Chicago’s skyline as seen from the Adler Planetarium. (Creative Commons, Flickr user MattB)

Laquan McDonald’s Death Centers Chicago’s History of Police Violence and Corruption

By Malik Alim with contextual reporting by Todd St.Hill, BYP100 (Chicago)

I was having a party at my apartment on the south side of Chicago in Bronzeville with my roommates. I was made aware that there were police at the door; so knowing the procedure, I made my way to the front door, and prepared my identification to address the officers concerns about my party. Instead of being asked to quiet down by the police officers, I was immediately handcuffed and pushed down onto the floor in front of at least 100 of my college classmates.

As I sat on the floor in the foyer of my own apartment in handcuffs, I looked up as a white officer explained to her colleague that I was being “insubordinate”. He then snarled in my face, “I would have shot the motherfucker”. It is a common narrative when a young black kid is shot by police to mention that there were drugs or alcohol in their system at the time of their arrest. I was drinking when the cops showed up at my apartment. It could have been very easy for the police to mold a story about a black belligerent drunk man attacking cops at a party.

I could have been Laquan.

“Sixteen Shots!” were the words shouted over and over again by activists, organizers, and outraged community members in the days following the release of the video. The shooting death of Laquan McDonald by the Chicago Police Department is another story of callus police violence and murder. It is an example of police and political corruption, disproportionate neglect, and disenfranchisement from Black communities in Chicago. Chicago has too many Laquan McDonalds.

Laquan’s story not only lays bare the ongoing epidemic of police brutality that exists in Chicago and nationwide, but it also highlights the dramatic level of racialized inequality that exists in the city. This is an inequality whose weight is disproportionately placed on the shoulders of this city’s poor and working class Black population. Police violence against Black people and economic inequality have a deep history in Chicago, from the harassment and murder of the freedom fighters of the Black Panther Party to the systematic removal of Black people from their homes using redlining practices employed by the city.

The mayor would rather put 40% of the city budget into policing instead of addressing the rising unemployment rate in Black youth between the ages of 18 to 34. Instead, Black America has continued to bare the brunt of the economic downturn of 2008, and has not experienced any of the relief. Body cameras and more Black police officers are not sustainable or proven solutions to police brutality.

These solutions that are provided by government officials will not solve the interpersonal violence that we see in our communities. Divestment from law enforcement and real investment in the futures of Black youth and Black communities is necessary. We need our tax dollars to be invested in quality education, livable wages with union representation, universal child care, and full access to reproductive healthcare regardless of ability to pay are some sustainable solutions to the problems Black Americans are facing in Chicago and across America.

We are grieving Laquan’s death and the trauma that the Black community continuously experience. We have decided to turn our grief into fuel for organizing for righteousness, justice, and power.


Malik Alim and Todd St.Hill come to us via Black Youth Project 100, in Chicago.