Editorial: Alvarez and the delay of justice for Laquan

  • Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez talks to reporters after the bond hearing for Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke, on murder charges in the killing of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald.

    Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez talks to reporters after the bond hearing for Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke, on murder charges in the killing of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald. Associated Press Photo

 
Updated 11/28/2015 4:48 PM

Let us put this succinctly: Overnight -- or more pointedly, over the course of 13 months -- Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez has lost virtually all credibility, and the onus is on her not only to restore it but to explain why she should not be expected to resign.

Her resignation is what the National Bar Association called for on Wednesday after the city of Chicago finally released the now-infamous video showing a white police officer, identified by authorities as Jason Van Dyke, gunning down black teenager Laquan McDonald in October 2014.

 

Alvarez's office filed murder charges against Van Dyke on Tuesday, and a few hours later the city released the video it had sought to suppress.

"It's unacceptable that it took over a year to file these charges against officer Van Dyke," said Benjamin Crump, president of the bar association of predominantly African-American lawyers, judges and educators. "Not only did it take a year to file these charges, but Van Dyke was able to continue in the capacity of a police officer during this delayed investigation."

We concur with Crump's observations, as they were reported by Mashable. The long delay in prosecuting this case is one of the more inexplicable aspects of a tragic police shooting that in itself defies explanation.

The reality is, every aspect of this case is troubling. Earlier this year, the city -- with the blessings of Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the city council -- reached a $5 million settlement with Laquan's family.

That settlement came without a lawsuit, despite the fact that Laquan was a ward of the state, and with an agreement to seal the dash-cam videos from public release.

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But the most stunning aspect of that settlement is this: Even while the city was paying out $5 million, no one was filing charges against the officer who was identified as pulling the trigger without any apparent cause or justification.

Nothing adds up in this bizarre, cynical and unconscionable collaboration of injustice.

Emanuel and Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy also share culpability here, to be sure, but Alvarez is the chief criminal justice authority in the county, and we have expected so much better from her. We were the first major newspaper to endorse her when she ran for state's attorney for the first time in 2008. We enthusiastically endorsed her for re-election again in 2012.

But in this case, she disappoints. She disappoints not just us, but the public she has vowed to serve. Her explanation for the delay in prosecution has so far been circumspect. She has attributed it to collaborations with federal authorities.

"While I understand there may be questions or frustrations about the length of time of the investigation," Alvarez said in a prepared statement on Wednesday, "I want to assure citizens that my office took the necessary time that was required to conduct a thorough and comprehensive investigation and to gather all possible evidence in order to ensure that we have built the strongest case possible so that justice can be served for Laquan and his family."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

We, the citizens, are not assured. Her words so far ring hollow.

Should she choose to remain on the ballot, Alvarez will be up for election again next year. One of her challengers, former prosecutor Kim Foxx, put it this way in an interview with Slate:

"This was what we would consider to be a slam dunk. It's not a matter of whodunit. You know who did it. You had a videotape and a vantage point that clearly shows where Laquan was in relation to the officer. You had eyewitnesses, both civilian and police. You had the autopsy report, which was available within days. So this wasn't difficult."

We, the citizens, say this: What Foxx says makes much more sense than what Alvarez has so far said.

Alvarez owes all of us a detailed explanation for the 13 months it took to bring charges. If not, she owes us her departure.

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