On the Shooting of Laquan McDonald

Wednesday, November 25th, 2015

I was vaguely aware that the Chicago police had shot a black teenager last year and hadn’t released the video.

Nothing at all happens until five minutes in, when the car arrives at the scene:

Eric Raymond talks us through the shooting of Laquan McDonald:

The key portion of the video starts at about 5:19. The blade is visible in McDonald’s right hand; he draws it and brandishes it at 5:25 while facing slightly to the right of a police car that has him in its headlights. At 5:30 you can see that an officer has lined up a pistol on him.

At 5:32 he begins to turn towards the officers. One shoots immediately; he spins and goes down. At that point the officers go out of frame, but we can see at least one dust puff from an incoming bullet at 5:35. We see him either trying to get up off the ground at 5:36 or having a convulsion that simulates the motion; his head and shoulders rise slightly. As late as 5:38 his hands seem to be still moving.

We know from the autopsy that two bullets hit him when he was up and another 14 when he was down (or 15; accounts are inconsistent, and some may be counting at least one round that clearly missed and caused the dust puff).

Now let’s consider this from the responder’s point of view.

The first thing to be clear on is that McDonald was behaving in a crazily aggressive way when he died. You don’t pull a knife and brandish it in the presence of two cop cars if you’re thinking at all sanely.

If I had been a cop on the scene I would immediately have thought “angel dust”, and in fact the autopsy revealed that McDonald was high on PCP. This drug induces violence, freak strength, and insensitivity to pain.

This is a situation that amply justifies drawing a weapon and preparing to shoot. From the video, McDonald was well inside the 21-foot close-engagement limit – he could have rushed an officer with that knife before the officer could draw on him and trust me that this is not a chance to take with someone you suspect might be on PCP.

If you are any of the cops you are going to be adrenaline-dumping by now. This is a dangerous situation even with your gun drawn; the thug could charge you, take several bullets and still stab you fatally before he goes down. It’s happened often enough before.

Now, he angles slightly away from the group of cops, but they have to be thinking that if he shows any sign of charging they must shoot before he kills them.

I want to impress on my readers that this was a completely justified reaction. Everything the police have visibly done up to this point is textbook procedure for this situation, including what happens next: he turns towards them and Van Dyke, the cop now charged with murder, shoots.

We are still in unquestionable legal and ethical territory until McDonald goes down. What the police have done so far – those first two bullets – is correct.

The next correct thing to do would have been to stop firing for long enough to assess whether McDonald was still a threat. One way this could have gone is: Van Dyke stops shooting, McDonald levers himself off the ground, Van Dyke resumes shooting until McDonald is down again. That would still have been a “good shoot” for which Van Dyke would be neither legally nor morally culpable.

But that does not appear to be what happened. It appears that Van Dyke kept firing continuously at McDonald on the ground.


On the plain evidence of this video, what we have here is a criminally negligent homicide; manslaughter or possibly second-degree murder.

And if it is true that other cops conspired to cover it up, they should be prosecuted too. I can understand their reasoning – why let a cop who made a simple mistake under stress be ruined by the death of a drug-addict lowlife with a knife in his hand? But it was still wrong, because that habit of blue omerta covers up too much.


  1. Bomag says:

    Good grief. We have gone so far down the road that we have to count bullets to see if it was a “good shoot”.

    The Laquan McDonalds of the world are troubling. We’ve invested a fair amount on his behalf: school, I presume, and the various social programs we all use, and programs for the less fortunate. But what we received was a knife wielding, PCP fueled criminally aggressive young man who is cheaper to us dead than alive.

    That is almost too cruel to consider, and economics isn’t everything, but yet here we are. The Buckley adage seems apt, “feed them, but not too well.”

  2. Space Nookie says:

    The officer may have (mistakenly) thought he had a pistol and thus when he fell on his right side with right hand outstretched towards the officer it looked like he was still trying to shoot.

  3. Slovenian Guest says:

    People really think of shootings as some sort of Olympic discipline and how anything not resembling a duel between respectable gentlemen is somehow unfair. It’s almost seen as an offense against sportsmanship when the police puts someone “only” holding a knife down, the troopers didn’t even count to ten, sacrebleu!

    Which reminds me of Mythbusters: Never Bring a Knife to a Gun Fight.

    The myth is that it is foolish to bring a knife to a gunfight, but, if you were standing in front of me with a knife in your hand, and I’ve got a gun in my holster, I think I’m in danger! What do we want to know? What is the minimum distance at which a knife is in fact dangerous to a person with a gun.

    Adam Savage concludes: “When you hear the phrase, don’t bring a knife to a gun fight, it implies, that if you’re the one holding the gun, you should feel completely relaxed in your superior firepower against your opponents stone-age tool, and I think we totally busted that myth.”

    Even liberal Adam Savage would have pulled the trigger in this situation.

  4. Slovenian Guest says:

    Essentially MythBusters did the so called Tueller Drill:

    A self-defense training exercise to prepare against a short-range knife attack when armed only with a holstered handgun.

    Sergeant Dennis Tueller, of the Salt Lake City, Utah Police Department wondered how quickly an attacker with a knife could cover 21 feet (6.4 m), so he timed volunteers as they raced to stab the target. He determined that it could be done in 1.5 seconds. These results were first published as an article in SWAT magazine in 1983 and in a police training video by the same title, “How Close is Too Close?”

    A defender with a gun has a dilemma. If he shoots too early, he risks being charged with murder. If he waits until the attacker is definitely within striking range so there is no question about motives, he risks injury and even death. The Tueller experiments quantified a “danger zone” where an attacker presented a clear threat.

    Dennis Tueller Interview (YouTube)

  5. Johann Theron says:

    I am no expert in this, but my experience tells me that the cop kept on firing because he was under severe stress and was in fact releasing his emotional bucket, so to speak. Other people do that differently. You have no idea what it takes to confront a berserk (not crazy) person until you have done it and no idea how you will react regardless of a “good shoot” training. My view on this is that the cop was absolutely forced to lower his standards to become berserk himself, and he kept on shooting to make himself sane, i.e. to come back up from that terrible situation, which will undoubtedly happen again and again in America in future. So, other Officers should take serious note of this.

  6. Cornelius says:

    Fifty-eight minutes of the security footage from a nearby Burger King have been erased. Cops took the tape, returned, and the footage is now missing.

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