that police officers must follow when using deadly force. An officer’s perception at the time of the shooting is enough to justify the act. In other words, only the officer who used deadly force can know if he percieved a suspect’s actions as a threat to his life or the life of others.
While you’re pondering these points, let’s address some common questions regarding knife-wielding suspects.
Some argue that a small knife, like the one held by McDonald at the time he was shot, present no danger whatsoever. Actually, the size of the knife is not an issue. Small blades can kill as easily as their larger cousins.
Why not use some sort of martial arts technique to disarm a knife-wielding suspect who is on the attack.? The answer to this question is quite simple. There is no foolproof technique, so why should the police or anyone for that matter, be forced to wade into a knife fight, barehanded? The suspect has initiated deadly force and that force must be responded to with the amount of force that’s necessary to stop the threat to the officer’s safety. The officer must defend himself with deadly force, if possible.
What about keeping a safe distance? Why not simply follow the guy until he gets tired and gives up? Well, suppose he’s using meth and doesn’t tire for 12 hours? Suppose he walks until he runs across an innocent person and decides to stab them? Obviously, this is not an option. At some point the police will need to confront the situation to end it.
We’ve mentioned distance, right? So what is a safe distance from a potential attacker who’s displaying a knife or other edged weapon? Well…
There is a long-standing and proven rule that an officer cannot draw, point, and fire his/her weapon if the attacker starts the assault from a distance of 21 feet.
In the photo above, the officer’s weapon is still in his holster, therefore he should be contemplating a means of survival other than attempting to draw his sidearm and shoot, such as running for cover, or preparing to go into a defensive tactics mode—hand-hand combat, with the almost certainty of being cut. I have nasty scars on all five fingers on my right hand, and my head, as proof of this last-resort tactic.
However, if the officer already has his weapon drawn and in a ready position, he’ll be able to effectively fire a round to stop the threat. Remember, officers are taught to shoot center mass, not shoot to kill, or to shoot a weapon from the attacker’s hand. That stuff is for TV.
In the two photos above the officer would easily be able to stop the threat by firing a round or two.
Okay, by now you should have a basic grasp of when the use of deadly force is appropriate when dealing with knife-wielding suspects. Now, let’s return to the shooting of Laquan McDonald, by Officer Van Dyke. Did you see anything in the video that should/could justify the use of deadly force? Did McDonald make any movements that could be deemed as threatening to the officers or to anyone else? What about the number of shots fired—16? After all, we know that when using deadly force officers are trained to shoot until the threat is stopped.
What did McDonald do that could be perceived as a threat, and when, exactly, did the threat cease to exist? Was it after two shots? Five? Ten? Fifteen? Or was it the 16th round that terminated the threat?
Or, did the officer simply commit outright murder with an obvious disregard to human life?
Well, prosecutors have now charged Officer Van Dyke with 1st degree murder and he is currently being held in jail, without bond. Obviously, they believe they have a solid case.
I’d like to hear your thoughts on the use of deadly force against McDonald, but I ask that you address only the use of deadly force, saving comments regarding race and/or cop-bashing for your own sites.
My prediction – Guilty of second degree murder among other charges. We’ll see. It’s going to be interesting.