After 15 freedom of info requests, Chicago police release video of shooting
Dec 29, Chicago: It took 13 months, 15 Freedom Of Information Act (FOIA) requests, and a lawsuit for the city of Chicago to release the video of Laquan McDonald's shooting by a police officer. This is only the latest example of a growing trend to restrict transparency and access to information concerning police brutality in the United States.
On November 24, two days before Thanksgiving, the city of Chicago released police dash cam footage showing 17 year-old African American Laquan McDonald being shot by white police officer Jason Van Dyke. The shooting took place on October 20, 2014 --- the video wasn't made public until 13 months later.
A total of 15 Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests were made with regards to Laquan's shooting. A FOIA request is the legal procedure by which the public can apply for information about government activities to be made public.
In May 2015, freelance journalist Brandon Smith filed a FOIA request to have the video released. After his request was denied in August, he filed a lawsuit against the Chicago police department, which led a judge to order the release of the video on November 19.
“[I] knew there was a video of the incident from other media reports but that it had not come out,” said Brandon to Reporters Without Borders. “We assumed everyone else was filing [FOIA] requests and being denied, which ended up being true.” Though Brandon's request to release the video to the public was denied, he did learn that a total of 14 other FOIA requests had been filed with various agencies in Chicago. Every one of them was denied.
According to Brandon, this is not a new phenomenon. “FOIA requests in Chicago in any case have long been either ignored or extended when they didn't need to be or exemptions [were used] that are tenuous at best”, he said. “If no one knows what the problem is, you're never going to solve it. They have effectively prevented people from knowing what the problem is.”
Brandon Smith is still seeking more information in an attempt to find direct evidence of a cover-up. But his lawsuit has certainly helped draw national attention to a problem plaguing Chicago for far too long.
“It is unacceptable that it took 13 months. The Freedom of Information Act essentially failed its purpose, and in the end a lawsuit was the only way to compel the city to release information that should have been made public from the beginning. Thanks to relentless efforts from the journalist community, the video was finally released and has helped start a trend towards change,” said Margaux Ewen, Advocacy and Communications officer at RSF's US office. “RSF will keep standing with the journalists who are working tirelessly to expose the truth.”
The Oslo Times