WBEZ's Jenn White has a knack for telling Chicago's modern history. In her podcasts Making Oprah and Making Obama, White recounted the captivating stories of local personalities gone global, and her current coverage of the Laquan McDonald case follows in that vein.
White's new serialized podcast, 16 Shots, follows the case from the beginning, detailing the night in October 2014 when Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke killed the 17-year-old- McDonald, and the subsequent fallout in Chicago and throughout the country. McDonald was shot 16 times by the officer—hence the podcast's title—and the details that slowly emerged from that night sparked a new conversation about the Chicago Police Department's practice of covering up its cops' abuse of people of color. McDonald was the 14th person shot and killed by Chicago police in 2014, and his death initially made very little noise in the news. But as details emerged over the next year, Chicagoans learned the truth about what happened the night of McDonald's death. White explains how the emergence of a witness and an inside informant and the release of the striking dashcam video of the shooting all led to Van Dyke's trial.
The podcast explores the subsequent political arguments between Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the Chicago Police Department, but even more importantly, White and her team—which includes reporters from WBEZ and the Tribune—interview members of McDonald's community and show who he was and how his grieving friends came to understand his death. Many citizens of Chicago's south and west sides have routinely seen officers abuse their authority, but White gets into the gritty details, explaining the code police use to shape a narrative of innocence for fellow officers: shooting victims are "offenders," a murder by police bullets is the offender "succumbing to injuries," and, rather than shoot people, officers are "involved in shootings." If that detail doesn't grip a listener, the list of evidence to follow certainly will. After the shooting of McDonald, the story officers told began to unravel. Through audio from the night of the shooting, interviews with journalists, witnesses, and officers—including Van Dyke—WBEZ's new series takes its audience through every moment of the case that builds toward Van Dyke's trial in a complete and compelling report that's unlike any of the other coverage. The officer's trial, which began on September 5, may yet result in further reforms for the CPD. No matter the outcome, Jenn White, WBEZ, and the Tribune have promised to tell the full story. v