LaQuan McDonald more than a news headline. He also was also more than a person that was shot 16 times by a Chicago police officer on Oct. 20, 2014. He’s more than a character in a dashcam video. More than a murder victim. More than a $5 million settlement. Stu Douglas knew LaQuan. On his Facebook account, Stu wrote an impassioned piece on the human being that has raised calls for police reform to maddening levels. Stu explains is relationship with LaQuan as well as who the young man was that has put another scope on police brutality.
So let me tell you about LaQuan.
The reason I want to tell you about him is because he deserves to be remembered for more than a police dash cam video. He had a phenomenal personality, he had an infectious smile and he had so much potential that was mercilessly stolen from him.
I worked directly with LaQuan from my first day at CASA and he was the first child I advocated for. Usually we assign volunteers and we just supervise the case, but for LaQuan, I was his volunteer.
LaQuan had a rough upbringing. He had been taken away from his mum at a young age after suffering from an abusive father and was never really counseled on what had happened to him. He was in and out of juvenile detention for petty crimes but overall his biggest issue was that lacked stability in his life.
There was a period of 4 months where I saw him every couple of days and we sat and played cards whilst we talked about school, talked about his future and most commonly, talked about his family. This lad loved his family so much it was inspiring. He could also make you laugh until you cried, he was so damn funny. Sometimes he didn’t even mean to be. There was one day I went to go see him and he didn’t even want to lift his head off the table when I got there. When I asked him what was up, he responded with “I just want to hide forever.” Worried, I probed him a bit more and found out that while he was in juvenile detention he wrote a letter to his mum and a letter to his girlfriend. The letter to his mum was from an adoring son who wanted the two of them to be reunited and to work on making them stronger. The letter to his girlfriend was from a 17yo boy who had been locked up for the last couple of months without any physical interaction – you could imagine what that could entail. Well, he sent the letters to the wrong intended person. After losing my s### laughing at the thought of their reaction I asked him how p##### off his mum was. He looked at me and said “nah, I’m not even worried about her, I’m worried about my girlfriend. Now she’s so doped up on love she’s never gonna leave me alone.” I still laugh about this with his mum who is still shocked “he even knows what some of those words mean”.
We worked with LaQuan to give him the best possible go at making something for himself. He managed to hold down a job over summer, he managed to pass his intensive probation for the first time and he was attending school every single day. Not only that, he was actually succeeding at school. It was during this time that I realised the true ability and resilience of LaQuan. Always bubbly, always smiling, always asking questions. He was inquisitive about where I was from and told me that he’d love to go out to Australia one day and go surfing. Considering his biggest fear was drowning, I thought this was a little odd, but I never wanted to subdue his dreams. The last I spoke to LaQuan was about a week before he passed away. He actually called me to ask about a job program we were running and how he wanted to apply for it. He even asked me how my weekend was, which still remains to this day one of my favourite moments with him. It just epitomized who he was. Hard working, caring and thoughtful.
And then on October 20, 2014, he was shot and killed by a CPD officer. The day after he was killed, I received a call first thing in the morning from his probation officer. She was in tears as she tried to inform me what had happened the night before. The information we were given at the time was that he lunged at a police officer with a knife and he was shot once in the chest and that killed him. Something was wrong though. LaQuan never antagonised. He never sought the fight and would only get in scraps when he was standing his ground for what he thought he was right. This was the first time I thought something wasn’t right, but I put that down to emotional biases that my friend was not the kind of person who would attack a police officer.
I attended LaQuans wake and his funeral with his probation officers, his lawyer, his caseworker, his teachers, his therapist and his judge. All of us were in tears. That shows you how many professionals would take time out of their day to pay their respects to a child robbed of his potential and how moved we all were by his death.
Then there came the moment where I knew for certain something wasn’t right. At his wake there was an open casket and while his probation officer and I were paying respects, I noticed a bullet hole in his hand. How could he have this injury if he was shot in the chest like the police report had said? It just wasn’t adding up.
Now I don’t know why he was carrying a knife, I don’t even know if he was carrying a knife at all anymore. All the information we were fed from the police has been thrown into doubt. All I know was that he had an emotional day and as a result was out late and far from home. How he got there? We still don’t know. We may never know.
Watching the video released by the CPD tonight made me sick. I’ve witnessed my friend being shot down and killed in cold blood. I’ve been trying to find a silver lining in the fact the cop has been charged with murder, but it’s been 400 days and it is evidently clear that the city believes his life was not worth the transparency a city like Chicago deserves.
But I don’t want his legacy to be about that video. I don’t want his legacy to be about his death. I want his legacy to be about the kind of young man that he was. Right now, on the streets of Chicago, people are protesting for change. And they are protesting peacefully. I was there protesting with them and there really was a positive vibe. I actually bumped into his cousin who I met at LaQuan’s funeral and we marched together for a while talking about what needs to change. People may argue that it was about race, and it may very well be. But to me, this is about a man, killing a boy, and the city trying to cover it up.
Now I don’t pray. But I’m hoping to whatever there is out there that the protests remain calm and they remain peaceful. Why? Because being antagonistic and picking a fight won’t get the agenda moving forward. Standing up for what is right will though.
But more importantly I can tell you first hand that it’s what his family wants and it’s what LaQuan would have done.