The Laquan McDonald saga has been a watershed moment for Chicago. The murder of a young Black male teen four years ago has changed the city.
Police officer Jason Van Dyke, who killed McDonald on the lonely night of October 20, 2014, is going to jail as the first Chicago policeman in more than 50 years to be convicted of murder.
This case is akin to Emmett Till, the young Black male Chicago teen who was murdered by white men in Money, Mississippi in 1955. The men were charged and tried, but not found guilty of the murder that they later admitted to.
This is a case that probably changes the course of Chicago history, maybe American history. The message is clear – policeman will be held accountable for their shootings on the job. They will be held accountable for each shot. For too long policeman have hidden behind self-defense and threats while on the job, with a gun, that is a license to kill. The code of silence and the cover-up have been disturbed, if not broken.
Laquan’s case is symbolic representation of Black males being murdered by white males, to include the 4,743 lynchings where whites were never found guilty of the crimes in court. Racism was written all over this case and the racist was found guilty.
The other message is that white men cannot just shoot down Black boys in the street and get away with it, not Black boys with hoodies or with Boy Scout uniforms. Van Dyke was convicted of second-degree murder, but more damaging is the 16 aggravated battery charges he was also convicted of, one for each of the 16 bullets that he fired into Laquan.
Van Dyke will be sentenced October 31, with the judge determining then whether he serves time consecutively or whether the time merges and he serves his years concurrently.
For the aggravated battery charges, he’s looking at six to 30 years in prison per charge, or per shot fired, and must serve 85 percent of that time. The second-degree murder charge carries four to 20 years. So, calculations are that he could be sentenced to almost 500 years.
No matter how it goes, whether the sentence is minimum or maximum, Van Dyke will be in prison for a while and there is no doubt that his fellow prisoners behind bars with him will make sure that the time he does is hard. He will pay for Laquan’s murder.
It is questionable in the legal community whether Van Dyke should have taken the stand in his defense. Seems to me it was unavoidable. However, he did not prove to be a good witness. As he testified, Van Dyke made Laquan sound like a wild animal charging toward him; however, when viewing the police dashcam video, another picture emerges.
Van Dyke hid behind his police training, but there is no training for 16 shots, some in the back some while Laquan was lying on the ground in pain. He couldn’t be coming at you if he was running from you; the laws of gravity just don’t permit it. The testimony did not match the video, no matter what. Van Dyke hung himself.
Dramatic Political Changes
A new politic emerged from this sad saga, however. Anita Alvarez, the former State’s Attorney, was voted out of office. Mayor Rahm Emanuel has suddenly retired from his Chicago mayor’s seat, most likely fearing the outcome of the case that he covered up for his own political purposes.
The Crusader Weekly Newspaper even revealed how much he paid some Black aldermen to agree to the immediate payout to McDonald’s family of $5 million. Then-police chief Garry McCarthy was fired and served as the sacrificial lamb as the public outcry grew louder and louder for heads to roll following the release of the dashcam videotape of the murder.
McCarthy became the mayor’s scapegoat as he was doing his job and now he is a candidate for the mayor’s office, as is Attorney Lori Lightfoot, who was the chair of the police board at the time of the shooting.
The politic changed and is changing even more now with the guilty verdict. The silent, Rahm-abiding Black aldermen will almost certainly be challenged for re-election, especially after the Crusader’s report.
The mayor’s race is up for grabs, with too many candidates. The Fraternal Order of Police rules and policies allowed Van Dyke to be found not guilty of official misconduct. The FOP rules need changing and the lame duck mayor should not be the one to negotiate those changes.
A new Black leadership has emerged from this case. The millennial generation was insistent and persistent in revealing the videotape and attending the trial daily. New names appear – William Calloway has been steadfast.
There were three significant marches – Father Michael Pfleger’s march on the Dan Ryan and Reverend Greg Livingston’s marches on Lake Shore Drive and the Kennedy near O’Hare Airport were significant.
Livingston was persistent in calling for Emanuel’s resignation for the coverup. He never let it go and after the march on the Kennedy, the impossible happened. The mayor stepped down. The pressure was great and even Rahm’s Black elite could not save him.
The marches weren’t going to stop. Mark Carter and Paul McKinley came forth as trained soldiers to stand up for the Black community. These young brothers wanted justice served. They persisted diligently. They won. And the voice of Pastor Marvin Hunter, great uncle of Laquan, became eloquent as he spoke calmly, firmly and with ease, yet without hate or revenge.
Preparing For The Worst
The city prepared for riots had the verdict come in not guilty. Thousands of policemen were on call for 12-hour workdays wearing bulletproof gear. As you moved through the streets, you saw the policemen in clusters on bicycles and in groups. The policemen were riding the buses. Rumor had it that the trains would halt from the South Side.
The sirens were running the streets. The hospitals were on notice. Parking downtown was guarded. Schools closed and businesses in the Loop sent their employees home early as Chicago waited for the verdict. The jail cells were waiting. The city was on edge and alert for a shutdown, preparing for the worst.
Thank goodness the verdict was the right one. Van Dyke was found guilty and immediately put his hands behind his back and went to jail straight from the courtroom.
Hopefully this is the end to unjustified shootings; hopefully, new relationships are forged with the police and the community. Hopefully, it’s a new day in the city of Chicago. Racism was on trial in this case. For too long White men have killed Black men with minor consequence. This case becomes a landmark for all of the police abuse and murders of Black men by white policemen with no consequence.
And still, we rise.