CHICAGO—Community leaders and activists are furious that former Chicago cop Jason Van Dyke will be released February 3 after only serving half of his six-year sentence for the killing of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald.
During a January 24 press conference hosted by the Rainbow PUSH Coalition, leaders expressed outrage over the injustice of Van Dyke’s release for an already short sentence.
“Every single part of Chicago and Illinois should be standing up to keep this man an issue. This is not a Black issue, this is a justice issue,” said Father Michael Pfleger of Saint Sabina Church during the press conference.
The former Chicago police officer was first serving time for second-degree murder in a low-security federal facility in Otisville, New York, before being transferred in November 2019 to a state prison. Due to “good behavior” he is scheduled for an early release. Under federal law “good behavior” is defined as “exemplary compliance with the institutional disciplinary regulations.”
The 2014 fatal shooting of Laquan, who is Black, by Mr. Van Dyke, who is White, sparked local and national protests only after a journalist, law school professor and local activist Will Calloway led a successful Illinois Freedom of Information Act request for the release of police dashcam footage showing the horrific shooting.
It took 13 months for the video to be released and it only came out after a contentious mayoral election victory by then mayor Rahm Emanuel and payment of a multi-million-dollar settlement to Laquan’s family. Before the video was public, it was seen by some officials and police authorities.
Mr. Van Dyke was also found guilty of 16 counts of aggravated battery, one for each of the shots he fired that fateful October night. Police reported Laquan was behaving erratically while walking down the street carrying a knife, but video shows the teen walking away from police. Mr. Van Dyke unloaded his firearm into Laquan. The officer kept shooting even as the teen lay on the ground. Nine of 16 shots struck Laquan in the back. “Sixteen shots and a cover up!” became the cry from protestors.
“If the table was turnt, my grandson would have never saw the light of day, and he’s (Van Dyke) finna get out?” asked Laquan’s grandmother at the Rainbow PUSH press conference. “Over the heinous crime that he did? He shot my grandson 16 times and then reloaded the gun again? Not only am I speaking for myself, I’m speaking for all the mothers and the grandmothers and everybody else that voice hasn’t got heard, that needs justice for their kids,” she added.
The family wants the U.S. Department of Justice to pursue federal civil rights charges against Mr. Van Dyke.
Mr. Calloway told The Final Call, “I think it just speaks to the legislative, things we have to change. What prohibits him from being justly sentenced anyway? We need to change the sentencing guidelines and laws in the state of Illinois,” he said.
Dr. Lashawn Littrice told The Final Call, “We see there is preferential treatment for a White officer who shot a Black, young boy. What we’re comparing it to in our research are the thousands of Black men that are behind bars for much lesser crimes for much longer time waiting on cases to be heard.”
Reverend Jesse L. Jackson, Sr., founder of Rainbow PUSH, Coalition, said in pursuit of justice for Laquan McDonald that he supports the CTA (Chicago Transit Authority) boycott scheduled for late January. The purpose of the boycott is to redistribute the pain of the injustice by the court systems with economic withdrawal. Also in response to Van Dyke’s release, “A Day of Outrage and Direct Action: Justice for Laquan” will be held February 3 at the Federal Plaza in Chicago.
“We’re going to share this pain,” he said.
Rev. Jackson and others also want federal charges pursued against Mr. Van Dyke.
Congressman Bobby Rush (D-Ill.), who was also at the press conference, agreed. “It’s really a miscarriage of justice that he’s getting ready to be released without any federal intervention, without any federal oversight, and any federal punishment. … Laquan McDonald’s civil rights were violated, and we demand justice,” he told The Final Call.
For more information on the CTA boycott and “Day of Outrage and Direct Action: Justice for Laquan” event, visit rainbowpush.org. Final Call staff contributed to this report.