Activists and relatives of Laquan McDonald, a black teenager in the United States who was killed by a white police officer more than four years ago, have decried a court ruling that acquitted three current and former Chicago officers of conspiring to protect a white colleague by lying about the circumstances around the fatal shooting.
The October 2014 killing of 17-year-old McDonald, which was captured on police video, triggered months of protests and became emblematic of long-standing police abuse in Chicago, the country’s third-largest city.
On Thursday, Judge Domenica Stephenson acquitted officers Joseph Walsh and Thomas Gaffney and detective David March of trying to cover up the shooting, dismissing as just one perspective the shocking dashcam video of McDonald’s killing that also led to a federal investigation of the police department and the rare murder conviction of an officer.
White Chicago cop convicted of murder in shooting of black teen (2:22)
In casting off the prosecution’s entire case, the judge seemed to accept many of the same defence arguments that were rejected in October by jurors who convicted officer Jason Van Dyke of second-degree murder and aggravated battery.
He is scheduled to be sentenced on Friday, facing up to 20 years in prison for the second-degree murder conviction and up to 30 years for each of the 16 counts of aggravated battery, one for each shot he fired at McDonald, who was carrying a knife.
The judge said the video showed only one viewpoint of the confrontation and that there was no indication the officers tried to hide evidence.
“The evidence shows just the opposite,” she said. She singled out how they preserved the graphic video at the heart of the case.
THE LISTENING POST: Cops, lies and videotape: the death of Laquan McDonald (9:05)
‘Sad day for America’
McDonald’s family questioned how the two cases could produce such different decisions.
His great uncle, the Reverend Marvin Hunter, told reporters that the verdict means “that if you are a police officer you can lie, cheat and steal”, adding that it proved the city’s legal system was “corrupt”.
“This is not justice,” he said. “To say that these men are not guilty is to say that Jason Van Dyke is not guilty,” Hunter added, describing the verdict was a step backwards for the black community’s struggles for justice.
“It is a sad day for America.”
The court’s decision does nothing to exonerate a police department so rotten that a teenager can be murdered—on video—by one of its officers and no one in the chain-in-command lifted a finger to do anything about it.
— ACLU of Illinois (@ACLUofIL) January 17, 2019
Karen Sheley, of the ACLU of Illinois, said in a statement: “The court’s decision does nothing to exonerate a police department so rotten that a teenager can be murdered – on video – by one of its officers.”
The case has provoked periodic street protests since 2015, when the video came to light, and the acquittals could renew that movement.
Eric Russell, executive director of Tree of Life Justice League, a police accountability advocacy group from Chicago’s West Side, said he and other leaders expected hundreds to protest against the verdict on Friday before Van Dyke’s sentencing.
“We will be down here tomorrow by the hundreds, and we will cry out for justice for Laquan,” Russell said.
Special prosecutor Patricia Brown Holmes said she hoped the verdict would not make officers reluctant to come forward when they see misconduct. Her key witness, officer Dora Fontaine, described how she had become a pariah in the department and was called a “rat” by fellow officers.
Videos of US police killings fail to bring justice (2:11)
The trial was watched closely by law enforcement and critics of the department, which has long had a reputation for condoning police brutality.
Walsh, Gaffney and March were accused of conspiracy, official misconduct and obstruction of justice. All but Gaffney have since left the department. They asked the judge, rather than a jury, to hear the evidence.
After the verdict, Walsh would say only that the ordeal of being charged and tried was “heart-breaking for my family, a year and a half”.
In her ruling, the judge rejected prosecution arguments that the video demonstrated officers were lying when they described McDonald as moving and posing a threat even after he was shot.
“An officer could have reasonably believed an attack was imminent,” she said. “It was borne out in the video that McDonald continued to move after he fell to the ground” and refused to relinquish a knife.
The video appeared to show the teen collapsing in a heap after the first few shots and moving in large part because bullets kept striking his body for 10 more seconds.
The judge said it’s not unusual for two witnesses to describe events in starkly different ways. “It does not necessarily mean that one is lying,” she said.
The judge also noted several times that the vantage points of various officers who witnessed the shooting were “completely different”. That could explain why their accounts did not sync with what millions of people saw in the video.
FAULT LINES: Confidential: Surveilling Black Lives Matter (25:53)
Both Van Dyke’s trial and that of the three other officers hinged on the video, which showed the former opening fire within seconds of getting out of his police vehicle and continuing to shoot the teenager while he was lying on the street. Police were responding to a report of a male who was breaking into trucks and stealing radios on the city’s South Side.
Prosecutors alleged that Gaffney, March and Walsh, who were Van Dyke’s partners, submitted false reports about what happened to try to prevent or shape any criminal investigation of the shooting. Among other things, they said the officers falsely claimed that Van Dyke shot McDonald after the latter aggressively swung the knife at the officers and that he kept shooting the teen because McDonald was trying to get up still armed with the knife.
