Policing and the Media: The View from Chicago

The death of Laquan McDonald in October 2014 was, in too many ways, shockingly familiar: a young black male, shot to death by a Chicago police officer seemingly without provocation. What was exceptional about McDonald’s death was its documentation: unbeknownst to the public, a dash-mounted camera in one of the police cruisers recorded the McDonald shooting. This video, suppressed by the Chicago Police Department for more than a year, was eventually released by court order in November 2015. The existence of video evidence, and the efforts to keep it hidden from public eyes, has ignited an even-greater storm of controversy and catalyzing a wave of protest against the Chicago Police Department and the city government. Thus far, the city’s police chief has been fired and calls for the resignation of the mayor and other city officials have grown louder.

The McDonald killing forces us to confront a series of questions about the relationship between policing and media in the contemporary moment. Police-sanctioned violence is hardly a novel occurrence in Chicago, a city whose history is so pockmarked with incidents of violence upon its citizenry that it gave birth to the notion of the “police riot”(fn). From the Haymarket riots of 1886 and the race riots of 1919, to Mayor Richard Daley’s infamous “shoot to kill” order in 1968 and the police riots at that summer’s Democratic National Convention, up through the decades-long reign of torture under Jon Burge and the recent spate of shootings, Chicago’s history of policing is as violent as any city in America. And yet among the thirty seven people shot by police in 2014, it is Laquan McDonald’s death has catalyzed public reaction; thanks to the existence of video documentation, we can see what happened with our own eyes.

This seemingly simple observation belies a much more complex set of issues regarding the relationship between policing and media in the contemporary moment. With this roundtable, we seek to investigate those in some greater detail. To do so, we’ve convened a panel whose varying perspectives on the topic promise us a complex and multifaceted look at the issues.

Policing and the Media: An Introduction to the Roundtable (March 11, 2016)

In the first entry, Brendan Kredell introduces our panelists and lays out several of the issues we’ll address in the weeks ahead.

Framing a Shooting (and a Movement): Mainstream Media’s Mendacity vs. Independent Journalism’s Dogged Pursuit of the Truth (March 12, 2016)

Steve Macek explores the backstory of the Laquan McDonald shooting in this second entry to the roundtable, and examines how different media outlets responded in its aftermath.

A Private Grief Made Public (March 13, 2016)

In this post, Margaret Schwartz considers how spectacular police violence imperils the right to grieve in private.

The Past Remains Present (March 14, 2016)

In this entry, Joy Bivins explores the vulnerability of young black bodies and contrasts the legacies of Emmett Till and Laquan McDonald.

As Chicago Goes, So Goes the Nation? (March 20, 2016)

Beginning the second round of our Policing and the Media roundtable, Brendan Kredell considers how the McDonald killing fits into a history of police violence in Chicago and across the nation.

Recollections and Reflections on Chicago (March 25, 2016)

In her second post, Margaret Schwartz reflects upon the politics of racial identity and the militarization of urban space.

Whitewashing the Violence of the Local State (April 9, 2016)

In the final roundtable post, Steve Macek reflects on the long history of police violence in Chicago and the media’s complicity with that history.