By Mary Wisniewski and Nick Carey
HICAGO (Reuters) – Thousands of people marched on Chicago’s most prestigious shopping street on Friday, disrupting business on one of the busiest U.S. retail days, to protest the shooting death of a black teenager by a white policeman and the city’s handling of the case.
About 2,000 protesters, some holding signs reading “Stop Police Terror” gathered in a cold drizzle for the march on Chicago’s “Magnificent Mile,” which closed the major city street of Michigan Avenue to traffic on the traditional “Black Friday” shopping day after the Thanksgiving holiday,
Organizers said the rally, led by activist-politician the Rev. Jesse Jackson and several state elected officials, was a show of outrage over the October 2014 death of Laquan McDonald, 17, and what they see as racial bias in U.S. policing.
Protesters also called for the resignation of the police superintendent and a top prosecutor for what they see as foot-dragging and stonewalling in the case. It took the prosecutor 13 months to announce charges in the case on Tuesday and hours later, a graphic video of the shooting was released to comply with a court order.
The police officer who shot McDonald 16 times, Jason Van Dyke, 37, was charged with first-degree murder and denied bail until a second hearing next Monday. Van Dyke’s lawyer has said the officer opened fire because he feared for his life and the lives of other police officers when he saw McDonald had a knife.
“It’s unconscionable that the police officer who killed Laquan McDonald was able to sit at a desk for over a year and draw a paycheck,” said James Hinton, 49, who joined the march holding a sign that read: “13 months, 16 shots.”
The protesters chanted “Stop the cover up, 16 shots,” as they marched along Michigan Avenue.
Shoppers on the second and third floors of a Crate & Barrel could be seen lining up along windows taking pictures with their phones of throngs of protesters in the streets.
Groups of protesters locked arms to temporarily keep shoppers out of a few stores, but there were no major disruptions.
“The protesters did take over the street for sometime today blocking stores but it seems to have been a safe experience thus far,” said John Curran, a vice-president of marketing for The Magnificent Mile Association.
“In commerce terms you can think of this as a snow day. There is going to be a loss of revenue today and we plan to make that up during the rest of the holiday season.”
ARREST FOR SHOOTING OF 9-YEAR-OLD
Shortly before the rally, Chicago police said they had arrested and charged one man with the fatal shooting of 9-year-old Tyshawn Lee and that at least two others were also involved.
The shooting was a separate incident this month that garnered much attention because police said the boy appeared to have been killed in an act of retribution against his gang-member father, along the father denied being a gang member.
Emergence of the police patrol car dashboard camera video of McDonald’s shooting had already sparked two nights of mostly peaceful and relatively small-scale demonstrations in the city, during which nine arrests were reported by police. Despite calls on social media for protesters to turn out for Chicago’s annual Thanksgiving Day parade on Thursday, no rallies materialized.
City officials have given no detailed explanation for why the footage came without any discernible audio that is supposed to be recorded with the video.
African-American members of the City Council have repeatedly called for the resignation of Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy.
“The mayor has made it very clear that he has my back,” McCarthy told a news conference.
“And if people peel away the onion on what’s happening right now in the policing world, you’re going to find a police department that’s doing an exceptional job,” he said.
A Facebook page posted by march organizers listed additional demands including the appointment of a special prosecutor to investigate questionable circumstances in the case, and a special election to choose a new state’s attorney for the county.
Organizers also called for the ouster of anyone else found to be involved in misconduct surrounding the case, and the “demilitarization” of the Chicago Police Department.