Laquan McDonald and What My Dying Father Told Me About Chicago Police

Laquan McDonald and What My Dying Father Told Me About the Chicago Police

Photo of former police chief Garry McCarthy
Now Former Police Chief Garry McCarthy (Source:
Photo of former police chief Garry McCarthy
Now Former Police Chief Garry McCarthy (Source:

This post was written by Marilyn Rhames and originally appeared in the Huffington Post.  It is reprinted here with permission. For more about the author, scroll down to the end of the post.

My daddy died in January 2013, and one of the last things we talked about was the Chicago police. He was an optimistic man with a fierce passion for social justice, but after a protracted debate with an ultra-idealistic me, he shouted, “Marilyn, don’t you know that the police is the biggest gang in the city?”

The conviction in his eyes let me know that he meant it.

[RELATED: Black Activists Demand Chicago Mayor and Police Superintendent Removal]

My daddy was born and raised near Money, Mississippi, and was a teenager himself in that tiny town the night 14-year-old Emmett Till was kidnapped and murdered by white racists. My dad grew up black in a social structure steeped in white supremacy, yet his encounters with the Chicago Police Department convinced him that cops here were worse than any Jim Crow-loving, Negro-hating, Southern vigilante he’d ever seen.

All this was nonsense to me. I thought my dad was crazy. Of course there are bad cops, I told him, but most police officers are good.

Now I’m finally understanding why a man who said nothing about his colon cancer until it was too late spent his last lucid moments with his second-youngest baby girl warning her not to trust the police.

Two years later, on my way to a teacher prayer meeting, I was pulled over, surrounded by three patrol cars, handcuffed, placed in the back of a squad car, and chained to a bench in a holding cell.

My crime? My driver’s license was 22 days expired.

Shortly thereafter, I started paying attention to cell phone and dashboard camera footage of police behaving badly and reading the obituaries of their victims: Eric Garner. Michael Brown. Tamir Rice. Walter Scott. Rekia Boyd. Freddie Gray. Sandra Bland. Samuel DuBose. Jonathan Ferrell. Corey Jones.

And now Laquan McDonald.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel called a special City Council meeting Wednesday to apologize to the city, to denounce the blue wall of silence that keeps police officers from snitching on one another, and to demand a change in a police department that too often treats black residents “like second-class citizens.”

The public response to the speech was swift and unequivocal: Thousands took to the street to demand Mayor Emanuel’s resignation, and I have to agree. His words are too little, too late.

A police dashcam video from last October clearly showed the African-American teenager walking away from police when Officer Jason Van Dyke unloaded his gun, striking Laquan 16 times–mostly while he lay helpless on the ground.

Who would shoot a dog 16 times?

A Teacher’s Take on This Tragedy

Laquan’s story has kept me up at night. I’ve taught my share of Laquan’s in the classroom, kids who are wards of the state and have bounced from foster home to foster home. I, like many urban teachers of poor children, often juggled dual roles: educator and surrogate mother to the motherless, father to the fatherless.

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