It has been a long time coming – 17-year-old Laquan McDonald was shot and killed in 2014 by then-Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke. It took a video and over a year to even charge the officer. Now, nearly four years later, a jury returned a guilty verdict for second degree murder.
He was also convicted of 16 counts of aggravated battery with a firearm —one for each bullet that struck the teenager. This was a major verdict – no Chicago police officer had been convicted of murder in an on-duty shooting in nearly 50 years. And it was perhaps the biggest jury verdict of the post-Ferguson era.
Like the cases of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Eric Garner in Staten Island, and so many more, this case became a symbol and the trial a proxy for years of anger over police mistreatment of black citizens – this time in Chicago.
The dashcam video from a police car was critical. It took the city 13 months to release the video, and only after the judge ordered it following the records request by a journalist.
The Times notes that “the fallout was significant: The police superintendent was fired, the local prosecutor lost her re-election bid, and Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced shortly before the trial began that he would not seek re-election next year.”
Interestingly enough, there was just one African American juror on the panel that convicted the officer. She told the media on Friday afternoon that the officer “messed up” by testifying and she did not find him credible.
“He messed up,” she said. “His testimony wasn’t credible to me. I felt that he was trying to remember stuff that he said that maybe wasn’t true.”
Other jurors found the testimony to be “rehearsed.”
A key piece of evidence was that Mr. Van Dyke told his partner that they might have to shoot the teen prior to getting out of the police vehicle.
The Illinois Fraternal Order of Police blasted the jury verdict.
In a statement on Friday, State Lodge President Chris Southwood said, “This is a day I never thought I’d see in America, where 12 ordinary citizens were duped into saving the asses of self-serving politicians at the expense of a dedicated public servant.”
He continued: “This sham trial and shameful verdict is a message to every law enforcement officer in America that it’s not the perpetrator in front of you that you need to worry about, it’s the political operatives stabbing you in the back. What cop would still want to be proactive fighting crime after this disgusting charade, and are law abiding citizens ready to pay the price?”
In an op-ed, the Chicago Sun-Times found sadness, relief, and some hope.
They wrote: “Look across the nation at all the other police shootings in recent years that seemed equally indefensible, yet ended in acquittals. Chicago made history Friday with this verdict.
“But we feel sadness too. Laquan is dead and will never have an opportunity to transform his troubled young life. His family is grieving,” they continued. “Then there’s the Van Dyke family. A wife and two young daughters will see a husband and father, now behind bars, likely head off to prison for many years.”
The paper pushed back against the Fraternal Order of Police, writing, “A ‘sham trial?’ Twelve jurors ‘duped’? A ‘shameful verdict’ that will hamstring officers from doing their jobs’? Members of the Illinois Fraternal Order of Police said all of that, and it’s nonsense. The shame is on them for such poor judgment on such an emotionally loaded day.”
Instead, they found that the jury, “far from being ‘duped’ handled their civic duty with care and diligence, fully weighing the evidence before handing down their verdict.”
They argue, “Remember, no other officer on the scene the night Laquan was shot found it necessary to pull their gun. This verdict doesn’t put a chill on good police work, just horrific police work.”
Mayor Emanuel stated after the verdict, “The effort to drive lasting reform and rebuild bonds of trust between residents and police must carry on with vigor.”
—David M. Greenwald reporting