Three white Chicago police officers are on trial in connection with the fatal shooting of a black teenager, Laquan McDonald. These officers never fired their guns. Their crime, prosecutors say, was concocting a story to cover up for a colleague who did, the New York Times reports. As prosecutors tell it, police officers shooed away eyewitnesses after the shooting on Oct. 20, 2014, and then made up a narrative to justify the shooting. They said the teenager had tried to stab three officers, and that he had tried to get up from the ground as 16 shots were being fired into him. Dashcam video footage of the encounter contradicted their account. On trial along with the officers is the “code of silence.” In Chicago, the issue has been around for decades. “Every police officer has seen the code of silence in action,” said Lorenzo Davis, a former Chicago police commander.
He was awarded $2.8 million by a jury this year after saying he had been fired from a police oversight agency because he refused to change his findings concerning police shootings that he deemed unjustified. Davis say the code of silence can be subtle. An officer may say that he didn’t see what happened at a crucial moment. The penalties can be frightening: colleagues may not arrive as quickly to help an officer in danger who is considered a snitch. “The code of silence works a lot like a family situation,” Davis said. “You cannot tell on your family members. You just know that. No one has to tell you that. If you have a partner, you’re going to back up your partner.” The president of the police union, Kevin Graham, said no such code of silence exists. “How the special prosecutor can construe a ‘code of silence’ theory defies belief,” he said.