McDonald had used the knife to puncture a tyre on Gaffney’s police vehicle, but the video shows that he did not swing it at the officers before Van Dyke shot him and that he appeared to be incapacitated after falling to the ground.
Attorneys for Gaffney, Walsh and March used the same strategy that the defence used at Van Dyke’s trial by placing all the blame on McDonald.
It was McDonald’s refusal to drop his knife and other threatening actions that “caused these officers to see what they saw”, March’s lawyer, James McKay, told the court. “This is a case about law and order (and) about Laquan McDonald not following any laws that night.”
City Hall released the video to the public in November 2015 – 13 months after the shooting – and acted only because a judge ordered it to do so. The charges against Van Dyke were not announced until the day of the video’s release.
The case cost the police superintendent his job and was widely seen as the reason the county’s top prosecutor was voted out of office a few months later. It was also thought to be a major factor in Mayor Rahm Emmanuel’s decision not to seek a third term.
The accusations triggered a federal investigation, resulting in a blistering report that found Chicago officers routinely used excessive force and violated the rights of residents, particularly minorities. The city implemented a new policy that requires the video of fatal police shootings to be released within 60 days, accelerated a programme to equip all officers with body cameras and adopted other reforms to change the way police shootings are investigated.
US: Chicago police accused of racist use of ‘bait trucks’ tactic (2:16)
According to the Washington Post’s Fatal Force database, at least 995 people have been killed by the police in the US in 2018. The Post found that more than 980 people were killed by police the previous year.
The Guardian identified more than 1,090 police killings in 2017.
Nearly a quarter of those killed by police in 2016 were African Americans, although the group accounted for roughly 12 percent of the total US population.
According to watchdog group The Sentencing Project, African American men are six times more likely to be arrested than white men.
These disparities, particularly the killing of African Americans by police, has prompted the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, a popular civil rights campaign aimed at ending police violence and dismantling structural racism.
Saudi Arabia issues calming statement as Lebanese tensions rise over port explosion case
BEIRUT: Saudi Arabia’s Ambassador to Lebanon Waleed Bukhari told Lebanese religious figures on Tuesday that the Kingdom “cares for Lebanon’s security, stability, institutions and co-existence between Christians and Muslims.” The Saudi embassy’s media office said: “There is no legitimacy for the discourse of strife, nor for one that goes against Lebanon’s Arab identity.” This was…
BEIRUT: Saudi Arabia’s Ambassador to Lebanon Waleed Bukhari told Lebanese religious figures on Tuesday that the Kingdom “cares for Lebanon’s security, stability, institutions and co-existence between Christians and Muslims.”
The Saudi embassy’s media office said: “There is no legitimacy for the discourse of strife, nor for one that goes against Lebanon’s Arab identity.”
This was the first Saudi statement since the bloody clashes in Tayouneh on Oct. 14.
At least seven people were killed in the violence in Beirut amid a protest organized by Hezbollah and its allies against the lead judge probing last year’s blast at the city’s port.
The protestors, gathered by Hezbollah and the Amal Movement, demanded the removal of Judge Tarek Bitar from the investigation.
According to the embassy’s statement, Lebanon’s Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdul Latif Derian “expressed his appreciation for the Kingdom, led by King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, for never abandoning Lebanon and its people, despite the unfair stances against the Kingdom by some Lebanese parties that only represent themselves.”
Sheikh Derian added that “the Saudi-Lebanese relations have always been and will remain solid regardless of any offensive speeches because our relations are above these speeches and Saudi Arabia will always see Lebanon as an Arab brotherly country.”
The statement comes after the Intelligence Directorate summoned the head of the Lebanese Forces, Samir Geagea, to the Defense Ministry on Wednesday as part of the investigation into the bloodshed in Tayouneh.
The summoning was the motivation for Maronite Patriarch Bechara Al-Rahi’s spontaneous visits on Tuesday to Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, Prime Minister Najib Mikati and President Michel Aoun.
Al-Rahi denounced “the summoning of Geagea only by the Intelligence Directorate to testify.”
Charles Jabbour from the Lebanese Forces party told Arab News that “Geagea will not appear at the Defense Ministry on Wednesday.
“They should start with summoning Hezbollah Leader Hassan Nasrallah. All parties should give testimonies, beginning with the party that called for the demonstration. Only when a judge dares to summon Nasrallah, will we be able to talk about a state and a judiciary in Lebanon.”
The move to summon Geagea was condemned by several political figures.
Former Premier Saad Hariri refused “to engage in an absurd conflict and the frontlines of a civil war and sectarian divisions.”
He added: “Announcing that Dr. Geagea was informed to appear before the Intelligence Directorate via a plastered notification is absurd and leads the country into further division along with using state machinery for revenge politics.”
Former Premier Fouad Siniora also denounced “the bias of the judicial authorities in the military court over the deplorable Tayouneh events and the continuing violations of the constitutions by those who were entrusted with the task of preserving and protecting it.”
