Murder conviction of Chicago cop a turning point in the fight for justice
Ariel Atkins at the Justice for Laquan rally immediately after the Van Dyke verdict. | Photo courtesy of Jim Vondruska

CHICAGO – After a long history of impunity for police in the shootings of black youth in this city, Chicagoans rejoiced Friday afternoon when jurors from the trial of former police officer Jason Van Dyke announced that the shooter of teenager Laquan McDonald had been convicted on a second-degree murder charge as well as 16 counts of aggravated battery.

McDonald was shot in October 2014, but it wasn’t until after November 2015, when a Cook County judge ordered the release of a graphic dashboard video, that community leaders succeeded in pushing for further investigation of the shooting. Thus, the administration of Mayor Rahm Emanuel was able to dodge accountability during the period leading up to a close mayoral election. The Chicago City Council approved a $5 million settlement with the McDonald family in April  2015.

Demonstrators broke into tears outside of City Hall as the announcement of the Van Dyke verdict was read out loud.  Afterwards, protestors hit the street with Chicago-based organizations GoodKids MadCity, Black Lives Matter-Chicago, and the Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression leading the way. The crowd filled the sidewalks with chants of “I believe that we will win” as demonstrators occupied the east side of Michigan Avenue and marched northbound, halting traffic.

While many community leaders are taking a collective breath in the aftermath of the verdict, several others are assuring the public that the ongoing struggle for justice does not cease with the trial. “This is the beginning of the changes we’ve needed in this city for a long, long time,” said Frank Chapman, education director and field organizer of CAARPR.

Larry Redmond, member of the Chicago Alliance against Racist and Political Repression and Nataki Rhodes, co-chair of the alliance at the hearing on police accountability. | Earchiel Johnson/PW

Chapman has spent several years campaigning for a  Civilian Police Accountability Council (CPAC) but has been met with continued pushback from the Emanuel administration. CPAC would allow communities impacted by police crimes to hold police accountable for acts of brutality or violence by electing community members from all of the police districts. Additionally, the CPAC would create a mechanism for communities to have a voice in determining how they are policed.

There is no doubt that community organizers made a significant step in a long journey toward justice. Van Dyke’s conviction marked the first time in more than 50 years a Chicago police officer would be charged with murder for an on-duty shooting. While many activists were hoping for a first-degree murder conviction, the second-degree murder charge, combined with 16 counts of aggravated battery, ensures that Van Dyke will be locked away for a long while. Each aggravated battery charge carries a possible sentence of six to 30 years in prison, depending on whether the sentences are served consecutively rather than concurrently. The jury did not, however, find Van Dyke guilty of official misconduct.

As it stands, Van Dyke is just one of several key players in the alleged cover-up of the Laquan McDonald shooting. Previous Cook County State Attorney Anita Alvarez was voted out of office in 2016 after facing backlash for her mishandling of the Laquan McDonald case. Former Chief of Police Garry McCarthy, who was fired by Emanuel in 2015, recently announced he would be running for mayor of Chicago in the 2019 election. Furthermore, Joseph Walsh, Van Dyke’s former partner, is also facing his own date in court. Walsh is being charged with conspiracy, misconduct and obstruction of justice for filing false reports in Van Dyke’s case, along with Officer Thomas Gaffney and Det. David March.

“The conviction of Jason Van Dyke is a good cause for celebration, but not for complacency,” said Chapman in a public Facebook post addressing the trial. Chapman reminded the public that there is still a lot of work left to be done. “The struggle must continue until we have fully empowered the people to hold the cops accountable for the crimes they commit against us,” Chapman wrote.

The struggle will continue – but while the battle for justice remains, McDonald’s family can finally mourn their son in peace.


Michelle Zacarias
Michelle Zacarias

Michelle Zacarias was a staff writer at People's World. A graduate of the Univ. of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign, Zacarias invested her time in raising awareness on issues of social justice and equality. Michelle self identifies as multi-marginalized: as a Latina, a woman of color and a person with disabilities.