Demonstrators march along the Magnificent Mile shopping district on Michigan Avenue in Chicago to protest police abuse Dec. 13, 2014.
Scott Olson

Organizer Charlene Carruthers has no plans to watch the latest video showing a police shooting death of yet another black person.

She won’t watch it. She doesn’t need to watch it. She already knows what this is about.

“I don’t need to watch a video to know how the Chicago Police Department treats black people,” Carruthers, who is national director of Black Youth Project 100, told The Root.

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But many people will watch this latest video when it’s eventually released, and it has observers wondering: Will Chicago become another Baltimore or Ferguson?

Last October, 17-year-old Laquan McDonald was shot 16 times by Officer Jason Van Dyke after the teenager was behaving erratically. Van Dyke, who is white, was charged with first-degree murder Tuesday. The police say that Laquan lunged at the officer with a 4-inch knife, but his family says that Laquan was walking away from the officer when he was shot. The video reportedly shows Laquan getting shot several times in the back, including when he is on the ground.

The city has already approved a $5 million payment to his family, despite the fact that no lawsuit has been filed.

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Why?

Because of that same graphic video, which has been described as disturbing and violent, police and city officials tried to stop its release, citing an investigation, but a judge refused their request and set its release for Wednesday, the day before Thanksgiving.

Fearing what the city’s reaction will be to the video, the mayor’s office wanted to meet with the numerous black youth organizations that have mobilized around Laquan’s death. Those groups—including BYP 100, Black Lives Matter: Chicago, Fearless Leading by the Youth, Assata’s Daughters, #LetUsBreathe collective, We Charge Genocide and other grassroots groups—turned down that offer.

“The Mayor’s office is calling on community ‘leaders’ to control Black people’s response to the execution recorded on the dashcam video to be released,” said the groups in a statement released Monday. “It was important to deny this invitation to meet because we believe that the community has a right to respond as it sees fit. … We also believe that leaders do not reserve the right to police people’s emotions.” 

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In an interview with The Root on Monday, Carruthers said that the youth-led groups are organized and they have planned protests. (“People are thinking about Laquan’s family and the trauma they will go through once it’s released,” she said. “It’s another reminder of how the police state treats our people.”)

They know that the video will cause an emotional response, and they want to channel that emotion into action.

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“[We will turn] the energy leading up to release of the video, and the energy that will be present after the release of the video, into something that takes our work forward, our work that’s solely focused on ending mass criminalization of our people and ending police violence against our people,” Carruthers said.

Every time a black person is killed by the police, and every time I hear about a young black person, period, being killed by some type of violence, it feels very personal.

Carruthers said that the police in the case of Laquan were “behaving like they’re always behaving by not holding the life of black people in high regard.”

“[The Chicago police] are tasked to protect and serve all of the people. From day one they’ve demonstrated the Police Department is not in the best position to keep people safe,” Carruthers said, later adding, “Laquan McDonald was 17 years old when he was shot and killed. It’s devastating, yet at the same time it’s an unfortunate and continued reminder why we have to organize and why we have to be organized and build political power for black people.”

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Carruthers told The Root that the black youth of Chicago have a list of demands for their city. They want their schools funded. They want the decriminalization of marijuana. They want continued reparations for police violence. They want police violence perpetuated against the community to stop and want officers who have unjustly killed black people to be fired. They want justice.

“The list of demands is long,” Carruthers said. “[By acting on the demands,] the mayor’s office, all elected officials and public officials … can take real steps towards making structural changes on how the Police Department exists in this city.”

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What they don’t want is more violence perpetuated by police in a city plagued with violence.

“Every time a black person is killed by the police, and every time I hear about a young black person, period, being killed by some type of violence, it feels very personal,” Carruthers said. “Whether it’s Tyshawn Lee or Laquan McDonald, their deaths are connected to the same system that believes our lives have very little value, and so it’s heartbreaking over and over again.”