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Caring for Life Before Death

Laquan McDonald’s death has transfixed the city of Chicago, as it should.  Sixteen bullets shot by a police officer, months of investigative delay, months of a cover-up of the fact that a video existed of his police execution, months spent refusing to release the video, have culminated in a week of protests, the arrest and arraignment of the police officer, the firing of a police superintendent, calls for the resignations of the mayor and the county district attorney, revelations of unexplained and convenient gaps in a retail shop’s security camera adjacent to the crime scene, and a bizarre threat of gun violence that shuttered the University of Chicago and related institutions for a day.  Everyone, it seems, knows the name of Laquan and the manner of his death.  Far fewer, however, have paid much attention to his life.

The following bullet points tell the sad story that preceded the sixteen bullets fired in October, 2014.

  • At age 3, Laquan was removed from the care of his mother when the Department of Children and Family Services found evidence of neglect.
  • He was placed by the state in foster care.
  • Shortly after that, following an investigation into alleged abuse at his foster care home, Laquan was removed from his foster care placement.
  • He was placed in a relative’s home.
  • Seven months later he was moved again to the home of his great-grandmother.
  • A year and a half later he was returned to the care of his mother.
  • A year later it was determined that his mother’s boyfriend was abusing him.  He was returned to foster care.
  • Later in the same year he was returned to the care of his great-grandmother.
  • At age 10, his great-grandmother became his legal guardian.
  • Laquan remained in her care for another five years.
  • In 2013 when Laquan was fifteen his great-grandmother died.
  • Laquan was returned to state custody.
  • A few months later, in January, 2014, he was arrested on suspicion of possessing marijuana and detained in a juvenile justice center.  He lived at the center for five months.
  • In May, 2014 he was released and moved in with his uncle.
  • Two months before he was killed, and still a ward of the state, he began attending an alternative school for students aged 16 to 21.  There he showed signs of progress.
  • Laquan was killed on October 20, 2014.

Sixteen bullet points trace the chaos of this young man’s life.  Sixteen bullets ended it.

The months since his death have been marked by numerous failures.  The failure of the police to address the behavior of an officer who, prior to the shooting, had been the subject of multiple citizen complaints.  The failure of the district attorney to bring timely charges against the officer.  The failure of the police, the DA, and the mayor to reveal to the public the existence of police dashboard video that clearly shows Laquan walking away from the police prior to being shot and lying on the ground when most of the shots were actually fired.  The failure of the  city Alderman to raise probing questions when they were asked to approve a $5 million settlement (hush money?) with the family.  The failure of the police superintendent to address systemic and historic crimes by the police, particularly in communities of color. 

While this is happening, Illinois’ governor is pushing for massive cuts in state funding of social service programs vital to providing even the most minimal support and protection for at risk children and youth.  The mayor’s appointed school board is closing schools.  Public school teachers have been unable to negotiate a contract while the mayor and the governor fight over ways to pay teachers’ promised but underfunded pension plans.  Justice for dead Laquan rings hollow in a community that refuses to adequately provide for the countless living Laquans still fending for themselves in fragile or dysfunctional families and child welfare systems and underfunded and understaffed schools. 

Laquan has garnered far more attention in death than he did in life.  Liberals often criticize conservative right to life advocates for caring more about children before their births than after.  It appears that caring more for children after their deaths than before is a crime many of us, liberal and conservative, are guilty of committing.

                         John H. Thomas

                         December 3, 2015

[The account of Laquan McDonald’s life is taken from a CNN report on November 25 by Ashley Fantz and Anne Claire Stapleton]


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