SPRINGFIELD – I watched the video in disbelief.
Bullet after bullet tore into the prone body of Laquan McDonald. The shooting of the 17-year-old was captured on video by a squad car’s camera.
It was a horrifying display of the ultimate use of government power – the taking of a human life.
I’ve been a reporter for nearly 30 years. Early in my career I covered cops and crime. I’ve covered shootings that were justified and some that were not.
But what happened after the shooting was all too familiar. Folks started to lie. Bureaucrats covered their butts. And politicians pointed fingers.
There is no other way to describe the situation. It was a cover-up. Initially, the Chicago Police Department said McDonald was shot once after lunging at an officer. But the autopsy showed that he was shot 16 times. And the video shows him walking away rather than lunging at anyone. McDonald was no saint. But no one deserves to be shot while lying helpless on a street.
A tenacious freelance reporter, Brandon Smith, filed a Freedom of Information Act request for the video. When the request was denied by the city, he went to court, fought for its release and won.
And it was not until the video was on the brink of release that the officer involved was charged with murder.
It was 13 months after the shooting. Thirteen months.
Oh, and the taxpayers of Chicago already had paid a $5 million settlement to McDonald’s family with a provision that video would remain confidential.
Just call it hush money.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel said he didn’t see the video until it was made public last week.
The city dished out millions of bucks to McDonald’s family and the mayor hadn’t even bothered to see what was on the video? Give me a break.
Even in Chicago, $5 million isn’t chump change.
But who is this Brandon Smith? He’s the reporter who forced the Chicago Police Department to release the video.
He writes part time for whoever will buy his work and also has worked in restaurant kitchens and drives for Uber to support himself.
Smith broke this story without working for any particular news organization. In fact, this small-town Ohio native, who set the Chicago’s political establishment on its ear, hasn’t even earned his bachelor’s degree yet.
But he already is holding those in power accountable and demanding transparency from the opaque corridors of Chicago’s City Hall. And he is learning some tough lessons about those in power not wanting to be held accountable.
On the day the video was made public – because of his lawsuit – Chicago police officers turned him away from a mayoral news conference.
Why? They don’t consider him “legitimate” media.
Well, he may not have a press pass in his pocket, but he has truth marching at his side. And for the public, horrified by the images he brought to light, that is credential enough.
• Scott Reeder is a veteran statehouse reporter and a journalist with Illinois News Network, a project of the Illinois Policy Institute. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.