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Chicago mayor, ministers in tense meeting over shooting

Don Babwin and Michael Tarm, Associated Press

Chicago— Amid concerns about possible unrest, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel held a tense meeting with ministers and others Monday to discuss the upcoming release of a video that shows a white police officer fatally shooting a black teenager.

Emanuel asked for their help in calling for calm, but some community leaders said afterward that city officials waited too long to get them involved — more than a year after 17-year-old Laquan McDonald was shot 16 times.

“You had this tape for a year and you are only talking to us now because you need our help keeping things calm,” one of the ministers, Cory Brooks, said after the meeting.

A judge last week ordered the Police Department to release the squad car dashcam footage by Wednesday after the city refused to do so for several months, saying the investigations into the shooting weren’t complete. The FBI and the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office are investigating the incident and were expected to make a decision on whether to charge Officer Jason Van Dyke as early as this week.

Ira Acree, who described the meeting with Emanuel as “very tense, very contentious,” said the mayor expressed concerns about the prospect of any demonstrations getting out of control. The minister said Emanuel referred to unrest that broke out in other cities after police killed young African-American men.

“He did say in the meeting that he will not sit on the sidelines and let Chicago become a Ferguson or a Baltimore,” Acree said.

Another minister who attended, Jedidiah Brown, said emotions were running so high that there would be no stopping major protests once the video is released.

Earlier Monday, Emanuel’s office characterized the discussion as something “we regularly do on important topics.” But Acree and another minister, Marshall Hatch, said it is a rare occurrence and shows the mayor is concerned there might be violence.

“We have been trying to meet with the mayor since the beginning of the year to talk about community relations and his staff asks for a letter and says ‘We’ll get back to you,’ but they never do,” Acree said before going to City Hall for the discussion.

Hatch added: “This has the feeling of them scrambling.”

The shooting occurred on Oct. 20, 2014, as police responded to a 911 call of a man carrying a knife. Lawyers for McDonald’s family who have seen the video say it shows the teen with a small knife and walking away from officers. They say Van Dyke opens fire from about 15 feet and keeps shooting after the teen falls.

Acree and Hatch said blacks in the city are upset about the shooting and because city officials and the Police Department refused for several months to release the video until ordered to do so by a judge. They said people also are angry because the officer, though stripped of his police powers, has been assigned to desk duty and not fired.

“They had the opportunity to be a good example and a model across the country on how to improve police and community relations and they missed it,” Acree said.

The Police Department said placing an officer on desk duty after a shooting is standard procedure and that it is prohibited from doing anything more during the investigations.