For nearly four years, the family of Laquan McDonald has waited for justice. So has many Americans. That justice finally came Friday, Oct. 5, when a jury that included only one African-American found the white police officer, Jason Van Dyke, guilty of second-degree murder and multiple counts of aggravated battery of the Black teenager. It’s the first time in a half-century that a Chicago police officer has been convicted of murder for an on-duty death.
Unlike in the case of the white officer who shot and killed Jordan Edwards, a Black youth, in a Dallas suburb in April 2017 and was convicted 16 months later, the deliberate slowness of the Chicago police in releasing the incriminating footage delayed the wheels of justice.
That withheld footage taken from a police vehicle dashboard camera contradicted Van Dyke’s testimony that 17-year-old McDonald was walking toward him brandishing an open knife. In fact, the youth is seen walking away from the officer before Van Dyke opened fire and riddled his body with 16 shots.
According to the police account, they encountered McDonald Oct. 20, 2014, after being called and told someone was breaking into vehicles. At one point, the report said that McDonald punctured a squad car tire with his knife. He was soon surrounded by a number of officers waiting for an officer to arrive with a Taser when Van Dyke arrived.
Much of this information was disclosed subsequent to prosecutor Jody Gleason’s comments on the dashboard camera video, and how it clearly showed McDonald backpedaling and that he tried to get up off the ground after being shot. Millions Americans had seen portions of the video, but never the entire version that was shown in court.
Gleason concluded that Van Dyke’s version of what happened was completely “made up.” His attorney said that Van Dyke had reacted as he did because he feared for his life.
When the verdict was announced cheers erupted inside and outside the courtroom, and “Justice for Laquan” was an increasingly loud chant. Crowds also assembled in front of City Hall and planned to march north, with banners and placards proclaiming, “Justice at Last” and “Blacklivesmatter.”
The Rev. Marvin Hunter, McDonald’s great-uncle and a representative for the family, told reporters said the verdict was a “victory for America.” He added, “Laquan McDonald represents all of the victims that suffered what he’s suffered across the country.”
Although Hunter expressed compassion for Van Dyke’s family, he said a similar sense of forgiveness could not be heard for the McDonald family.
There was no bail for Van Dyke, and he could be sentenced to as little as probation or as much as 20 years in prison for second-degree murder. Each aggravated battery conviction carries a sentence of 6 to 30 years.
Van Dyke’s lawyers have said they will appeal the verdict.
Rahm Emanuel, Chicago’s mayor, along with police superintendent Eddie Johnson cited a need for “lasting reform and to rebuild bonds of trust between residents and the police,” which he said must continue with vigor.