A little while ago, Mary Mitchell wrote a powerful opinion piece for the Chicago Sun-Times detailing the tragic life of Laquan McDonald.
If you’re not familiar with Laquan McDonald, you should be. In many ways, he is a microcosm of many of our societal challenges and a reminder of the enormous vulnerability of children.
17-year-old Laquan’s life ended on October 20, 2014 when sixteen bullets fired by a Chicago police officer ripped through his body. It turns out Laquan was high on PCP at the time and the police had been called because he was breaking into cars, acting erratically, and wielding a knife – a knife he even used to slash the tire on a police cruiser.
The video of the shooting was covered up. Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the Chicago City Council settled with Laquan’s family for $5 million in the hopes of keeping things quiet so that the mayor could win reelection.
It’s quite the scandal and has forced a conversation about crime, policing, politics, etc. But what we haven’t heard much about, which is why Mary Mitchell’s op-ed stands out, is the issue of how Laquan McDonald came to be high on PCP, breaking into cars, and then shot by the police.
Here’s some of the background Mitchell provides:
“Twice, the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services removed him from his mother’s care — once when he was 2 years old and again when he was 5 — because of abuse allegations leveled at the mother’s boyfriend.
As is too often the case, McDonald was allegedly sexually molested in two different foster homes, according to a source familiar with his juvenile court record.
‘DCFS never did anything in terms of following up on the sexual abuse,’ the source said.
A spokesman for the Department of Children and Family Services acknowledged that McDonald was a ward of the state at the time of his death. The agency confirmed that the youth was the subject of two abuse investigations — one in 2000 and another in 2003.
McDonald was particularly close to his grandmother, Goldie Hunter, and was in her care until she died last year. His daily life seemed to unravel after her death.
Just a couple of days before McDonald’s deadly encounter with the Chicago officer, DCFS had given custody of McDonald and his sister to an uncle.
‘The uncle had a live-in girlfriend, and the sister had spent the night away from home,’ said the source familiar with this case. ‘When she came back the next morning, the girlfriend wouldn’t let her back in the house.
‘DCFS came and took the sister and was trying to take Laquan. For the third time, he was made a ward of the state. It was a pretty upsetting thing.’
McDonald’s mother was trying to regain custody, but the issue was still up in the air at the time of his death.”
Do tell, how many kids would be able to come out okay if they had to overcome just one of the challenges Laquan faced? And that brings us to one of the root issues facing our society which we so desperately want to ignore: The role of family.
It cannot be said enough, if there is chaos in the family, there will be chaos in society. Laquan was abused, seemingly fatherless, bounced around from home to home, molested, and occasionally protected and provided for by government. What sense of security did the child Laquan have in his life? Who actually loved Laquan? Who was there to protect him and to steer him in the right direction, day in and day out?
The government was certainly there for Laquan to address some of his needs. It moved him around, provided for him materially, put him in school, but to what end? We can address the material needs of the person all we want through government programs, but in the end if the spirit isn’t nourished, man withers. In general, government cannot fix what family failed to do. No matter how much power and wealth government may believe it has, ultimately its powers are limited by the realities of human nature.
And while we can see the tragedy play out, we are also forced to confront the reality that when a child like Laquan grows and becomes a man, we cannot ignore his actions. The child Laquan became a criminal, a threat to society. When we look at the sum of his life experiences, how many are surprised that he end up in trouble?
We can blame the cops, we can attack Mayor Emanuel for the cover up, we can blame systemic racism and inequality, but in the end should the most outrage be reserved for the parents who failed him? Are we ready to have that discussion?