February 15, 2016


Alison Flowers, 303-246-6297,

Darryl Holliday, 773-819-5188,

Jamie Kalven Wins Polk Award for Local Reporting on Laquan McDonald

Chicago-based Invisible Institute founder uncovered autopsy report that countered police narrative of teen’s shooting death

CHICAGO --Writer Jamie Kalven, founder of the Invisible Institute, a journalism production company on the South Side of Chicago, has been named the winner of the 2015 George Polk Award for Local Reporting. Kalven’s winning investigative article, Sixteen Shots,” published February 10, 2015 by Slate, detailed the autopsy report of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald, who was shot repeatedly by Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke on October 20, 2014. Through a witness account, the story contradicted the official police narrative that Laquan had lunged at officers before he was shot, and it predicted Chicago’s implosion over video footage of the shooting.

"Jamie Kalven's investigative persistence was essential in getting at the truth in the death of Laquan McDonald,” said John Darnton, curator of the George Polk Awards. “He worked his sources, obtained the autopsy and pressed for release of the all-important video."

The George Polk Awards, announced by Long Island University, recognize the top journalism works each year. Past winners include some of the biggest names in journalism: Ta-Nehisi Coates, Seymour Hersh, Christiane Amanpour, Walter Cronkite, Edward R. Murrow, Bill Moyers, Studs Terkel and the team of Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein.

“I’m deeply grateful for this honor,” Jamie Kalven said. “I share it with my colleagues at the Invisible Institute and the unnamed individuals whose courage made it possible to tell this story--the whistleblower who alerted us to the Laquan McDonald incident and the witness who shared his account of the shooting with me.”   

This award announcement comes on the heels of the Invisible Institute’s win of the Knight News Challenge on Data for its Citizens Police Data Project, the largest interactive database of police misconduct complaints -- what the New York Times called “a rare look into the cloistered world of internal police discipline.” The data project, which contains more than 56,000 Chicago police misconduct complaints for more than 8,500 officers, reveals that less than 3% of allegations lead to disciplinary action, with even lower rates for officers charged with high numbers of complaints. The data also shows a significant pattern of racial bias, with black Chicagoans accounting for more than 60% of total complaints, but less than 25% of sustained complaints.

The Citizens Police Data Project has had a major impact on media coverage of police shootings, most notably the video release of McDonald’s death. Two weeks after the database launch, the City of Chicago, on a judge’s order, agreed to release dashcam video of the shooting. In the media storm that ensued, the Invisible Institute’s data tool created crucial context about Van Dyke’s record of undisciplined complaints, revealing an alleged pattern of excessive force and racial slurs. Since then, hundreds of news stories, radio and TV programs have called on Invisible Institute journalists as expert resources, who shifted the conversation from a single sensationalized incident to the systemic failures of the nation’s second largest police force.

The impact following the Laquan McDonald revelations has been significant: the firing of Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy and the head of the Independent Police Review Authority, the launch of a Department of Justice investigation, the creation of a police accountability task force, the release of thousands of emails from the mayor’s office and continuing nonviolent protests.

“Some very aggressive journalism happened in Chicago,” said MSNBC commentator Rachel Maddow to Kalven during a November 25, 2015, interview for her show: “[The] reporting on this ended up being just world-changing in terms of this story. Congratulations on a dark’s a very dark story, but you pushed it into the light.”


Here is a link to more information about the 2015 George Polk Award for Local Reporting.


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