CHICAGO: President Barack Obama said he was “deeply disturbed” by video of a white Chicago policeman shooting dead a black teenager, in the latest such incident to roil the United States.
Graphic footage released shortly after officer Jason Van Dyke was charged with first-degree murder on Tuesday has reignited impassioned debate about the use of force by law enforcement in the US, with Chicago left dangerously on edge.
Protesters there have likened the Laquan McDonald killing to that of Michael Brown, the black teenager shot dead by a white policeman in Ferguson, Missouri last year, triggering 15 months of demonstrations in major US cities over perceived police brutality against black men.
A small band of demonstrators hit the chilly Chicago streets for a second night in a row Wednesday, reportedly confronting police officers.
Chicago police initially said that McDonald was high on the hallucinogen PCP, acting erratically and then lunged at officers with a knife when he was shot 16 times in October 2014.
But police dashcam video showed the 17-year-old walking away when Van Dyke opened fire and made no threatening gestures to justify the use of deadly force, prosecutors say.
“Like many Americans, I was deeply disturbed by the footage of the fatal shooting of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald,” Obama wrote on his official Facebook page.
“This Thanksgiving, I ask everybody to keep those who’ve suffered tragic loss in our thoughts and prayers, and to be thankful for the overwhelming majority of men and women in uniform who protect our communities with honor.
“And I’m personally grateful to the people of my hometown for keeping protests peaceful.”
Prosecutors and Chicago officials have come under intense criticism for trying to block the release of the video and taking so long to press charges against Van Dyke.
It was the first time a Chicago police officer has been charged with first-degree murder for an on-duty fatality in more than 30 years, the Chicago Tribune reported.
Prosecutors said Van Dyke, who joined the Chicago police in 2001, opened fire just 30 seconds after his vehicle pulled up to the scene with McDonald and six seconds after stepping out of it.
Shot from an approaching police vehicle, the dashcam video shows McDonald run down the middle of the street towards another police cruiser, hitch up his pants and then start to walk away from Van Dyke and his partner.
His body then spins and strikes the pavement. McDonald lifts his head, moves an arm and then a cloud from another gunshot rises up from his chest as he lies in a fetal position.
He does not move as an officer enters the frame for just long enough to kick a knife away from his prone hand.
None of the officers approaching McDonald try to help him as he bleeds out on the street, writhing once in the remaining minute of video.