Activists and residents of Chicago chanted “Justice for Laquan” after a jury on Friday found a white police officer, Jason Van Dyke, guilty of second-degree murder for fatally shooting 17-year-old African-American Laquan McDonald 16 times on the evening of Oct. 20, 2014.
The Cook County jury also found Van Dyke guilty of all 16 counts of aggravated battery while finding him not guilty of official misconduct. Each aggravated battery count carries a sentence of six to 30 years, which he may be required to serve consecutively. As Van Dyke awaits sentencing, the jury’s decision was praised by local activists working to eradicate police brutality.
“It feels like a victory for Black Chicago,” community organizer Jedidiah Brown told reporters at the Leighton Criminal Courthouse shortly after the verdicts were read, according to the Chicago Tribune.
“This is the best moment as a Chicagoan that I’ve ever experienced in my life. This is my best experience as a Black man, as a Chicagoan, as an Illinoisan, and as a man in the United States of America. We never get justice,” Brown continued. “Today we got justice… Today, it looks like a new day in America.”
Too often, police officers have been acquitted for their role in the deaths of Black Americans. This has been especially true in Chicago, where officer Van Dyke was the first officer to face murder charges in more than 30 years, despite CPD’s [Chicago Police Department] long record of abuse and misconduct,” noted Sherrilyn Ifill, president and director-counsel at the NAACP.
“We hope that this verdict sends a clear message that police officers can no longer act with impunity against Black Americans,” Ifill said, “and that this new era of accountability inspires systematic police reform not only in Chicago, but throughout the United States.”
Micah Uetricht, managing editor of Jacobin Magazine, observed on Twitter, “Jason Van Dyke being found guilty of second-degree murder feels like a watershed moment in American history.”
Kristina Roth of Amnesty International declared in a statement, “This case underscores the desperate need for more stringent laws on use of lethal force.”
“Families and communities should not have to fear those that are sworn to protect them,” Roth added. “All states, including Illinois, must urgently bring laws and policies into compliance with international standards. It is long past time to hold police accountable for the use of lethal force.”
Noting that McDonald “was raised on streets covered in the blood of the generations before him who’ve been bludgeoned by economic, social, and racial injustice,” Chicago Teachers Union president Jesse Sharkey, in a statement, called his murder “one of the most shocking instances of brutality in the history of our city.”
“He deserved justice, and today’s verdict shows that the jury recognized his humanity and the tragedy that befell him,” Sharkey added. “Our city, however, is still suffering, and reeling from the tenure of a mayor who systematically closed schools, used public dollars to pay police settlements, and ultimately covered up Laquan’s murder for political and capital interests.”
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the Chicago Police Department have been widely lambasted for their handling of the case. Local anti-violence activists have demanded the resignations of Emanuel and Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson.
Before the verdict was announced on Friday, some 4,000 extra police officers were scattered throughout the city in anticipation of demonstrations. The guilty verdicts were welcomed by activists and community members who gathered in the streets.
As the Chicago Sun-Times reports:
About 200 people crammed onto the sidewalk on the west side of City Hall, huddling around cell phones to listen as the verdict in the trial of Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke trial was announced.
Cries of elation and relief echoed down La Salle Street, followed soon by tears of joy.
Speaking to the assembled group on a megaphone, Frank Chapman, of the Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression, said the groups who’d protested and rallied for change since the Laquan McDonald video was released still have work to do.
But for now, Chapman said, “We got something to celebrate.”
“This is the beginning, the beginning of changing that we’ve been needing in this city for a long, long time,” Chapman said.
Dash-cam footage of the murder that was described as “graphic,” “violent,” and “chilling,” was released in 2015, and was followed by a federal inquiry in the city’s broader policing practices. The video fueled public outrage and demands for justice.