Siniora rejected “the practices seeking to use the judiciary for reprisals against political opponents, and not for its main mission: To seek the truth and achieve justice.”
Lebanon’s Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblat criticized the “selectivity instead of a transparent and just investigation for a comprehensive justice.”
He said: “All those who fired shots in the Tayouneh events should be arrested, without discrimination, and this destructive and futile political dispute must be ended.”
Samy Gemayel, head of the Lebanese Kataeb Party, announced his rejection to “all the means Hezbollah and the Amal Movement have resorted to in hampering the investigation into the Beirut port blast.”
Hezbollah accused Geagea of firing the first shot on Oct. 14 at the demonstrators who penetrated the anti-Hezbollah and Christian-majority Ain Remaneh area.
Former Prime Minister Hassan Diab, who is also a defendant in the Beirut port explosion investigation, visited Sheikh Derian on Tuesday, reiterating his demand “to either lift immunity from everyone without exception, or adopt the legal and constitutional mechanisms in force in the Supreme Council for the Trial of Presidents and Ministers.”
So far, all the politicians who have been accused of being involved in the Beirut port blast have declined to appear before Judge Bitar.
Amal Movement and Hezbollah ministers have refused to attend Cabinet sessions unless Judge Bitar is removed and the investigations into Tayouneh are halted, causing a governmental paralysis at a time when Lebanon is in desperate need of reforms to unblock the international aid that would lessen its dire economic situation.
Prime Minister Mikati hoped on Tuesday that “Cabinet meetings will resume as soon as possible to make the decisions required to activate the work of commissions and committees and do what is needed from the government.”
Mikati added that he hoped his government would supervise “the parliamentary elections with full integrity, to enable these elections to renew the political life in Lebanon.”
The joint parliamentary committees held a session on Tuesday and voted to keep the electoral law as it was, thus rejecting Aoun’s proposal to make amendments.
Aoun had objected to holding the elections on March 27 and to the proposals to change the expatriate voting formula by canceling the six seats allocated for Lebanese voters who live abroad.
Damascus bookshops disappear as crisis hits culture
LONDON: A former Iranian air force pilot exiled in Turkey has said he still feels unsafe after a failed kidnapping attempt last month. Mehrdad Abdarbashi, a former helicopter pilot who defected from the military when he was ordered to fight in Syria, had previously tried to resign from the armed forces, but Tehran rejected his…
LONDON: A former Iranian air force pilot exiled in Turkey has said he still feels unsafe after a failed kidnapping attempt last month.
Mehrdad Abdarbashi, a former helicopter pilot who defected from the military when he was ordered to fight in Syria, had previously tried to resign from the armed forces, but Tehran rejected his resignation and seized his passport.
In 2018, he said he received orders to be deployed to Syria on behalf of the Assad regime and decided it was time to flee Iran.
“It was the first time I was being deployed there, and I refused because I did not want to be involved in a proxy war going on there,” he told Al Jazeera.
He is now in hiding in eastern Turkey, and was recently targeted by two Iranian agents who tried to drug and kidnap him.
Turkish intelligence, which had been in contact with Abdarbashi, foiled the plot. The Iranian agents were charged with espionage and conspiracy to commit a crime in a Turkish court earlier this month.
But Abdarbashi said he still fears the Iranian regime will reach him despite Ankara’s protection.
“I don’t think I am safe in any city in Turkey right now. I think Iranian intelligence will come after me, and this time they won’t try to kidnap me, this time they will just kill me,” he said.
“Of course, Turkish police and intelligence are still looking after me. But I still think Iranian agents will somehow reach me.”
Iranian exiles in Turkey are often targeted by Tehran’s agents, who try to kidnap them to bring them back to the Islamic Republic.
In June 2020, Eisa Bazyar, a writer critical of the Iranian regime, was forced into a car in western Turkey and held for two days before he managed to escape.
The following November, Habib Chaab, an Iranian dissident with Swedish citizenship, was seized as he transited through an Istanbul airport.
For a period of time, it appeared that Ankara was complying with and even directly cooperating with Tehran’s attempts to kidnap foreign dissidents and bring them back to Iran.
In two cases, Ankara assisted with the capture and deportation of men sentenced to death for their role in anti-regime protests.
But last year’s war between Azerbaijan — perhaps the nation with the closest ties to Ankara — and Armenia over the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh appears to have prompted a cooling in relations between Turkey and Iran. Their opposing sides in the Syrian conflict has also proved a more subtle bone of contention.
As relations between the two large Middle Eastern states — which share a long border and have a centuries-old history of Persian-Turkic competition — have declined, Ankara’s cooperation with Iranian intelligence operations on Turkish soil appears to have ceased.
In February this year, Turkish police arrested an Iranian diplomat at the Istanbul consulate in connection with the assassination of spy-turned-dissident Masoud Molavi Vardanjani in November 2019.
Kuwait Times Wednesday, October 27, 2021
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