Former Cop Jason Van Dyke Sentenced To Prison For The Killing Of Laquan McDonald

Late in the evening of October 20, 2014, 17-year-old Laquan McDonald was fatally shot by police officer Jason Van Dyke in Chicago, Illinois. According to reports, McDonald was seen behaving unpredictably while walking and reportedly carrying a knife. In the events that ensued, Van Dyke shot McDonald 16 times, emptying the clip.

Early on, no charges were filed. Thirteen months after Laquan’s death, the Chicago Police Department released the officer’s dash cam video of the event after public demand, especially from activist William Calloway. The footage showed McDonald, knife in hand, walking in the opposite direction from the police, and in a non-threatening manner when he was shot to death. That same day, November 24, 2015, Jason Van Dyke was charged with first-degree murder.

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Protests ensued and continued through March of 2016. Chance The Rapper mentioned McDonald’s killer on Saturday Night Live in late 2015. “I’ve been waiting all week. I’ve been waiting all night. Jason Van Dyke,” he sang. “Had to say something on Saturday; see you at church on Sunday.

Just under three years after McDonald’s death, the 40-year-old Van Dyke was found guilty of second-degree murder on October 5, 2018. He was the first Chicago patrolman in 50 years to be found guilty of murder. On Friday (January 18), Van Dyke was then sentenced for six years, nine months. The former officer was also charged with 16 counts of aggravated battery, the same number of times he shot the teenager. “[Sentencing someone] is not pleasant, and this is not easy,” Cook County Judge Vincent Gaughan said upon the order. “I assume that 100% of everybody is going to be disappointed.” Calloway, the activist who demanded the release of the dash cam footage, expressed his disapproval regarding the length of the sentence.

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The sentence marks a rare occasion when an American police officer is sent to prison, especially for the killing of a Black civilian. Many other high-profile murders, including Michael Brown,  have ended without incarceration or penalty. In the trial, other state witnesses spoke about Van Dyke’s brutal police tactics in the past. There were six witnesses in total. Van Dyke’s wife claims she lost her job because of the events, and fears for her husband’s safety behind bars.

Laquan McDonald’s murder further brought to light the previously darkened, shadowed corners of Chicago’spolice force. As a result of Laquan’s case, three Chicago officers were charged with conspiracy to cover up Laquan’s death. The officers were later acquitted. However, this tragedy brought lasting change to the Windy City. The Times reports, “Protesters marched repeatedly in the weeks that followed, forcing out the Chicago police superintendent, successfully pushing for policy changes and weakening Mayor Rahm Emanuel, whose administration had fought to keep the video out of public view.”

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Later, Laquan McDonald’s murder and the subsequent indictment of three Chicago police officers led to a more extensive investigation conducted by the United States Department of Justice against the Chicago Police Department. After it’s investigation was completed, The United States Department Of Justice determined that the Chicago Police Department regularly participated in, and aggravated, a culture of violence. According to its website, “The Justice Department announced today [Friday, January 13, 2017] that it has found reasonable cause to believe that the Chicago Police Department (CPD) engages in a pattern or practice of using force, including deadly force, in violation of the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution. The department found that CPD officers’ practices unnecessarily endanger themselves and result in unnecessary and avoidable uses of force. The pattern or practice results from systemic deficiencies in training and accountability, including the failure to train officers in de-escalation and the failure to conduct meaningful investigations of uses of force.”

“Since the shooting, the department has launched new de-escalation training, made it policy to release nearly all video of police-involved shooting incidents within 60 to 90 days, and required all officers to wear body cameras,” according to USA Today. “The Illinois Attorney General’s Office sued the city in federal court in 2017 to implement a court-monitored consent decree aimed at ensuring reforms in the police department are carried out. State and city officials settled on parameters of the decree last year. It includes requirements that the police department publish use-of-force data monthly, tighten policy on the use of Tasers and document each time officers draw their weapons.”

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As for the sentencing of Jason Van Dyke after all these years, Pastor Marvin Hunter, McDonald’s great uncle, addressed the ruling by saying, “I want to say to everyone – everyone in the city of Chicago and across this country – that if they had sentenced him [Jason Van Dyke] to one minute [of prison time], it is a victory. It is a victory because what has happened in this courtroom today has never happened in the history of this county and it sets a precedent and it sends a strong message to unjust police officers that now you can and will go to jail if you’re caught lying, if you’re caught breaking the law.”