What with the flurry of Kavanaugh news over the past week, we didn’t get around to covering the conclusion of a very tense trial in Chicago. Former officer Jason Van Dyke was found guilty of second-degree murder in the shooting of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald nearly four years ago. Van Dyke faces a minimum six-year jail term when we get to the sentencing phase. (A date for sentencing is expected to be set on October 31 and bail has been denied for Van Dyke until then.)
This case has had the Windy City on pins and needles for a long time now. It automatically drew national attention because Van Dyke is white and McDonald was black. By all accounts, the courtroom was bracing for an explosive conclusion if the verdict had gone the other way. (NY Post)
A jury has convicted white Chicago police Officer Jason Van Dyke of second-degree murder in the 2014 shooting of black teenager Laquan McDonald.
Van Dyke was charged with first degree-murder in the October 2014 killing, a charge that requires a finding that the shooting was unnecessary and unreasonable. The judge told jurors the second-degree charge was also available, requiring them to find Van Dyke believed his life was in danger but that the belief was unreasonable.
The jury announced the verdict Friday. It’s the first time in half a century that a Chicago police officer has been convicted of murder for an on-duty death.
This trial was painful for everyone to observe, but the outcome seems to be the best possible conclusion. Despite being someone who stands up for law enforcement officers on a regular basis, every police force is composed of human beings and that means sometimes you get a few bad apples. And this was a bad shooting no matter how you look at it. Just in case you never ran across it, I’m going to include the police dash cam video of the event, published by the Guardian, so you can judge for yourself. But I should warn you that nothing is blurred out and it clearly shows the young man being gunned down.
Observers trying to shift the blame away from Van Dyke were certainly given plenty of fodder to work with. McDonald was allegedly high on PCP and/or other drugs at the time. He did have a knife on him, probably in his hand. If you read his lengthy profile, you’ll find the picture of a very troubled and troublesome young man. Born to a mother who was only age 14 in one of the city’s most dangerous neighborhoods, McDonald seemed doomed from the start, with a history of mental illness and drug addiction, a lengthy police record, involvement with multiple street gangs and dealing drugs.
But as you can see in the video, on that night in 2014 he was staggering away from a group of cops surrounding him. He was clearly not “lunging toward” Van Dyke as he tried to claim. The other officers seemed to feel the situation was under control and they were waiting for another officer to bring up a Taser when Van Dyke arrived. The cop put 16 rounds into McDonald when none of his fellow officers felt compelled to fire a single shot.
Was Van Dyke positively a bad, racist cop who liked murdering black guys or was he just incredibly ill-suited for his job? Not being able to look inside people’s souls, I can’t say for sure. But that was a bad shooting and you can’t just let it slide. Much like the murder of Walter Scott by Michael Slager, if you can’t convict this guy, you can’t convict any officer. And that leads to more tension between police and the community, undermining trust in our thin blue line.
The city had been bracing for riots that may have rivaled the Freddie Gray mayhem in Baltimore if Van Dyke had walked free. That, however, is no reason to convict him. We can’t fear the mobs at the cost of giving everyone, including cops, a fair trial. But Van Dyke had his day in court and found guilty. This is horrible for everyone concerned and another stain on the Chicago Police force which they clearly didn’t need. But in the end, it’s what needed to happen. Perhaps now Chicago can begin the healing process yet again.